Barely a day goes by without reports of mental health issues in the media. Statistics, services or availability of support dominate the health agenda reflecting that mental health issues can affect any of us at any point in our lives. Cardiff Metropolitan University’s Acting Dean of Student Services, Karen Robson, knows all too well that student life is not immune to the same challenges.
Some students may have experienced mental health issues prior to coming to university and have to learn to cope with this in tandem with university life; others will experience difficulties for the first time. Being away from home, fitting in with peers and trying to keep up with academic commitments can be challenging for most students, but for some it can be a genuinely terrifying experience where it can be difficult to make sense of how they’re feeling or accept the impact of this on their lives. It can be easy to feel alone and embarrassed but the prevalence of mental health issues is far from an isolated issue.
Research conducted specifically into student mental health and wellbeing has uncovered some startling results. In one report one in four students disclosed having a mental health problem, with female students reporting a higher incidence than males and depression and anxiety being the most common issues. One in 10 students also reported having suicidal thoughts. University support departments have seen a significant increase in students seeking support, but it remains a challenge to get every student to feel able to seek help. For many there is still a reluctance to talk about mental health issues and this needs to change.
Universities have been providing a range of professional student services for many years tailored to meet the needs of students. This is vital if we are to prevent issues going unrecognised and leading to students being at risk of dropping out unnecessarily or developing an enduring mental health issue. Support has evolved to meet changing needs so students at Cardiff Metropolitan University can expect to access advice, counselling, hypnotherapy, health advice, signposting to external specialist services, chaplaincy and an out of hours service, ensuring that there is always someone a student in crisis can approach. Mental health staff training is offered, in addition to new group resilience sessions facilitated by counsellors. We even run a weekly singing group.
Our latest initiative is our ‘Wellbeing café’ which is designed to welcome anyone who may be feeling a bit stressed out to an informal weekly drop-in hour for a chat. The aim is to demonstrate that it is normal to feel overwhelmed at times and it’s ok to acknowledge this feeling. More importantly it’s ok to talk and this may be the first step in addressing an underlying problem or preventing it from developing into something more serious.
We hope this initiative and others will go some way to creating a culture of openness where students (and staff) feel able to talk about their mental health and the support available.
Cardiff Met has always used innovative ways to support students to maximise their university experience and that’s why Cardiff Met has signed the Time to Change pledge. By supporting this national campaign we aim to help tackle mental health stigma and discrimination in Wales by continuing to build on our provision of support and prioritising learning around mental health and wellbeing. February 2nd was Time to Talk day where everyone was encouraged to take just five minutes to talk about mental health. We’re going to make time to talk. Will you?