Mental health – be prepared


Mental health issues now affect a significant number of university students. In this post, UCA’s Ray Martin highlights key warning signs for both Home/EU and International students, and provides guidance about what you can do.

What are the statistics?

  • 29% of university students have mental illnesses.
  • 78% think they have had a mental problem at some point.
  • 1.5% disclose to HEIs.
  • 75% disclose their mental health conditions to fellow students.
    (UMHAN, 2017)

Key warning signs

  • Changes in mood e.g. elevated or decreased mood, increased anxiety
  • Irritability or tearfulness
  • Restlessness
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss
  • Reduced concentration and memory
  • Loss of initiative or desire to participate
  • Decrease or increase in speech speed
  • Increased difficulty making decisions
  • Placement non-attendance e.g. unexplained absence or sick leave
  • Reduced communication or withdrawal
  • Changes in presentation and cleanliness
  • Reduced performance
  • Poor organisation and time management
  • Changes in ability to think logically
    (UMHAN, 2017)

Why don’t some students disclose mental health issues?

  • Fear they will not get in; stigma/fear of being judged (UMHAN, 2017)
  • Cultural differences: Reliance on prayer or faith healers; belief that it is a Jinn possession or Evil Eye (Ahmed, 2012)
  • Source of shame; distrust of the medical profession

Additional risks for international students International 1 round b

  • High expectations
  • Lack of familiarity
  • Restrictive conditions
  • Home ways of learning don’t fit
  • Course selection mismatch
  • Pride hides vulnerability; stops help seeking
  • Working psychological over-time to fit in

A key trigger is real or supposed attacks on national identity (Brown and Brown, 2013: 397)

‘The move to a new environment is one of the most traumatic events in a person’s life and in most sojourners some degree of culture shock is inevitable’ (Brown and Holloway, 2008: 33)

Symptoms associated with culture shock

Low self-esteem Bitterness Depression Helplessness
Low morale

Social isolation

Dissatisfaction with life




Role strain

Identity conflict


Personality disintegration



(Brown and Brown, 2013:396)

What can you do?

If a student opens up to you about how they are feeling, they’ve probably chosen you because they know and trust you. You don’t have to be an expert in mental health to listen. Here are some top tips from the Samaritans on how to engage in active listening.

It’s not unusual for students to become emotional and even to cry. Don’t panic. Just because someone is upset or crying doesn’t mean they have a mental health problem and need professional help. Sending them away to speak to a counsellor may be unhelpful or unnecessary, and the student may feel you are being dismissive of them.

However, if you are concerned about what a student is saying, or you’ve noticed a pattern of behaviour beginning to develop which may be unhealthy or disruptive to their lives, you can signpost them to Library and Student Services (LSS).

Where should you direct students?


Each campus has a library. Within the library the Gateway is the student portal for information, advice and guidance. The Gateway is made up of a team of advisers who can assist students with queries about any topic. The Gateway staff are trained to offer support and to signpost students to the relevant service. Please ask your students to go to the Gateway Desk in the library and speak to an Adviser.

Counselling Service

Each campus has student counsellors based in or near the Library who are professionally trained and qualified to support students who self-refer for counselling. Counselling is very popular amongst the student population, and the service is often oversubscribed. At certain times of the year the service operates a waiting list due to high demand.

Please note that counselling is not a crisis service, and counsellors can’t be first responders in difficult situations. Counsellors are unable to share information about whether a student is accessing the service or what the student discloses, as they are bound to codes of confidentiality. However, counsellors can offer you advice and support if you are concerned about a student.

Staff seeking support for their own mental wellbeing should contact HR or access the Staff Portal for information on counselling for staff.

Emergency situations

In the unlikely event that a student is severely mentally unwell, or is of risk of harm to themselves or others, it may be necessary to involve statutory services. If a student is functioning well enough to make decisions, direct them to contact their GP or to present at the nearest A&E. If you are unsure, in an urgent situation call NHS 111; in an emergency situation call 999.

Further reading

Helpful resources


This entry was posted in Inclusivity, Internationalisation, mental health, Retention, Wellbeing. Bookmark the permalink.

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