While university can be a lot of fun, many students underestimate the effect it will have on their mental health. The pressures of having to be financially independent, cooking for yourself and making new friends can impact the mental health of students. Especially on top of huge, and sometimes very tough, academic expectations.
In fact, more than one in five students has a mental health diagnosis, primarily depression and anxiety disorders. In addition, one in three university students have experienced a serious issue for which they felt the need for professional help. And a third often or always felt lonely.
But what advice can we give to our children who are flying the nest? The article has six suggestions for protecting students’ mental health.
How to protect the mental health of students
Physical activity helps to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and other psychological troubles in people from all generations. At university, this could be going to the gym, joining a college sports club, getting into a running routine or any manner of other pursuits.
One study found that improvements in mood could happen after only a single 10-minute session. Even those with severe depression can show marked improvement after following an exercise regime. And some experts suggest exercise can outperform psychotherapy and antidepressants as treatments for depression.
2. Challenge themselves
Students should try new things that aren’t in their normal comfort zone. Learning to play an instrument, learning a new language, or even writing a blog or setting up a TikTok account. People who are psychologically healthy tend to be those who continue to challenge themselves in some way or another. They often have better mental health and can expect improvements in a bunch of other things too, such as cognitive skills, confidence, resilience, civic engagement, life satisfaction and even health behaviours.
3. Connect with others
Connecting with others involves actually making an effort to be social. Uni is a great opportunity because there are so many different societies or clubs, new housemates to bond with, or simply having coffee with other students on your course. It might take a little effort, but your tribe will be there somewhere around the campus.
Having good social relationships is the best predictor of wellbeing for the mental health of students. Feelings of worth, love, intimacy, support, meaning and purpose are all higher in those who have high-quality social relationships. It’s also linked to better health behaviours and living a longer life.
4. Give to others
This involves doing something like volunteering for a local charity, caring for a loved one, or donating money to someone in need – although donating money is, of course, likely to be tougher for cash-strapped students than giving up their time.
People who volunteer or help out with community activities, and even those who commit to one act of kindness per week for six weeks, show improved psychological wellbeing.
5. Practice self-care
Being disciplined with regards to sleep and developing healthy cooking skills can have a marked effect on students’ mental health. Low wellbeing can cause poor sleep habits and poor sleep habits can contribute to low wellbeing. It’s a vicious circle.
Better sleep quality, although not necessarily duration, is related to better mood regulation, motivation, quality of life and mental health. Diet and nutritional habits are just as important, with healthy eating associated with better psychological wellbeing and cognitive functioning.
6. Embrace the moment
Taking part in mindfulness exercises, being curious about everyday experiences, and simply becoming aware of how quickly time can pass can all have a positive effect on the mental health of students. When we spend all our time ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, then our present moment isn’t really a nice place to be.
Mindfulness can help students to slow down, to become better at noticing when their minds have wandered, and to bring their attention back to the now. This allows them to embrace the moment, resulting in better mental health and wellbeing.
If you have a student in your life, these tips will help them as they head out on their adventure.