Mental Health problems

Definition of mental health

The term 'mental health problems' is one that encompasses a range of  experiences and situations. Mental health might usefully be viewed as a  continuum of experience, from mental well-being through to a severe and enduring  mental illness. We all experience changes in our mental health state, influenced  by social, personal, financial and other factors. Major life events such as a  close bereavement, or leaving home, can impact significantly on how we feel  about ourselves, for example, leading to depression and anxiety.

A minority of people may experience mental health problems to such a degree  that they may be diagnosed as having a mental illness, requiring the involvement  of specialist services and support. The majority of people will not experience  mental illness, but will undoubtedly experience mental health problems at  different times in their lives. Our mental well-being is an issue for all of us  to consider all of the time, as we might consider our physical well-being.

Given support and information people experiencing mental health problems can  make positive changes and improvements. Only a small minority of people do not  respond to appropriate help and therefore need more specialist involvement.

Supporting students with mental health problems

The purpose is to provide information for those who might offer support to a  student experiencing difficulties. The information considers what mental health  problems are, how to recognise when someone is struggling with them, and the  range of support services within the University that can provide consultation,  advice and more direct involvement to best support the student and those around  them.

An increasing number of students at University are experiencing mental health  problems that impact not only on their academic work, but also on all other  aspects of their University life. Mental health problems not only have  implications for the student involved, but often also for those around them:  friends, colleagues, staff and family.

It is acknowledged that supporting someone experiencing mental health  problems is often difficult and challenging, and that people should not feel  alone in such situations. If in doubt, there are services that you can contact  for guidance and support in confidence.

Recognising mental health distress

Signs and Symptoms: Recognising Mental Health  Distress
It is important to acknowledge that mental health  problems can present in a wide variety of ways, depending upon the individual  and the circumstances. What perhaps is most important is to consider if possible  how a person seems in relation to how they usually are. Changes in people's mood  and personality can provide important indicators as to how they are feeling.  Unusual mood swings or social withdrawal might, for example, provide some  indication that the person is experiencing some degree of emotional distress.  Essentially, it is difficult to define what is 'normal', other than to use an  individual's usual behaviour as a point of comparison.Clearly it is not always possible to make such comparisons when dealing with  someone for the first time or with little prior knowledge of them. The following  list might help you become alert to the presence of emotional distress - the  list is not a diagnostic tool, but rather a collection of signs that might  indicate that the person is experiencing some degree of mental health  difficulty.

  • Erratic or unpredictable behaviour;
  • Agitation or overt anxiety;
  • Dishinibition;
  • Social withdrawal / avoidance of social interaction or contact;
  • Unexplained or prolonged crying;
  • Change or disturbance in eating / sleeping patterns;
  • Incoherent speech;
  • Paranoia;
  • Physical ill-health;
  • Hearing Voices;
  • Behaviour inappropriate to the social context;
  • Any verbalised thoughts of suicide / harm.

It is important to recognise that we all may experience one or more of these  factors at given points in our lives, and that none of the above in isolation  indicate a severe or enduring mental illness. The presence of these factors  might suggest a need for greater concern or investigation and therefore are a  useful aide memoir when offering support to individuals.

If you are concerned that someone you are supporting exhibits any of the  above indicators, then you are able to consult one of the support agencies  within the University (listed at the end of this leaflet), without necessarily  giving the name of the person involved. An appropriate response can then be  discussed and agreed.

Responding to mental health distress

Case Conferences 

Increasingly, the use of a case  conference has provided a useful forum for a range of departments to discuss  particular concerns and situations. Such meetings can include all relevant  departments, i.e. academic department, Student and Examinations, Welfare &  Advisory Services, Counselling Service, Student Health etc. so that all parties  are able to obtain accurate and relevant information about a situation and  decide a best course of action. This is particularly useful when mental health  distress presents in University Residences, which is often the case.

When initiating a case conference it is important to consider such factors as  confidentiality, privacy, providing information on a 'need to know' basis, and  whether the particular individuals concerned would be invited, or how decisions  would be communicated.

The case conference forum is able to consider all factors in context, for  example, so that academic issues are considered alongside other influencing  factors. It is important to remember when supporting an individual with mental  health problems that existing University procedures and protocols play an  important part in the response the individual receives and are best not  by-passed. A case conference provides an opportunity to develop a cohesive  response to both a student's personal and academic wellbeing.

Academic Procedures 

In line with the issues highlighted  in Case Conferences, the importance of maintaining the academic perspective is  key. Often, for most individuals, the presence of mental health problems is  transitory and with appropriate support people are able to make positive changes  and improvements. When considering an individual's academic performance, the  experience of mental health problems during the course of the academic year may  be a mitigating factor in explaining the under-performance of a student.

For those individuals whose mental health distress develops into a more  serious mental illness, the introduction of specialist support systems may well  provide for the individual to return to their studies in the future, or to  continue with their studies with additional backup. All of these situations can  inform the academic process, rather than overtake it.

Emergency Situations 

In rare circumstances a situation  might require an urgent response to ensure the immediate safety of an individual  or individuals. It is important that you have the confidence to call on  emergency services, such as an ambulance or the Police via the University  emergency number: 2222.

Both the Ambulance Service and the Police are trained in managing situations  involving people experiencing severe mental health distress. Clearly, avoiding  such circumstances is preferable if at all possible, but such situations do  occur, if very occasionally.

Following an emergency or serious situation, please ensure that you follow  the procedures in the following leaflet, "Guidelines on Dealing with Student  Deaths or Serious Incidents Involving Students".