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It's time to accept that student mental health is a genuine problem


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Statistics have shown that a startling one in five people will suffer from depression at some point in their lives, and it is estimated that it will take an average of ten years for an individual to receive treatment for their issue following the initial onset of symptoms.

Campaigns such as Heads Together (headed by the Royal Foundation), a growing number of specialised charities, and the regular publishing of new statistics on mental health, leads us to believe that the stigma surrounding the subject is fading into the distance.

However I can safely say that I can think of only a small number of my loved ones who haven’t experienced some kind of mental health issue – and whilst we might be becoming more willing to talk about it, it doesn’t mean that treatment is as forthcoming as we’d like.

Whilst university is a place where an individual can easily start to develop mental health problems, it is often also touted as a place where students can be supported with an array of professionals and services that can get them through this transitional period in their lives.

However, it seems to be here that the problem lies. Despite the overwhelming evidence, students are amongst the age group that are somewhat neglected by healthcare professionals and indeed the sympathy of ordinary people, as there seems to be an age restriction on mental health.

I have heard countless remarks concerning the impossibility of a young people being diagnosed with a mental health issue, including statements such as “you’re too young to know what it is to be depressed”, “it’s the fashion to be ‘mentally ill’ these days”, and “you have no idea of the problems that it takes to be depressed”. 

It seems that the statistics can back me up here. A recent NUS survey found that 78% of students have experienced some issue in the last year, with only just over half (54%) receiving support for these problems. It is clear that the sheer size of this problem is going unnoticed.

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at mental health charity Mind, suggests a possible factor in these trends: “Young people are coming of working age in times of economic uncertainty,” he says. “They are more likely to experience issues associated with debt, unemployment and poverty, and they are against increasing social and environmental pressures, all of which affect wellbeing.”

And what place more riddled of social pressures than university? Today’s teenagers are bombarded with pressures from parents, academic authorities and general society to go to a top class university, excel academically and then land a job which earns them top dollar. Little thought is spared for their emotional wellbeing and happiness, and individuals find themselves following the path that they are lead to believe that they should take, rather than the one they wish to. 

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge made this issue a prominent focus of their Heads Together campaign, which includes mental health charities that specifically support children and young people, and highlights the stigma of triviality surrounding the issues they face.

One such charity is Place2Be, which endeavours to initiate early intervention on these issues in order to prevent them continuing into adulthood, and offers similar services that an adult would receive, such as counselling.

Many of the stresses that children face are also ones that adults can come across in later life, such as bullying, domestic violence and relationship breakdowns, and the validity of these problems- at whatever age- needs to be stressed, along with the importance of early intervention. 

Heads Together Royal Leaders

Social media is also a factor that must be considered, as teenagers each day are bombarded with images in the media of the ideals that they should conform to, leading to in some cases to extremes such as body dysmorphia and eating disorders.

This particularly affects young females, with the NUS claiming that young women are the highest risk group in England for mental health problems, with one in five suffering.

The issue of gender in mental health - both in suffering and admitting that a problem exists – is pronounced in young people, with women aged 16-24 being three times more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression than men.  

The neglect of young people in mental health awareness could not be more accurately reflected than in the fact that individuals aged 35 to 54 were found more likely to receive treatment than any other age group.

Despite the prominence of the same symptoms and an equal severity of causes, there are still groups whose needs are being overlooked. 

Despite a rising awareness and understanding of mental health in today's society, there is still a toxic bubble surrounding those who are suffering, purely because of their age and their perceived ‘lack of right’ to feel the way that they do.

With all of the obstacles that we have overcome in the 21st Century regarding equality and human rights, there is no excuse for any medical issue to be disregarded, and discrimination of any kind to continue. We have already come so far in banishing the stigma surrounding mental health within adults, so why stop there?


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