Ten years ago, if someone had mentioned anything that was even remotely associated to mental health, people would simply turn away. Mental health is a sensitive topic and due to its sensitivity, schools and institutions around the world had censor it. Of course, it’s not like that today. Though society has drastically improved and mental health has become an important issue that we address today, it is still a prevalent crisis amongst all ages – particularly students.
Today, we have countless hotlines, support groups, and even extracurricular organizations that are catered to the support of mental health. Nationwide, the American educational system is incorporating more resources for mental health in schools and universities every day. However, many still struggle with depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsion disorders, and more. Nearly one in five U.S adults live with a mental illness today and only half of the people with mental illness receive medical treatment. 25.8% of U.S adults within the ages of 18 – 25 are diagnosed with mental illness. That means a quarter of U.S adults who suffer from mental illnesses are mainly college students.
This is a growing problem. College students undergo a large amount of stress, which is no surprise to anyone, and many don’t bother seeking medical attention or support groups. Of course, college students have many things going on in their lives that would amount to the ever-growing stress and anxiety that, unfortunately, comes with being a student. A common struggle that many students wrestle with is homesickness. Unfortunately, battling homesickness is simply inevitable. Homesickness can be one of the contributing factors to the deterioration of mental health. Many students are so busy trying to navigate being successful in their studies that some forget that having a social life is equally important as well. Loneliness is in direct correlation to the decrease in social connections, which, unfortunately, can lead to a worsening of mental health. Studies, mainly meta-analyses, have shown that the increase of social connections actually leads to a 50% reduction in risk for early mortality. Early mortality can include suicide, which is the 10th leading cost of death in America, with about 47,173 U.S adults committing suicide every year.
With the global pandemic, it has only gotten worse. Social connections have decreased drastically within the last few months and many of the students’ mental health are going down the drain, despite the multitude of resources and initiatives that are currently being addressed to ensure this wouldn’t happen.
So, what can we do to improve our mental health?
1.) Be kind to your mind.
This is the most important advice that I could give you. Your mind is vulnerable to many of the negative thoughts that it receives every day. You’re constantly overworking yourself. Sometimes it’s difficult to listen to your mind, especially when you have deadlines to meet.
However, it is imperative that you listen to your mind. Take a break from whatever is causing you stress and take a thirty-minute power nap. Journal. Bake. Hang out with your family. Doing small and comforting tasks will help the overall state of your mind, and you’ll find that you’re not as tired and exhausted as you usually are.
2.) Go outside.
I know it’s difficult nowadays to go outside, but you don’t have to travel far. Take a walk down your street, or simply sit outside in your backyard. Maybe have dinner outside, if feasible. Just do whatever you can to get some sunlight and fresh air. Studies have shown that not getting enough Vitamin D can cause a decrease in your seratonin levels (a neurotransmitter in your brain that regulates anxiety, happiness, and your mood) which can result in a higher risk of depression and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
3.) Stay connected.
If you’re not near your friends or family, call them. Just hearing a loved ones voice can calm your inner thoughts. Due to the current events, it may be hard to go visit them. That’s okay. Just try to stay connected with them – whether that’s through Zoom, FaceTime, or even just texting them. Hearing a familiar voice can help facilitate the process of getting through these tumultuous times.
Last but not least, breathe. Breathing exercises are important and can help calm you down. Deep breathing can help lower the stress levels in your body, slow your heartbeat, and lower or even stabilize your blood pressure.
5.) Ask for help.
If you are comfortable doing so and have the financial means, then asking for help is a great step to advocating for yourself and your mental health. Besides professional help, be sure to reach out to your friends and loved ones.
Remember, your mental health is important. Don’t undervalue your health. Forgetting to take care of your health in regards to your studies and career is, unfortunately, a very common cycle that many students find themselves caught up in. Whenever you’re not feeling like yourself, try the techniques that I’ve listed above. Mental health is a problem, but with time and effort, we can help those who are in need.