Today (the 4th of March) is University Mental Health Day. It’s a valuable moment to think about our own mental health and the wellbeing of the people around us, particularly in universities. Before beginning my PhD research, I spent a year as a higher education mentor, supporting undergraduates and postgraduates diagnosed with poor mental health. I worked with people from several universities across the Southeast of England; they were of different ages and backgrounds. But one of the characteristics shared by all the students was that their mental health problems were linked to many issues.
Because of how the psychological sciences have developed, we often understand and treat mental health as separate from the rest of our lives. However, where we live, how we relate to people, our finances and many other factors are linked to our mental health. And they can get worse over time. Social isolation, a sense of underachievement, relationship problems, and financial worries can all affect our wellbeing long before a diagnosable mental health condition arises.
So while reliable diagnosis and treatment are essential when we become unwell, we should consider our health in the broadest sense. This is not just the responsibility of healthcare practitioners; we all could be creating the best possible conditions for our own mental health. We don’t need to wait for problems to become critical before we make changes. This is particularly true of student populations in higher education, where many people will be remote from their friends and families and face new and daunting challenges.
I generally think of mental illness as an effect that grows out of causes and conditions. It rarely arrives out of the blue without warning. If we can recognise those negative changes early enough, we have the opportunity to halt deterioration in our mental health. However, if we allow problems to grow unchecked and accumulate, we are more vulnerable to illness. If we become unwell, we should seek help as soon as possible. But the University Mental Health Day is also a reminder that support is available even before we reach a crisis or a low point.So I would urge everybody to consider their mental health as a work in progress; we have the potential in every moment to increase our happiness and wellbeing. Reliable meditation methods are just one of the tools available to us. The most import ideas are that we recognise the need to treat our mental health seriously and actively build resilience, and never be afraid to ask for help when we need it.