The Importance of Mental Health and Wellbeing for Students
The Importance of Mental Health and Wellbeing for Students
Students have a lot on their plates – from juggling coursework, to placements, employment, and social outings- there is sometimes little room for looking after oneself. Prioritising mental health and wellbeing is incredibly important across the lifespan, and while each life stage brings its own challenges, time spent investing in higher education can be a stressful time for many.
For those readers currently studying in higher education institutions, take a moment to think about how much time you set aside for your own mental health and wellbeing each week. For some of you, this might look like pampering yourself with a nice bubble bath, and for others, it may look like hitting the gym for both physical and mental health benefits. But for others, prioritising their mental health may seem like an absurd concept.
So, what is mental health and wellbeing?
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as:
‘a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’
While this definition encompasses many aspects, the reality is that mental health may mean different things for different people. For some, mental health is the absence of mental illness, and for others it’s more about ‘wellness’ than it is about illness. Perhaps a good way to think about mental health is to consider it on a continuum. On the one side, good mental health means functioning well and coping with the stressors in our lives, while the other end of the spectrum relates to psychological disorders.
Similarly, wellbeing is not just about the absence of illness, it’s a holistic concept that considers one’s emotional, physical, social, workplace and societal wellbeing. Each aspect of wellbeing is not independent of the other. For example, if your physical wellbeing is lacking, it’s likely that your overall wellbeing will be lacking as well. Wellbeing can also be visualised as belonging on a spectrum, from low to high wellbeing.
Mind Australia, a community mental health service, describes the relationship between the two concepts in the following way:
‘If you experience low mental wellbeing over a long period of time, you are more likely to develop a mental health problem…
If you already have a mental health problem, you’re more likely to experience periods of low mental wellbeing than someone who hasn’t. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have periods of good wellbeing’
Why are they important?
The literature has shown an increase in help-seeking behaviours in adult students over the last decade, and the onset of many psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression begin in early adulthood. Psychological distress in higher education is associated with poorer classroom attendance, performance, engagement, and completion. It appears the literature paints quite the morbid picture of mental health in adult students, however, there is a flipside to these findings. The literature also indicates that outcomes of good mental health include an increased capacity for learning, creativity, and productivity. Furthermore, it has been linked with more pro-social behaviour, positive social relationships, improved physical health and even life expectancy.
It was mentioned earlier that good mental health and wellbeing refers to the ability to deal with life’s stressors. It is likely that while studying, students will have to face their fair share of tough times. So how do you work on your mental health so that you feel equipped to handle these tough situations when they arise?
Tips for a Healthy Mind
- Connect with others: prioritise spending time with your loved ones, such as your family, friends, and pets! If you find yourself lacking a support network, there are plenty of amazing communities that you can join. A couple of examples include volunteer organisations, sports or other activity clubs, mental health support groups or online communities.
- Move your body: staying active doesn’t have to mean an intense workout 5 days a week (although it can if that’s what you enjoy!). Getting in your daily exercise can look like a yoga session, a walk in the park or playing a sport with your mates. Physical activity can benefit your mental health by decreasing stress, increasing your focus, and giving you a natural energy boost!
- Prioritise sleep: Around 7-9 hours of sleep each night is just the right amount of sleep for adults. Sleep is important for our mental health as research has shown that for every hour of sleep you miss, there is a 38% increased chance of feeling sad and hopeless and a 14% increased chance of experiencing unpleasant emotions that can impact on your daily functioning.
- Eat well: eating a balanced diets full of fresh veggies, fruits and whole grains can improve energy, mood, and general health. Ensuring you drink enough water is important for functioning as well!
- Take a break: while it might be tempting to take on that extra shift at work or say yes to those Saturday night plans, it’s important to put boundaries in place to look after yourself. Taking regular time outs and saying no will not only ensure you get to treat yourself, but it will also play a role in preventing burn out. Burnout is characterised as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion that is caused by excessive and prolonged stress. This can lead to decreased motivation, increased irritability and trouble sleeping.
- Mindfulness: We are often so consumed by our own thoughts and stuck in worries of the past or the future.
‘How am I going to find work after graduating?’
Why did I say that thing in class yesterday?’
‘How am I going to finish that assignment in time?’
Mindfulness activities involve grounding you to the present moment. Examples include meditation, mindful colouring, breathwork and progressive muscle relaxation. Here’s a grounding technique you can do at any given moment: identify 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Once you’re done, notice any changes in your mood, attitude, and emotions.
- Ask for help: while there has been a lot of progress in the field of mental health and psychology over the past couple of decades to reduce the stigma associated with asking for help, there is still a lot of work to be done. Reach out to your loved ones if you are struggling, take advantage of your educational institution’s resources and seek therapy if needed.
Try to foster discussions with the people around you about mental health. Why do they think it’s important? Have they ever struggled with their mental health? How did they work through it? Adult students have an important voice- they are the future educators, doctors, and leaders of our world. Let’s work on normalising going to therapy for our mental health, just like we go to the doctor for our physical health.
In what way can you take care of your mind and wellbeing today?
Further resources on the Importance of Mental Health and Wellbeing for Students:
The Importance of Mental Health and Wellbeing for Students, References
Complete a short Nationally Recognised unit in Mental Health First Aid (Workplace)