Symptoms of mental health difficulties may range from anxiety, severe depression, altered sensory perception, mood swings, obsessions and phobias to delusions, changed behaviour and attempted suicide. Anorexia and bulimia nervosa are increasingly common conditions amongst young people.
Many conditions are temporary and may respond to rest, medication and/or counselling. About one person in four experiences mental health difficulties at some time in their lives. Many people develop mental health difficulties between the ages of 18 and 25. Cardiff University has a counselling service dedicated to students; further details are available at the Counselling Service web site.
Myths abound about mental health difficulties, and it is important to realise that the most common symptoms of mental ill health are withdrawal and depression. Only a very small minority of people with mental health problems will become violent or exhibit anti-social behaviour.
Implications for Studying
Studying in higher education tends to be stressful for everyone at times, but a student with a mental health problem may be more than usually affected. Academic pressure, isolation, severe homesickness, lack of personal support, forming new relationships and alcohol or drug abuse can all be the trigger for mental health difficulties in some students.
- Provide a service for all students which is responsive and flexible to individual needs;
- Mental health difficulties can develop at any time. Be alert to major changes in your students' behaviour which may be the beginning of something more serious;
- It may take time for people with mental health problems to settle into a new situation and demonstrate their skills to the full. Allowances may need to be made for a student to do this;
- Occasionally, students on medication may suffer from side effects, such as morning drowsiness. This may affect a student's ability to participate;
- For many people, a condition may be variable with good and bad days. This may require some flexibility from teaching staff;
- Teaching and counselling are very different roles. Teaching staff need to know their limitations and boundaries and where necessary encourage the student to refer to the counselling service, via telephone/email or in person.
- Assessment, particularly when it is formal, as in assignments and written examinations, can be stressful and cause the student to perform below standard. Practice and reassurance, and possibly extra time in examinations and for assignments may overcome this;
- Some students may need to postpone examinations.
- Some students find it helpful to have a computer and modem so they can study more at home. Software to assist with organisational difficulties may also be beneficial.