Healthy Mind

We must silence student stigma surrounding mental health

Students often stick to a strict schedule of socialising, sleeping in and studying at the very last minute, but what happens when stress takes over? 
The strains of student life can quickly take its toll on any budding socialite who may find themselves slipping into bad habits and perhaps experiencing negative thoughts. It is not uncommon to feel overwhelmed during the academic year, as almost 1 in 10 people in Ireland suffer from depression. 
Depression can darken even the brightest days, leaving lectures dull and hopes diminished.  Students slip into isolation seldom seeing the light at the end of what may appear to be an eternal tunnel.  Although it is lessening over time, a stigma still surrounds the topic of mental health in our society.
The lifestyle of a student dealing with depression can go from one extreme to another:  from a social butterfly to a reclusive, solemn soul reluctant to ready themselves for a new day. Although every effort is made to raise awareness of the various symptoms of mental health, it is indisputably difficult to detect changes in our own behaviour and personal habits. Trust me, I did just that.
I was, and still am, a typical student, eager to cherish the sweet student life for as long as is humanely possible. I did not receive any warnings as to a change in my mental well-being, it isn’t as if one is notified by one of many social media outlets which dominate the world we live in. 
Depression develops silently, slowly showing it’s symptoms to the outside world.  It dawned on me that I had been in denial about feeling down, demotivated and distracted after consecutive disastrous days in college. Denying a problem will not demolish it, no matter how deep you bury it.
Many services have been set up to stomp out the stigma of mental health and Dublin City University (DCU) is no exception.  There are endless options for students when it comes to seeking help.
Campus spoke to Anne O’ Connor, head of the Disability and Learning Support Service (DLSS) in DCU about the support they offer to students who may be struggling at any point during the completion of their degree. 
“There are approximately 510 students registered with DLSS,” says Anne, who explains that 100 of these students make use of services related to mental health/well-being: “We offer a range of services to students.”
Anne emphasises that any student who feels down or is struggling with college life should talk to someone about how they are feeling, be it a lecturer, programme chair, friends or family. 
Once students register with DLSS they must complete a needs assessment which determines which of the services best suit their current needs. “They could link in with the Unilink service which is an occupational therapy-led service helping students to keep on track,” Anne explains.
“There has been a dramatic increase in students registered with our services over the past two years,” says Anne.”5 years ago we had 20 students, now we have over 500.”
Although unsure as to what the reason for this increase is, Anne believes that it may be down to the lifestyle of students, as alcohol and drug use play a big role in their social lives and these are more easily available. 
DLSS aims to look at resilience, so that students may be able to identify the signs of depression or anxiety at the very start: “We want to make them aware of their own strength and let them know that they can cope.” 
This can’t always be done, and the service has seen an increase in students transitioning from second-level to third-level education with feelings of anxiety and depression. In the past, students identified problems in relation to their mental health during their first or second year of study at DCU, but this sudden influx was unexpected and may lead to a shortage of resources.
I have had first-hand experience with the Unilink service and hope that it may be offered to all who may need it. It gave me the chance to get back on track in relation to the college workload and aided my poor time management immensely. I have found myself feeling more relaxed and motivated to complete both every day and academic tasks. 
Another service provided within DCU is the counselling service run by Student Support and Development. It is truly good to talk to someone as a problem shared is a problem halved. Other outlets include mindfulness workshops and ‘Pathways to Success’, which is a workshop aimed at setting and achieving reasonable goals for oneself both in the short and long-term.
Denying depression will not make it disappear. Silencing the stigma is key. DCU’s newest student-led society aims to do just that. DCU Walk and Talk Society provides ‘An Active Approach to Mental Health’. 
Awareness and activeness in relation to mental health amongst students are key goals made by the society who have established the ‘T.E.M. Protocol’. This is a principle which shows that:
Talking is the first step toward recovery and good mental health.
Education on mental health is an essential for both mental illness sufferers and people helping those with mental health difficulties.
Motivating both mentally ill patients and “helpers” to take action in seeking help via the available resources or through giving support.
This provides a new initiative for students who would rather talk to other students than strictly seek help from staff or professionals. It acts as a social outlet as well as a safety net for students who may feel isolated or affected by the stigma surrounding these ongoing issues.
There is no need to feel alone in the battle against depression and anxiety. 10% of adolescents aged 13-19 have major depressive disorders. There is always someone who understands what you are going through no matter how isolated you may feel. I have learned that denial deepens the hole of depression and acceptance and action allows for a brighter future. 
Photo: DCU Walk & Talk/ Facebook