How to spot warning signs of mental health issues in students
19th August 2019
The alarming increase in student mental health issues has been well documented. Early recognition is key to supporting students who may be at risk. From behavioural changes to dramatic shifts in mood, we offer some practical tips for spotting warning signs of potential mental health issues in students – and what to do if you have concerns.
Some warning signs of mental health issues in students
Student mental health issues can be complex and far-reaching but it is widely agreed that earlier intervention is helpful. Below are some of the most common changes in behaviour or personality that could signify struggles with an individual’s mental health.
- A change in personality. If someone starts acting like a very different person, it could suggest poor mental health. Look out for signs of excessive nervousness, apathy or dramatic mood swings.
- Uncharacteristic anxiety, moodiness or anger. Severe emotional swings can be a cause for concern, particularly if they are constantly occurring.
- Changes in behaviour. This could be evidenced by an individual failing to complete work on time, or handing in work that is not to their usual standard. Unexplained absences or lateness could also suggest that the student is experiencing difficulties. Additional warning signs include trouble concentrating or remembering things or problems performing familiar tasks. If you notice any significant changes or fluctuations in weight or appetite, or if a student appears to be constantly tired there could be underlying issues that could be causes for concern.
- Social withdrawal and isolation. If an individual appears to be ‘disconnecting’ from the world around them, cancelling meetings with friends, or spending an unusual amount of time alone it may be a sign that the student is struggling to cope with university life.
- Lack of self-care or risky behaviors. This can include drug or alcohol abuse, a lack of care with hygiene or lack of concern with appearance. People suffering from poor mental health may also resort to self-harming as a way of controlling or relieving their suffering.
- A general sense of hopelessness, guilt, despair or feeling overwhelmed. When someone is struggling to cope with depression or anxiety and other mental health issues, just getting through the day can be For example depression can present itself in a wide variety of ways such as feeling intensely sad, isolated, unable to cope, upset and tearful, moving slowly or being very agitated. If the student shows persistent signs of the above emotions it could be a cause for concern.
What to do if you have concerns about a student’s mental health
Universities and colleges have a variety of support services for people with mental health issues. Whether you are a member of staff, a fellow student, or are looking for help for yourself, the important thing to remember is you needn’t struggle alone.
Anyone who is experiencing mental health issues should be encouraged to visit their GP as they are the main access point for referral to professional mental health services.
Student counselling services
Student counselling services are an excellent place to start your search for supporting mental health issues. They may not be able to assist every student directly but can usually put you in touch with other organisations or support systems. This could include individual counselling, group-based support or online communities such as Big White Wall that offer one-to-one sessions with accredited counsellors and cognitive behavioural specialists. They also offer peer support via anonymised forums and other useful resources, information and advice.
If you are a student looking for help, you could also consider speaking to your tutor or a trusted member of staff. They may be able to help with support on the academic side of things to give you time to prioritise your wellbeing.
External mental health support services
If the services your university or college aren’t appropriate or adequate, an excellent port of call is the leading mental health charity, Mind. They offer a variety of services and resources specifically for students. Find out more at the Mind student mental health portal.
Universities are working hard to address the issues that occur with student mental health, as are charities like Student Minds who are leading a charter to improve the support offered to students.
At Marshall E-Learning we work in collaboration with universities and academic institutions globally, offering guidance and training on student wellbeing via effective and affordable e-learning. Find out how our student mental health e-learning course helped Manchester University’s staff respond more effectively to these issues.
Contact us today to find out how we can help your students