Today is University Mental Health Day and there are lots of crucial themes around students’ wellbeing that deserve public discussion on this day.
Students can encounter a huge variety of different social, academic and cultural stressors whilst at University, and mental health difficulties can often result, or may already be in existence.
Poor mental health can interfere with functioning across all areas of life.
Students report experiencing a host of academic difficulties as a result of having poor mental health.
Leading factors found to negatively affect students’ academic performance are related to mental health, including: stress, sleep, concern for a troubled friend or family member, and depression or anxiety.
Other data also reflects how poor mental health negatively impacts academic success. For example, students with mental health problems like anxiety or depression tend to have lower grades and are more likely than their peers (without these problems) to drop-out of University before completion.
Social, Emotional & Physical Impacts
Students with poor mental health can experience problems related to adjusting to University in their first-year and beyond. Being away from home and having to make decisions for the first time can lead some students to feel so overwhelmed that they are unable to cope. The loneliness and isolation that often accompany mental health problems like depression can result in interpersonal problems that make it difficult for some students to relate to others. These adjustment-related difficulties may be especially pronounced among students who come to campus already having been diagnosed with a mental illness.
Mental health issues can prevent students from getting the most out of their University experience. They often stand in the way of students becoming active, engaged, and productive members of their lectures, seminars, classes and the larger campus community, and students with poor mental health are likely to experience diminished quality of life as a result
Students who have mental health issues can also encounter problems in their physical health. In many cases, mental health problems are associated with sleep difficulties that make it difficult for students to concentrate and stay alert. Researchers have also found that negative emotional states, like depressed mood or feeling overwhelmed, can lower the body’s ability to fight disease. As a result, students with poor mental health may be ill more often.
Perhaps the most serious consequence of poor mental health is when a student goes as far as attempting or completing suicide. Suicide, which is considered to be the second-leading cause of death among young people, may be the tragic result or consequence of undetected or un-supported mental health problems.
Towards a Suicide-safer Community
The tragedy of student suicide demonstrates how crucial it is to open up discussions on self-care, building student resilience, and to educate whole communities on suicide alertness. Mental health awareness can save lives and timely support can be of great help in times of struggle.
The Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Team recognise the need for further education and training around the area of suicide alertness, and, on 22nd February, Living Works (world-leading organisation for Suicide Prevention and Intervention) came to Cardiff to deliver a Suicide Alertness training Workshop, called SafeTALK, that prepares anyone, regardless of prior experience of training, to become a suicide-alert helper. The Workshop teaches people how to identify a person experiencing suicidal thoughts and what to do to help, by following 4 simple steps.
A group of 35 student and staff representatives, from a variety of different student groups and departments, attended the Workshop. Students included: Wellbeing Champions and members of the Time to Change Student Working Group (Student volunteers), Student Nightline volunteers and Postgraduate Peer Supporters. Staff members included: Residences Managers, Security staff and Student Support & Wellbeing representatives from: the Advice & Money Team, the Disability and Dyslexia Team and the International Student Support Team.
The SafeTALK training focussed on teaching people how to avoid: Missing, Dismissing or Avoiding signs that another person is thinking of suicide.
There is a common myth that all people that commit a suicide just want to die. However, most people with suicidal thoughts don’t actually want to end their lives, but struggle with some pain in their lives which leads them to suicide. Their behaviour is often their call for help.
The SafeTALK Workshop teaches attendees to identify those calls for help and act upon them. The ‘TALK’ steps – ‘Tell’, ‘Ask’, ‘Listen’ and ‘Keep-safe’ offer immediate help to someone having thoughts of suicide and help both sides move forward to connect with specialised support.
The session provided participants with tips on overcoming the barriers in talking about suicide by practicing some mock scenarios and thinking about reasons why we may inadvertently Miss, dismiss or Avoid cues about suicide.
More to do….
There is still a lot of work to be done around the stigma which still exists around open discussion of mental health problems and suicidal thinking, and to enable all of us to become suicide-alert helpers, who feel confident to identify the signs that somebody may be thinking about suicide, and confident to take action to help.
It is hoped that further SafeTALK training sessions will be rolled out across the University and, if you are interested in attending a SafeTALK Workshop, please simply email Jo Pinder (Wellbeing Practitioner & Counsellor), to register your interest, at:
Counselling, Health and Wellbeing
If you are experiencing any kind of emotional distress, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us. The Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Service can offer support to anybody experiencing any sort of difficulty, however big or small.
We offer booked appointments via our online referral questionnaire, in which our friendly, approachable staff can offer you non-judgemental support in a safe and confidential space. We also offer a daily Wellbeing Walk-In Service (3pm-3.45pm: Monday–Friday and Wednesday mornings: 9.30am-10.15am at the Student Support Centre at 50 Park Place; and Wednesday afternoons 3pm-3.45pm at Cardigan House, Heath Park Campus).
If you are worried that you are experiencing physical symptoms that may be affecting your health, we strongly advise you to make a GP appointment to discuss this. If you do not already have a GP, please contact NHS Wales on 0845 46 47 or check out their website to view all of your GP options. The University also has its own GP Practice – Park Place Surgery for those in their catchment area.
Please also look out for our Wellbeing Champions, who are trained student volunteers who promote health and wellbeing messages to fellow students on campus. They can offer information, experience and social or practical help to fellow students, or simply a listening ear. If you would like to see our Wellbeing Champions in action, please check out their video.
Immediate and Urgent Concerns
If you have immediate and urgent concerns for the safety of yourself or another student, please contact the Emergency Services immediately.
Nightline is also available as a confidential and anonymous phone support line run by other students during term-time, for any student experiencing distress, or who would like to talk in confidence to another student, between 8pm and 8am: 02920 870555.
The Samaritans is another confidential emotional support service that is available 24 hours per day, via telephone or email: Tel: 02920 344022; email: email@example.com
CALL stands for ‘Community Advice & Listening Line’, and this phone support line is open 24 hours per day, providing support via call or via text: Tel: 0800 132 737 or text ‘help’ to 81066.
University Security is available 24 hours per day on: 029 20 874 444.