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University Mental Health Day
University Mental Health Day –
Thursday 9th March 2023
University life is an exciting time and yet it can also be incredibly stressful. From the pressure to succeed academically to the stress of making new friends and adjusting to a new environment, mental health is an increasing priority for universities.
As a university lecturer, I have seen additional pressures on university students in recent years. The adjustment to teaching and assessment during the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and resulting isolation increased anxiety for students. ‘Take-away’ exams were introduced which were completed at home and online. Even when restrictions were eased, a hybrid model was in use with some in-person activities and yet many other activities delivered online. Struggling with motivation due to studying alone and online was a common challenge. Post pandemic, students are now sitting exams, but not at home and this aspect is completely new for many. It’s not that they haven’t had to take exams, but the format of the exam is different. It’s the first time for many that they are sitting in an exam room. Uncertainty creates stress.
Then add to the mix the ‘cost of living crisis’ that is hitting students (and us all) this year. A survey of 4000 students carried out by the Office of National Statistics in the UK found that half of respondents (49%) felt they had financial difficulties and 45% reported a worsening impact on their mental health. Additional hardship funds have been introduced by universities this year and these funds support for example, transport costs to employment placements. More uncertainty equals stress and worry.
A recent research study with 584 university students showed that assessment and life circumstances were significant barriers to mental wellbeing. Every individual will have their own unique set of experiences; however, student mental health is a priority for all.
Let’s take a closer look at some practical tools that will help with student mental wellbeing.
Study Skills – Research shows that building study skills enables student mental wellbeing. Understanding university assessments and the most effective preparation approach to take will contribute to building test anxiety resilience. Not all study techniques are optimal. Taking an open book online assessment will be very different to taking a closed-book exam. Yet students study the same for every assessment and from my own research, many employ suboptimal methods. It’s not what we would call, studying smart! This is a huge topic, and it is not possible to do it justice in a short blog post.
But here are some top tips and reminders:
Questions lead to learning – Re-reading notes is not necessarily good studying. Yes, reading information is needed but use questions and testing to help learning A practice test improves long-term retention of knowledge or summarise/explain a topic in your own words.
Space out study topics – Break up larger learning content into smaller units. Every 10-15 minutes include a question. Space out studying of topics and mix them up. It’s not about studying one single topic for five hours, better to do 5 different topics for one hour each.
Connect to prior learning – Recapping questions revisit important concepts from a previous activity or recap on foundation knowledge. New knowledge will link with this prior knowledge more easily and effectively.
Supportive Tribe – Social connections and feeling connected to others are positively linked to good mental health. Meaningful human connection is created through interactions. Even small, fleeting and yet powerful moments of connection can occur in our day to day lives with loved ones, strangers, in person and online. One way to connect is through the giving and receiving of support, yes, doing good does you good. Random acts of kindness are a great way to do good. Keep an eye out for any opportunity to help someone. Doing something nice or kind doesn’t have to cost anything or take a lot of time. Give up your seat for someone, give a compliment, make someone laugh. It’s the small things that can make the biggest difference.
Thought Patterns – Our minds seek stability and answers and with increasing levels of uncertainty, we can find ourselves in a spiral of thinking, all the what ifs that create the opposite to feeling a sense of control and safe. This can be draining over time and negatively impact on mental wellbeing. The thoughts we spend our time with impact the feelings that we experience. Certain thought biases pop up particularly when we are stressed, or our mood is lower.
Mind reading – we interpret and make meaning to what others are thinking and feeling. These are our own assumptions rather than fact.
Generalization – when one negative thing happens, it means everything else will be negative too. We take one thing and generalize it to other things.
The Shoulds and Musts – overuse of expectations and judgements that can set us up to feel a failure or missing the standard.
All or nothing – polarized thinking in absolutes or extremes which is restrictive and unrealistic.
It is not possible to stop these thoughts however recognising them as being biased and just one possible idea among many available, we then become more empowered. This can seem difficult at times particularly when stress levels are high. Keeping a journal and writing down specific moments and thought patterns is a good way to understand our own thinking. Talking through your thought biases with a trusted person is also a great way to explore your choices and obtain a different perspective. It may also help to talk to a professional who can help you understand strategies to support positive mental health.
Here’s a link where you’ll find a therapist who works with a flexible, evidenced based, approach to therapy and focuses on you as an individual. All therapists on our directory are Quest Institute Trained, a registered member of the QCHPA and satisfy the association’s requirements for Supervision and Continuous Professional Development.
Dr Suzanne Fergus is a university lecturer with 20 years’ experience in all things learning and teaching. She has published extensively in peer-reviewed academic publications. Suzanne’s passion and outstanding commitment to teaching were recognised by the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2016 with a Higher Education Teaching Award. She is also an author of Study Smarter: a lecturer’s inside guide to boost your grades. Suzanne trained with The Quest Institute and their highly recognised diploma in Cognitive Hypnotherapy. She works privately as a learning coach and delivers presentations that debunk learning myths.