Mental health at university

March 14, 2024
Min Read
Written by:
Callum O'Neill
University life is exhilarating, but it can also be mentally demanding. This article focuses on the mental health challenges students might encounter during this time, and explains how talk therapy can be a valuable resource to improve your experience.

Common mental health challenges at university

University life brings new experiences and challenges that can affect students' mental health. Some common mental health issues that students might face while studying at university include:

1. Anxiety

Students may feel overwhelming worry about exams, presentations, or social interactions, leading to symptoms like rapid heartbeat, sweating, and avoidance behaviours. For example, a student might experience panic attacks before a test or skip classes altogether due to social anxiety.

2. Depression

A student might lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, struggle with low energy, or have difficulty concentrating on assignments, which can significantly impact academic performance.

3. Stress

The pressure to maintain good grades, secure internships or jobs, and plan for a career post-graduation can lead to chronic stress. This can manifest in both physical and psychological symptoms, such as headaches and irritability.

4. Sleep disturbances

Due to late-night studying or socialising, a student might develop irregular sleep patterns, leading to daytime fatigue and reduced academic performance.

5. Disordered eating

The desire to fit in or cope with stress might lead a student to adopt harmful eating habits, such as skipping meals or binge eating, which can have serious health consequences.

6. Substance misuse

To deal with pressure, a student might start drinking heavily during social events or using drugs, which can lead to dependency.

7. Isolation

International students or those far from home may struggle with loneliness, finding it hard to make connections in a new environment, which can exacerbate other mental health issues.

These issues can be managed through talk therapy, where experienced practitioners can create a safe space for students to navigate their challenges and find support strategies.  

Types of talk therapy on campus

Universities offer various forms of counselling to cater to the diverse needs of their students. Here are some commonly provided practices:  

  • Individual therapy. One-on-one sessions with a therapist where students can discuss personal challenges privately.
  • Group therapy. Facilitated sessions with groups of students who share similar experiences, providing a sense of community and mutual support.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). A structured approach that helps students identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours.
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). A therapy that focuses on teaching emotional regulation, mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness skills.
  • Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). A specialised therapy used primarily for trauma, helping students process and integrate traumatic memories.
  • Counselling. General counselling services that offer support with academic, career, and personal issues.
  • Psychoeducation. Groups or workshops that provide information on mental health topics and teach coping strategies.
  • Crisis intervention. Immediate assistance for students in psychological distress or experiencing a crisis.
  • Peer counselling. Support services run by trained student volunteers who offer a relatable perspective and empathetic ear.
  • Mindfulness and stress management. Programmes designed to help students learn how to manage stress and anxiety through mindfulness techniques.  

Benefits of talk therapy for students

Talk therapy offers a range of benefits, positively impacting both the mental health and academic performance of university students. The benefits are numerous:

  • With the guidance of their practitioner, students are free to articulate their emotions, such as addressing homesickness or expressing fear about the future. Talk therapy can assist with understanding and communicating these feelings rather than letting them fester.
  • For a student grappling with procrastination, CBT can help unravel negative self-talk and replace it with motivational thoughts, leading to a more productive approach to coursework.
  • DBT offers students, perhaps overwhelmed by exam stress, techniques like mindfulness and distress tolerance, which help in maintaining calm and focus during high-pressure periods.
  • EMDR can be a critical tool for students dealing with past traumas, enabling them to process distressing memories and concentrate on their present studies and campus life.
  • After engaging in talk therapy, students often experience a boost in confidence, which might inspire them to take on new challenges, such as leadership roles in campus organisations.
  • Therapy can enhance a student's ability to communicate with peers and professors, leading to more enriching academic collaborations and personal relationships.
  • As mental health improves, so does academic performance, evidenced by more active class participation and a proactive approach to complex projects.
  • A previously introverted student may find the confidence through therapy to join social groups and activities, fostering a sense of belonging and community on campus.
  • Self-reflection encouraged in therapy sessions can lead to significant personal insights, prompting life-changing decisions like changing a major to pursue a true passion.

Common obstacles to seeking help at university

Students may face several challenges when seeking mental health support at university. However, there is always a way to navigate these obstacles.

  1. Stigma

The stigma associated with mental health treatment is a significant barrier. Many students fear being judged, misunderstood, or labelled with stereotypes. However, seeking therapy is a sign of strength and self-care.

  1. Lack of awareness

Many students are unaware of available resources and the importance of mental health care, delaying their access to support. While it is the responsibility of your university to ensure that wellbeing resources are made accessible to students, it’s likely that information is readily available on their website.

  1. Financial constraints

Cost can be a significant barrier for students. Affording therapy sessions or necessary medications can feel impossible, which is why most universities will offer free counselling. Many private counselling practices will also offer heavily subsidised sessions if you can show proof of being a student.

  1. Long waiting times

University counselling centres might have limited staff and high demand, leading to longer wait lists. This delay can discourage some students from pursuing treatment. However, it's always worth investigating, because wait lists can often move more quickly than expected.

  1. Balancing academics

The demanding nature of university life leaves little time for personal commitments like therapy sessions. Finding a balance can feel like a challenge. But most courses of counselling only take up half an hour per week, and practitioners will likely be willing to fit sessions around student schedules.

What we offer at ProblemShared

ProblemShared was founded to enhance access to the highest quality mental healthcare and neurodevelopmental support. We are here to support university counselling services across the UK meet the growing demand for care.

Our community of exceptional practitioners are available to provide capacity, diversity, and additional specialisms to in-house student counselling services.    

For more information, you can explore our university webpage.

Approved by ProblemShared clinician:
Callum O'Neill

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