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How to support a student struggling with their mental health

BY Ali and Finn

How to support a student struggling with their mental health

Are you looking for ways to support student mental health? During the past few years, there has been an increase in media attention around student mental health. Whether it’s terminology such as “generation stress” or articles about university pressure, it’s hard to ignore that there are real and serious issues surrounding students and their mental health inside and outside university. 

The transition from school to university can be an exciting time, but it’s also very normal for students to find it difficult, and some really struggle. As the “honeymoon period” of freshers wears off, the pressure to perform well academically, combined with the social and financial independence of living away from their family, can take its toll on young people. For parents, family or friends of students who are struggling, it can be hard to know how to help. We’ve gathered some ideas below.

Listen and encourage open conversations about mental health

Encourage them to talk about mental health, and let them know you’re there for them if they ever want to talk openly. Try to normalise talking about feelings. Rather than just saying your day was “fine”, mention feelings you experienced, like stress, worry or frustration, and how you tried to deal with them. This will help create an environment where they feel more able to voice their feelings, as well as showing them that all feelings are acceptable.

You could also mention the different services that are available on campus such as their Student Wellbeing Team and other resources the University may offer.

Encourage them to talk to someone about how they’re feeling 

Suggest that it might be helpful to talk to someone, and that doesn’t have to be you. Saying how they’re feeling out loud can often be the first step in processing difficult thoughts and feelings. You might find these tips from Samaritans useful, about how to support someone having a tough time:

Little tips for helping someone open up when something’s up | Samaritans

What to do if you think someone is struggling | Samaritans

If students are unsure who to turn to, there are lots of options and support services out there. Organisations like Samaritans are there to listen 24/7 for free with no judgement, BetterHelp can offer online counselling to students who need ongoing support. And you could also suggest they contact their university or college student wellbeing team, who will be well placed to support them.

Acknowledge societal pressures

Lots of pressure is put on young adults by society to be successful. It’s important to let them know that you understand how stressful this can be — even if they don’t seem like they’re struggling.

Reassure them that having a tough day is normal

Everyone has tough days. But it may not feel like it when they’re having one. When surrounded by other students who seem to be doing better, it can feel like they’re the only ones struggling. Re-assure them that everyone has bad days, but they will make it through.

Encourage them to keep up old or make new hobbies or interests

If they’re feeling a little lost, encourage them to keep up old or make new hobbies or interests that give them a sense of achievement and purpose. 

Send them a copy of The Positive Student Planner

At The Positive Planner we encourage journaling to support mental health. The Positive Student Planner is a 12 week guided wellbeing journal which supports students both emotionally and practically as they navigate the complexities of student life. It helps them understand their thoughts and feelings better, practice self-care, and tackle the things they most commonly find challenging such as independent living, budgeting, meeting new people and balancing work and fun.

It guides them to develop coping mechanisms for tough times, and positive wellbeing habits that will benefit them in the long term.

We collaborated with Samaritans to develop the journal after students told us they wanted an alternative to online support, following two years of the pandemic where they did everything online from studying to socialising. Journaling is also on the rise as part of the wider self-care trend, with scientific studies promising benefits to managing mental health.

We have worked alongside leading student mental health expert Dr Dominique Thompson and UK students to create The Positive Student Planner, a unique wellbeing journal specifically designed to support the needs of further education students. 

  • Front cover of The Positive Student Planner
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If you feel like someone in your life is in need of more professional support, do encourage them to speak to their GP. We also have some excellent links to organisations and charities that can help and advise you on our Mental Health Links page.

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