Student Mental Health: How to Spot the Signs of Distress
Worldwide, an alarming number of students and young adults suffer from mental health conditions or disorders. However, most of these issues go undiagnosed due to the stigma surrounding mental health issues and the lack of support available to students within educational campuses or at home.
In order to provide timely help, educators, teachers, and faculty members must learn the signs that indicate that a student could have a mental health condition.
In this article, we will look at some common signs of mental health conditions in students and what to do in these cases.
Risk factors for mental health conditions among students
A recent UNICEF study showed that 14% of Indians aged 15-24 years (i.e., one in seven individuals), reported feeling depressed or had little interest in engaging in activities. This is lower than the global average figure of one in five, but still a worrying number given that young people make up a huge part of the country’s current population.
The same survey added that only 41% per cent of young people in India saw seeking support for mental health problems as a good thing, compared to an average of 83% for 21 countries. This indicates that India’s youth still harbours stigma around mental health issues.
The pandemic has definitely had a role to play in worsening the mental health of students. One particular study from India showed that 29% of the surveyed college students had moderate to severe depression, while 51% had mild to severe anxiety.
The following list includes some common risk factors for student mental health issues:
- Living in isolation from family and friends
- Neglecting sleep habits due to exams and academic pressure
- Taking medications that disrupt sleep cycles so they can stay awake for longer.
- Skipping meals and not getting enough exercise, which negatively impact physical health as well as mental health.
- Bullying and discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, caste, etc.
- Lack of support mechanisms and wellness programmes on campus.
- Lack of green and quiet spaces on the campus where one can relax
All these factors can negatively impact mental health and can lead to depression, anxiety, food disorders, substance abuse, and others in college students.
How poor mental health affects students
1. Poor performance
When students exhibit poor performance in class, there are several reasons why it might be happening.
On the one hand, poor performance could be attributed to being late on homework or missing deadlines.
However, poor performance can also be related to student mental health issues such as stress or anxiety, which can interfere with focus and productivity.
If you see patterns in your student's work that make you think something is off, start by asking about their workload and stress levels.
Red flags include social withdrawal, failure to complete work or frequent absences from class.
2. Social withdrawal
Sometimes people experiencing mental health conditions may start to distance themselves from their friends and social circles.
Perhaps they are afraid that others will judge them or make fun of them.
Maybe they don't have anyone in their lives who understands what they're going through, so they stop trying to talk about it.
It's easy for these situations—and many others—to develop into full-blown social withdrawal.
3. Low self-esteem
Low self-esteem is associated with poorer physical health, lower academic performance, and more severe symptoms among those with anxiety disorders.
A person with low self-esteem may be hesitant to take an important test because they don't think they can do well or are smart enough.
A good indicator that someone has low self-esteem is if they often put themselves down by saying things like "I can never get anything right." or "There's no point in trying. I never succeed at anything."
If you hear one of your students making these kinds of statements often and it seems like their general mindset is negative, it might be time for concern.
4. Substance abuse
Drugs and/or alcohol can be seen as a way to calm nerves and loosen up and decrease anxiety, but they can lead to substance abuse.
Of course, other factors may push a student toward substance abuse (like peer pressure or curiosity); however, poor mental health is one of them.
According to research, individuals with anxiety are at an increased risk of developing a substance use disorder. Keep in mind that mental illnesses don't directly cause substance abuse, but people may abuse substances like drugs or alcohol to cope with mental health problems.
5. Aggressive behaviour
In some cases, mentally distressed students may even display aggressive behaviour. This can range from physical violence and threats to verbal outbursts such as name-calling or belittling comments directed at others.
However, not all aggressive behaviour indicates that a student has a mental health condition; it could also be caused by something else, such as being under stress or pressure due to personal circumstances.
If you notice an unexpected outburst of aggression, it's important not to jump straight into assuming that something is wrong. However, if these outbursts begin occurring regularly and continue for longer than expected, there may be cause for concern.
What teachers and faculty members can do to help
As soon as you think something is off with one of your students, get in touch with them and offer to meet for coffee. You may feel like you're not qualified to intervene when it comes to mental health issues, but reaching out or offering support doesn't require a degree in psychology. Simply showing that you care can make all the difference.
If they do confide in you, be honest and open about what options are available on campus—and then help guide them toward those resources. It's also important not to tell them just what they should do next.
Some of the campus mental health resources can include psychologists or counselling helplines that distressed students can approach. You can also conduct mental health awareness campaigns, organise online support groups, and call mental health experts and youth influencers who can speak to the students and normalise discussions around mental health.