A NEW survey by the National Union of Students (NUS) reveals that nearly 80 per cent of UK students suffer some form of mental health issue at university.

Among the sobering findings of the survey was the revelation that upwards a third of the students had suicidal thoughts during their time at university. A truly shocking statistic given the idea that university is supposed to be the best time of your life.

Sarah, 21, a student studying in Manchester, suffers from a form of depression and said that the constraining environment of university can often leave her feeling isolated.

“I feel as though if I were to tell people that I am depressed at university they would find that a little ridiculous. I don’t think it’s to do with being pressured to do well, but there is a pressure to make sure you balance a healthy social life and alienating yourself working too hard.

“I think there is a weird stigma attached to being a student, especially in a big city, where a lot of people assume you are just constantly partying and they don’t always respect you and acknowledge that it might not be as simple to be a student as it appears sometimes – and that can leave you feeling really low.

“Being open about having mental health issues is not something that I find easy at all, even my university are not aware that I suffer from depression. It shouldn’t be something that anybody is embarrassed about but reaching out to people is a daunting thing.”

Whilst it certainly is true that the vibrant, state-sponsored furore of university life provides thousands with an essential safety net against “the real world” it does not always mean students are protected from harm. Away from home and discovering life for themselves, students can often under prioritise their health and wellbeing in place of studying and the occasional party, of course.

In the survey, it was discovered that 54 per cent of students with a known mental health issue did not attempt to receive help and many felt that approaching the universities they attended for help was embarrassing.

Scores of others stated that they did not know where they could receive help and that is not surprising when you consider the state of mental health care in Britain at the moment. Particularly in Manchester, where the Health and Social Care services face being axed for costing the government money – leaving around about 650 patients uncertain about how they will be treated in the future.

A spokesperson for Manchester Mental Health and Social Trust said whilst the trust has to work towards achieving “statutory financial responsibilities” that the “primary focus of the trust is to safeguard frontline care services and jobs in order to ensure those patients who are at most risk are given priority.”

As Christmas approaches students are continuously warned about the dangers of excess over the holiday period. It is no secret that the Christmas party can get out of hand and Mental Health Foundation have published tips and guidelines for how to stay safe and preserve yourself.

Their guidelines cover everything from the dangers of alcohol and its effects as a depressant to eating too much and not sleeping enough. These are all common place in many student’s lives at university and the habit can take its toll all too easily.

Peter Farrell, 22, studies at Manchester Met said that partying too hard could well be linked to his recent diagnosis with depression and anxiety.

“I was told that I was suffering from depression after I had been feeling really distant for months on end and finally decided to see a doctor. I had no idea what was wrong with me, I never thought depression would actually feel like anything.

“I am pretty secretive about my conditions as the medication I have to take makes me feel self-conscious and serves as a reminder that I need to take care of myself. I have never lived on my own before and university has been a pretty excessive environment at times and that was definitely a factor, I am reminded of that every day.”

Peter went on to describe that the help is there for the people who need it, “Manchester actually has a variety of places you can get help if you think you need it and I’d urge anybody who might think they need to talk to somebody, to do so. There’s no situation that can’t be discussed and as stupid as it sounds, it really does help to get things off your chest.”

Nobody is seriously suggesting that universities do not care about the welfare of their students but the findings of this survey do present quite a slap in the face to a lot of people. The uniqueness of the environment in which students find themselves has exiled them into a sort of purgatorial wilderness, where seeking help is embarrassing and often difficult and suffering in silence seems like a logical solution.

In a time where mental health is being pushed up the priority list by campaign groups, and funding for the services that help the people who suffer from them is being slashed by the government. The findings of this survey will instil many with the hope that there can be an open and frank debate on the issue sooner rather than later.

By James Crosley
@jamescrosley

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