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Mental Health Difficulties

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This section introduces the importance of our mental health and explores how mental health difficulties may impact on a student's academic performance and participation in college life. Here, the main focus is to suggest ways in which you as a staff member can support students who may have mental health difficulties.


Introduction

Mental health is an umbrella term that refers to how we perceive and feel about ourselves and others and the meaning that we derive from everyday life. It also relates to our ability to cope with change and transition and the stresses of everyday life. Mental health is not the same as the absence of mental illness.

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. Mental health is an essential component of general health and wellbeing. Poor mental health affects our ability to cope with and manage our lives, particularly during personal change and through key life events, and decreases our ability to participate fully in life.

Mental health difficulties in students can develop in response to pressures at college, at work, at home, trauma, or relationship difficulties. Many mental health difficulties are temporary, responding to medication, therapy, and rest. Some people may experience more long term difficulties which are interspersed with period of good and poor health. Students with mental health difficulties can register with the Disability Service, to access services and advice, to support them in their student role. Types of mental health diagnoses include: depression, anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, personality disorders, and schizophrenia.

Difficulties that may be experienced by university students with mental health difficulties

  • Students may experience anxiety about day-to-day aspects of college.
  • Students may have poor attendance at college due to low mood, anxiety, or fatigue.
  • Students with mental health difficulties often have poor sleeping and eating patterns which can affect their concentration. It may also be difficult to concentrate in lectures or in the library due to low mood or anxious thoughts.
  • The busy college environment can be overwhelming for students with mental health difficulties.
  • Students may have low self-confidence in their ability to do things, and may procrastinate or find it difficult to get things done. Students may find it difficult to plan ahead and be organised. Meeting deadlines can be extremely challenging.
  • Engaging in extra-curricular or social activities can be difficult for students with mental health difficulties.
  • Students may be feeling very hopeless and isolated. Some mental health difficulties can cause significant changes in behaviour, and students may be more vulnerable or aggressive.

Strategies staff can use to support students

  • As explained here, students may have disclosed a mental health difficulty to their School. Access the LENS report for details on how you can support the student. Implement and support a student’s reasonable accommodations with efficiency and discretion. Be mindful of how a mental health difficulty may impact a student’s experience of college life.
  • Be familiar with the Trinity College Mental Health Policy.
  • Make lecture notes available in advance if possible. Students with mental health difficulties may have difficulty attending lectures for various reasons. Some students may be anxious about the lecture environment. Other students may find it difficult to attend lectures due to low mood, concentration difficulties, or a disrupted sleep pattern. Providing lecture notes in advance enables the student to access the lecture content and to become acquainted with the subject material before the lecture. This practice may reduce uncertainty, and help the student to feel prepared and comfortable within the lecture. Having notes can also help to focus the student on the lecture content, instead of worrying about taking down all of the information being presented.
  • Prioritised reading lists enable students to engage with the most pertinent course material.
  • For many students, their condition may be variable and they may experience periods of particular difficulty. This may require some understanding and flexibility. 
  • Students may prefer not to discuss difficulties they are having but you can help by being available to listen if a student wishes to talk to somebody.
  • If you do not feel equipped to help, encourage the student to talk to a professional in the College Health service, the Student Counselling service, or the Disability Service.
  • Follow Trinity Inclusive Curriculum guidelines as much as possible.
  • Help and advice on using the College Accessible information policy .
  • Encourage the promotion of positive mental health when possible. In 2012, the 5 A Day for Mental Health initiative was launched, a collaboration between the Unilink service, the Equality Fund, Students Union, and the Staff Office. The initiative seeks to promote positive mental health by encouraging TCD students and staff to engage in five simple activities every day to improve well-being in everyday life. Click here to find out more!

Resources/links

See the following links for more information about mental health and useful resources:


Last updated 27 June 2014 andrew.costello@tcd.ie (Email).