Our social feeds this week are full of parents waving their kids off as they move away to attend university. Going to university can be a difficult time for young people as they get used to their new surroundings, make new friends, find a job, manage their own time and money and try to get good results. For many students, this can prove very stressful and cause or exacerbate mental health problems.
Mental health support at university has become an important topic of discussion. A recent report from the ‘Institute For Public Policy’ showed that there has been a five-fold increase in the number of students declaring a mental health condition since 2006. Bristol University has found itself in the spotlight with 11 sudden deaths in the past two academic years, but the problem spreads across the country with 95 students taking their lives over the last academic year.
Supporting Your Kids Through Life Stress
For us parents and grandparents, it is worrying to think that our offspring are venturing out into the ‘big wide world’ and we won’t be there to protect them. This is not just true of university. Sometimes seeing our kids go through the pressure of moving house, a stressful job, or having children of their own can leave us feeling helpless to protect them from life’s stresses. However, by keeping an eye out for the signs of mental health issues, or ‘burning out’ is one way to ensure that normal stress doesn’t become unbearable.
Signs To Look Out For
The following signs aren’t always due to mental health, but a few of them combined could be the sign of an underlying problem.
- Decrease in enjoyment and time spent with friends and family
- Not wanting to go to work/university
- Problems with memory, attention or concentration
- Changes in energy levels, sleeping patterns or eating habits
- Physical symptoms (stomach aches, headaches, backaches)
- Feelings of sadness, anxiety, crying often
- Sudden aggression, lashing out verbally
- Personal hygiene neglect, no care in appearance
- Use of drugs
- Risk taking/dangerous behaviour
- Being overly suspicious of others
- Started to hear things
How Can Parents Help?
When mental health problems present themselves, its difficult to know how to help, especially when our kids are far away. Encouraging small changes to their lifestyle can both help prevent depression and anxiety, but also help when the symptoms occur.
A healthy lifestyle is proven to benefit your mental health, but this can be hard to encourage students to do. Too much caffeine, sugar and alcohol have an immediate effect on the way we feel. With students having to cook for themselves for the first time and for some, attending plenty of parties, this can exacerbate their mental health problems. Although it may seem difficult, encouraging and teaching young people to cook easy healthy food before they go off to university can be a great way to set them up for university life. We may not be able to stop them going to parties, but small changes could make a big difference.
Encouraging anyone struggling with mental health issues to get out of the house is very important. When young people are feeling overwhelmed, exercise releases the endorphins needed to help their mental health. Most students might not want to exercise, but even encouraging a short walk can help.
Letting your kids know that you’re always on the end of the phone and allowing open, honest discussion without judgement encourages them to talk about any issues. Some kids may not want to talk to their parents about issues like this. If this is the case, encourage them to talk to someone else who they do feel able to talk to – as they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.
Mental Health Services and University Support
There are many mental health services available on the NHS for young people. One of the first steps would be to go to the doctor to talk through options. Universities are increasingly stepping up the support for their own students with many offering the following services:
- WhatsApp – is being used to support communication between students and wellbeing services
- Mental health training – university staff are now being trained in mental health, so they can recognise the signs
- Stress relieving workshops – these workshops encourage students to keep up with their course, whilst eliminating the stress
- Students at risk – committee’s these meet weekly to discuss their concerns and they offer emotional support
- Online services – there has been an increase in access to online services for students have increased
- Campus Doctor websites – these enable students to register online to speak to a doctor.
If you don’t think your child is getting the mental health support at their university, contact the university to discuss their mental health policy. This highlights the issue for them and force them to make changes.
When your kids move away from home, it can be a difficult time for parents. You have to adjust to your offspring facing new and difficult circumstances. Being open with the issues of mental health in communities, at home and at work means that mental health becomes less of a taboo issue and opens up discussion.