Lifestyle Editor Harry Gold sat down with Gracie Marlow, president of the SU’s Mental Health Matters society, to talk about how mental ill health can impact students.
Survey data repeatedly shows that, on average, students are unhappier and more anxious than non-students, including other young people. Why do you think this is?
I think students are unhappier and more anxious than non-students because of the way the higher education system is structured. We are seeing the pressures of this system cause students to develop conditions such as depression and anxiety because they are unable to cope with the stress that the intense examinations and low job prospects brings.
From a young age, students are being made aware of the need for qualifications to stand a chance of getting a job. Combine this with more difficult exams and huge debt and a student can feel like they are unable to cope.
I wrote a piece in the Free Uni Bulletin that goes into a little more detail on this and we were also in the Guardian last year talking about similar issues.
What are common problems students experience with their mental health?
The three most common mental health conditions amongst young people and students are depression, anxiety and eating disorders but other conditions such as OCD and psychosis are also prevalent.
While I am encouraged by the movement towards a focus on wellbeing in the SU, not nearly enough is being done and more action can only take place when there is appropriate funding.
What advice would you give to a first year who is struggling to settle in/make friends/is feeling uncomfortable at university?
I would say that finding people you feel comfortable talking to about your mental health is the most important thing you can do. If you don’t get on with your housemates it can be really tricky, you can often feel isolated and like you have no one to talk to. Use this as an excuse to go along to societies and get involved with stuff at the SU. Mental Health Matters is a friendly and welcoming society whose events are open to everyone, you can come to an event whenever you want and we will be more than happy to talk about any issues you may be having. We even have a First Year Rep who will be able to talk to you about the difficulties of being a fresher.
Funding to mental health initiatives within universities are often limited. What more could the university/union do in order to help students?
There really is only one answer to this question: the University should and could be spending more on mental health initiatives. This isn’t a matter of lack of funds, it is a choice not to prioritise mental health. While I am encouraged by the movement towards a focus on wellbeing in the SU, not nearly enough is being done and more action can only take place when there is appropriate funding.
This isn’t just the SU and University’s fault however, it lies systemically in a government who haven’t prioritised mental health and who repeatedly cut funding for all mental health initiatives. Mental health is political, as all aspects of our lives are and this is not something that can be ignored. The mental health crisis amongst young people is at an all time high and more support needs to be in place to combat this. We cannot pretend that the huge increase in fees as well as the abolition of maintenance grants has not seen an increase in the amount of students experiencing mental health problems.
What help can you offer to students struggling with their mental health?
Students can get involved with the society by following us on our various social media accounts, Facebook is the most active ‘Mental Health Matters Society (Sheffield Union)’ so you can keep up with all our events there.
You can also become a member for £1 for a whole year on the SU website which helps us cover costs for bringing in guest speakers and for other activities . Alternatively, you can subscribe to our newsletter (also doable through the website) as this will be emailed out every week to let you know the key events that are happening. Anyone can come to our events at any time throughout the year!