CW: Mental Health, Suicide, Depression, Anxiety, Alcohol & Drug use.
Mental health issues among students is no secret. University easily feels daunting, and if not monitored appropriately can become fertile ground for problems such as depression and anxiety. From Freshers’ Week students are pressured into having the time of their lives, whilst maintaining academic and extra-curricular excellence.
With seven suicides over 18 months at Bristol University, the topic made headlines and prompted news outlets and public figures to declare a ‘student mental health crisis’.
Few actually sought to understand the root of ill-being among students, rather discussing available services and whether they were sufficient. Bath Time have acquired the results of a survey completed by 12,700 students nationally, 1,500 of which are from our University. The ‘Being well, doing well’ survey led by Alterline delves into the complex reasoning behind the mental health crisis. This research helps us understand the difficulties Bath students face, as well as how they differ from other students nationally.
Studies and Exams
Simon Connolly, co-chair of Nightline, the University’s anonymous listening service, told Bath Time he noticed a surge in calls approaching exams. Deadlines are a constant worry and procrastination fuels many students’ stress. Rather than laziness, this arises from the fear of failure. “It’s the assurance that whilst you’re not working, you cannot be discredited” so most tasks are postponed to the last minute. Surprisingly, Nightline is much quieter once exams begin, suggesting the thought of examinations is worse than the actual event.
Supporting Connolly’s experiences on the matter, 32% of Bath respondents said they were not doing as well as they wanted academically and over a third put off work to the last minute. Statistics support this, as more than 9/10 agreed always submitting their work on time. This could be partly due to the culture of perfectionism many perceive at Bath, which was discussed with Patrick Taylor and Lorna O’Connor at our most recent Student Minds event. University is portrayed as the best time of your life, so there is an ulterior feeling of failure when that expectation is not met constantly. Hence the question arises: what kind of expectations are being placed on Bath students and how much stress is put on meeting these standards?
Students have faced an excessive burden of assessment at the University of Bath for the past few years. Many students come in with high expectations of themselves, and the desire to achieve these goals can cause anxiety and worry. Personal tutors can provide support and signpost to the appropriate University services, although the University’s ongoing Curriculum Transformation project seeks to reduce assessment for future generations of students.Jack Kitchen, SU Bath Education Officer
Peer to Peer support
Bath students are much more likely to seek support from partners, friends and peers when compared to students in other universities. 2 in 5 Bath students, who have previously experienced mental health issues, have disclosed problems to partners and almost half of those are willing to share this information with close friends from home. This can be compared to only 17% who disclosed issues to personal tutors and 6% to their lecturers, these figures being lower in comparison to other universities. Issues such as these are explained by poor relationships between staff and students, with over half of respondents agreeing that lecturers or tutors did not know who they were.
Regarding those who provide the support, their experiences have also been quantified in Alterline’s research. 64% of Bath respondents have helped someone with mental health problems compared to 55% of students nationally. Within that, 54% said the process caused them to feel stress in contrast to 41% who felt well-equipped to deal with the situation.Meanwhile, 47% nationally felt equipped, which is higher than the Bath statistic and also notable considering Bath students depend more on the support services offered here. What’s been done to tackle this?
Patrick, chair of Bath Student Minds, a peer support group on campus, has stressed the importance of this data, noting that students must be equipped to help friends in need without seeing their own mental health damaged as a result. Ensuring peers can spot symptoms of issues and support their peers without damaging themselves is the focus of the Look After Your Mate, a new Student Minds campaign.
Many of us know of or support individuals with their mental health during our time at University which in turn, takes a massive toll on us personally. The Students’ Union trains all of its student leaders in signposting effectively and is committed to ensuring our students are confident with the information on what is on offer on our campus. We have also just launched the ‘Look After Your Mate’ program with Student Minds to address this issue specifically to ensure that these students are informed and adequately supported; getting the balance right between self- care, signposting, and sufficient support of their friends.Alisha Lobo, SU Bath Community Officer
Social Life and Substance Abuse
Outside of academic studies, respondents to the survey expressed how their mental health had seen a negative impact on all kinds of relationships. 41% said their relationship with their partner had been affected, with 36% experiencing effects on their sex life, and 28% said mental health problems had impacted their relationship with their housemates. More generally, a common symptom of mental illness is known to be avoidance of social situations, shown through 54% of respondents experiencing mental illnesses influencing their ability to socialise.
A tendency to steer clear of social situations can sometimes involve replacing human interaction with substances. 12% of Bath respondents revealed to Alterline that they drank alcohol alone at home on a weekly basis, while 4% took illegal drugs regularly on their own, both of these figures being higher than the those in the collective response. This behaviour is not always a red flag for personal problems and dependencies, but can often be a symptom.
From Physical Symptoms to Self-Harm
Physical illnesses can result from mental issues. Whilst some find themselves sleeping all the time or constantly feeling sick, some students decide to harm themselves. The Awareness Evening previously referred to highlighted how forms of this can include cutting one’s body, taking an overdose of painkillers self or, more subtly, picking one’s skin or skipping meals. The Alterline survey results highlighted how 23% of Bath respondents had self-harmed, which is lower than the collective respondents from all institutions, 33%, but there is by no means an absence of this distressing behaviour in our institution. The reasons for self harm are not explicit but can stem from sufferers being unsure of how to express themselves, or needing someone to notice them.
Worse still, a shocking 1/20 Bath respondents in the survey said they had attempted to take their own lives. Again, this is lower than the collective response and indeed, a national spotlight has been placed on students suicides following University of Bristol’s surge.
Heavy repercussions on eating habits
It is often neglected that eating disorders not only arise from mental illnesses, but are in fact a mental illness in themselves, an issue recently raised by Bath MP Wera Hobhouse in Parliament. She shared Lorna O’Connor’s story, a University of Bath alumnus who suffered from serious eating disorder which led her to suspend her studies. What Lorna raised was how abnormal behaviours are absurdly normalised in a university environment, particularly skipping meals and irregular sleeping patterns. Outside of the university context, much of this behavior is not normal. In case of eating disorders specifically, the problem is hardly recognised until it reaches chronic levels.
While many of the results listed above demonstrate that Bath students are better off relative to their peers at other universities, it is clear that severe issues are present in our own community. Efforts are seemingly be ing made by all parties sat around the table, with curriculum transformation aiming to reduce pressure caused by unnecessary or excessive examination, and the SU working with student support groups to provide services addressing the issues revealed by the Alterline report. Regardless, there are many issues that require much more work and some may take significant cultural shifts to be resolved.
We take our duty of care for our students very seriously and are concerned that a significant minority of respondents to this survey reported mental health problems. We want every student to succeed during their time here and it is important that our students know that a range of support services are available to them, and feel comfortable enough to ask for help. These options include well-being advisors who are professionally trained to provide confidential help and support to students about any problems they may have. Face-to-face drop in sessions are available throughout the year, including weekends, as well as online and phone support seven days a week. In addition the University Counselling and Mental Health Service provides a diverse range of interventions including group programmes, one-to-one talking therapies, and online guided self-help providing access to evidence-based computerised cognitive behavioural therapy programmes, which can be accessed from any location. Mental Health First Aid training has been delivered to both staff and students, with more than 500 people completing this course to date, and a staff advice helpline is available for all for academic and professional staff dealing with student mental health and other issues.University of Bath Spokesperson
If you or a friend need advice or support, Student Services are reachable on 01225383838, in 4West or via email on email@example.com.
You can also visit the Advice and Support centre on the ground floor of the SU. They are also reachable on 01225386906 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nightline can be reached on 01225383030 every night of term and Student Minds run regular sessions that are advertised on their Facebook page.