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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.