Students are facing more pressure than ever at university. With coursework, living away from home for the first time, and the added social pressure that comes with social media, how can students keep their mental health on track?
We attended Scape’s student panel discussion, ‘Why Mind Matters’, as part of their weeklong student wellness program in London, to find out more about the challenges students are facing to their mental health in 2020, and how we can all help to overcome these challenges.
On the panel was award-winning youth worker, queer activist and motivational speaker, Tanya Compas; motivational speaker and founder of Andy’s Man Club (a charity running talking groups for men) Luke Ambler, and Rosie Tressler, the CEO of Student Minds (the UK’s mental health charity for students).
Read on to find out what they said about taking care of your mental health whilst at university…
Using social media in a positive way
Social media can help or hinder mental health depending on how it’s used. The panelists gave their opinions on the pitfalls and merits of social media and discussed how it affects mental health.
Ambler shed light on the overindulgence surrounding social media: “We’re on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. We have apps for everything. We’re constantly living in a world of distractions, in a world of phones. We’re missing real human connections.”
Compas commented on how social media posts are an inaccurate reflection of reality: “Recently we’ve seen social media stars and celebrities committing suicide – these people you may look at as having the perfect life – they’re rich, they’re famous, they want for nothing.” She explains “It just kind of highlights the fact that everyone has things they’re going through and not everyone’s equipped to manage their own mental health.”
However, social media doesn’t necessarily have to have a negative influence on mental health: “Social media can be good and provide a platform for people to talk about mental health,” Compas said.
Tailoring your social media content is a good way to avoid the more negative aspects of social media: “If someone posts something that makes you feel worse about yourself, then unfollow them.”
Taking time for yourself
Taking time out for yourself to do the things that help you unwind is a very important part of practicing good mental health.
“I think part of looking after your mental health his understanding that you’re not perfect and that you’re going to have times where you’re more equipped to look after yourself” said Tressler. “It’s the simple stuff for me, like walking to work, having a cup of tea with a friend or reading a good book.”
“For me, going to therapy and going to the gym are very important” said Compas. She recommended university counselling services to students who are struggling, or emotional wellbeing centers for students who don’t have access to counselling services.
Ampler recommended reducing your screen time and doing slower activities: “Patience is such an important tool to being present. Cooking, meditating and reading are all slow activities that allow you to be in the moment and reduce stress levels.”
Reach out to people if you’re struggling
“Reach out, whether it’s a counselor, whether it is a professional, whether it’s another student” said Ampler. Your university will most likely offer counselling services, which you can find out more about on your university’s website, or alternatively ask your student support team for more information.
Not everyone will be able to say the right things when you start opening up about mental health, warned Tressler: “Don’t be put off if the first person you speak to doesn’t give you the kind of response you were hoping for”.
She added: “We are all doing the best we can with the information we have. It might be that your first interaction isn’t the best, but we can all learn how to listen nonjudgmentally to each other and build hope for each other, so don’t give up.”