Depression at university: The black dog of education

They say that your university years are the best years of your life. And although for many, this is definitely the case, the words crumble in the eyes of many students who have suffered with depression during their studies. And in recent years, the number of young learners seeking help has soared.

In 2013 an investigation by the Huffington Post into UK universities reported a huge surge of students across the country seeking professional help for a whole host of mental illnesses.

Not so coincedentally, the surge seemed to happen while funding for such areas that could help (such as councelling) were being cut, left right and centre. 

The stats, gathered from 14 of the UK's top universities, reported that the majority of the universities featured were having a snakes and ladders effect: in-house help for mental health was going up, and student's morale was going down.

One of the most significant examples saw one university (King's College in London) increase in students receiving mental health treatment by over 1,000 cases, from 2007 to 2012. However Denise Meyer, who runs the website Students Against Depression, claimed the stats could be seen as a good thing:

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"The increase in those seeking counselling more recently might in part be a positive sign that mental health is steadily becoming less of a taboo subject and more young people are aware of counselling and how it might help."

True enough, over the past decade, and not just at universities, statistics on mental health are rising in all directions: people are getting more help, the press are covering the matter more rigorously and no more are people treating depression as a black dog lurking in the shadows.

This month, for the first time ever, the Labour Party have announced a Shadow Minister for Mental Health - a huge beam of hope for people who suffer.

It is no surprise that depression first begins to manifest at university. The whole aura of this world that 'discovers who you are' - the anxiety of learning new things - the fear of living by yourself for the first time, can all congeal into the student's psyche.

One such student, Katy, told the Huffington Post: "Being at University can be one of the most isolating experiences ever.

"You don't know people at university like you know your friends at home and not being able to 100% be yourself can be depressing and upsetting."

Katy's not the only one. Online forums such as The Student Room have whole sections of their message boards dedicated to mental health, with many students sending out messages seeing if there's someone out there who understands. Phrases like: "Can't cope", "What are your coping strategies?" and "Want to feel normal" leap out at the screen. One such thread looks at the issue of seeing mental health as a disability.

But is this corner of the internet being noticed by people who truly can help? 

As a sufferer of depression at university myself, I know all too well how hindering a problem it could truly be. At the time, many students don't actually know what they are feeling. Many of us didn't really know what depression was. We'd heard of Sylvia Plath suffering from it, but when it came to experiencing it ourselves we had no idea. 

After all, the sensation of suddenly feeling so unmotivated, not wanting to get out of bed, not wanting to attend the lectures that you had so eagerly signed up for, was baffling to many. 

Ironically, being uneducated about mental health was leaving them (and me) - uneducated.

Happily, things seem to be on the up, even within the last five to 10 years. Mental health charity Mind already cater for students suffering with anxiety and depression for the first time, but more specifically - websites such as Students Against Depression now exist for confused uni-goers to, for the first time, discover catharsis for their symptoms.


According to Students Against Depression, the website was put together to raise awareness after "the sad loss of two bright young men" who were lost to suicide. It was through their families that the website was birthed, to help stop other students losing their lives too.

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Its place on the internet is a huge help to people who suffer with any sort of mental health problem – with the website offering the likes of ‘depression guides’, ‘student stories’ and a strong social media presence. 

So a cornucopia online is brilliant, and something I never found out about during my time studying, but what are universities themselves doing to try and help out their young adults trying to make the best start in life?

Here are some of the big stats you need to know. 

* In a 2014 report on UK universities, it was found that counselling services are being stripped, due to cuts in staffing

* Although most universities have a mental health advisor, the DSA (Disabled Student’s Allowance, that caters to people with both physical and mental needs) has reportedly had its budget tightened over the past few years.
* Despite this, many individual universities have put together their own 'samaritan' schemes to help out. 
 

* In 2013, a NUS study saw 20 per cent of all students say they considered themselves to have a mental health disorder. 13 per cent of those professed to suicidal thoughts.

* And from that study, it was shown that 65 per cent cite course deadlines as a reason for their anxiety, exams (54 per cent), money worries (47 per cent), pressures about "fitting in" (27 per cent) and homesickness (22 per cent).

* Despite this, more students than ever are seeking help. But that number still could rise further.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

Are you a student struggling with depression? Help is at hand! 

http://studentsagainstdepression.org/
http://www.studentminds.org.uk/depression.html


 

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