Mental health issues can affect study in a number of ways, although without prior knowledge of a diagnosis it may not appear that these effects are caused by a mental health condition.

The detrimental effects of a severe mental illness are more easily identifiable than those of the less severe forms. For example, a student’s studies may be interrupted by spells of relapse, hospitalisation, or experiencing adverse side effects to prescribed medication. Other students may display symptoms that could easily be experienced by any student such as:

  • Lacking self-esteem and confidence
  • Feelings of anxiety and irritability
  • Loss of motivation and inability to concentrate
  • Missing lectures, appointments and deadlines

Diagnosable conditions are often not treated and are allowed to gestate. Mental health conditions can also affect a student’s short term memory, reading ability and ability to process new information meaning their condition can be confused with Specific Learning Difficulties. This means that a student that is tired, unwilling to engage and struggling with their studies may not simply be having a bad day.

ibdjl95-Speech-Bubbles-1-2400px“I’m absolutely terrified of being in social situations in which I don’t know the people I’m speaking to – seminars are a nightmare. I’ve often missed my contact hours because I’ve been up all night crying and stressing and can’t face going in. I don’t feel like I can tell my tutors why I’m missing their classes, because I feel like they won’t believe me as I haven’t been officially diagnosed.”

Studying at university is a stressful time that can exacerbate existing conditions and allow new ones to develop. Undergraduate study is a particularly challenging time as students must juggle the stresses of exams and deadlines, and the pressure to achieve, with the first time experiences of living away from home/abroad, having financial responsibility, and getting accustomed to a new social environment.

ibdjl95-Speech-Bubbles-1-2400px   “I spent the first few weeks of uni hiding in my dorm room crying my eyes out. I was and homesick and wasn’t sure if I wanted to be there at all.”

Some students will be aware of an existing condition, choosing whether to disclose it or not, and may have created coping mechanisms. Other students, however, will have an undiagnosed condition or will develop one during their studies and may be experiencing mental health problems for the first time.

ibdjl95-Speech-Bubbles-1-2400px   “As a fresher you are constantly reminded that this is supposed to be the ‘time of your life’. When it feels like the worst time of your life you feel both a sense of guilt and a  pressure to keep these negative thoughts to yourself.”

The symptoms of a mental health condition or the effects of prescribed medication can have adverse effects on study, such as tiredness, anxiety and lack of concentration, creating more stress and making their conditions worse. Furthermore, the stigmatisation of mental health issues and the reactions or undue attention received from fellow students and members of staff can be both stressful and alienating for the student.

ibdjl95-Speech-Bubbles-1-2400px   “Panic attacks followed by depression meant things rapidly spiralled out of control. I found I simply couldn’t think straight and my short term memory became terrible. The best description I could muster was that it felt as though the entire world had been rotated very slightly and nothing was the same anymore.”

If you are concerned for a student direct them to the Wellbeing Service at Swansea University.


Injuries that are caused deliberately to oneself are considered to be acts of self-harm. The phrase ‘self-harm’ (also referred to as self-injury) describes a wide range of behaviours enacted on oneself, such as:

  • cutting
  • burning
  • pinching
  • drug abuse
  • eating disorders

Self-harm is often understood to be a physical response to an emotional pain of some kind, and can be very addictive. It often happens during times of anger, distress, fear, worry, depression or low self-esteem in order to manage or control negative feelings.

Self-harm can also be used as a form of self-punishment for something someone has done, thinks they have done, are told by someone else that they have done, or that they have allowed to be done to themselves.

When helping people who self-harm, it is often more helpful to focus on how someone is feeling rather than what they do to themselves.