Aoife Hardesty tells us how to keep our mental health in good condition while in UCD.

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IN recent times, mental health has become a hot topic within the media, and not without good reason. Figures from the Central Statistics Office reveal 554 died by suicide in 2011, comparable to 186 road deaths in that same year.

According to the HSE, 300,000 people in Ireland have depression, based on figures from the support group Aware.

College can end up resulting in mental stress and anxiety because college is a period of time that can be challenging for a number of reasons.

According to a member of UCD support staff: “challenges can be the change of environment, living away from home for the first time, change in style of study and trying to settle into college.  Also, for most students there may be financial pressures where they may have to work to live which may have an impact on their studies.”

UCDSU Welfare Officer Roisin O’Mara says: “Students often feel pressure to excel in all areas in university, and often compare themselves to their friends or other students. A major challenge facing students is finding the balance of academic work and social activities.”

Struggling to keep up with coursework is a common part of college life, and some people can have more trouble with this than others. To avoid falling behind, a UCD support staff member suggests “Following a study plan and try to adhere to the deadlines of coursework and to admit early on that they are feeling overwhelmed and talk to someone about it, whether it be a support staff member or an academic.”

For some students, they will hit a crisis point with workload and this can be exacerbated by personal problems, or be completely due to workload.

“It’s difficult to prepare for [a crises]” says O’Mara adding that it is important to “identify your supports early in the year, and to talk to them. Please don’t keep silent if you’re worried about your academic work.”

At some point during the college year, becoming stressed out is almost inevitable, whether it’s because you haven’t attended a single lecture all semester, or because you’re worried you won’t get an A+ grade, it is key to have a coping mechanism to help with getting through.

“Stress is different for everyone, so naturally coping mechanisms vary hugely” says O’Mara. While O’Mara is not qualified a mental health practitioner, she points out a few ways that people find helpful in coping with stress: “Some people find sport therapeutic as is reading, writing, listening to music, etc. Physical exercise is a great way to burn off some steam and clear your head out. It doesn’t need to be really exertional, a swim or a walk will work wonders! Drinking and drug use aren’t great ways to manage stress, they often end up exacerbating the stress as opposed to elevating it.”

The member of UCD Support Staff says “this is dependent on each individual person. Talking is a sign of strength, so that would be a good start and from there, through talking, the student may be able to individually figure out and learn their own coping strategies.”

On the UCD campus there are many places to go to for help if you’re feeling mentally unwell.

“There are many places to get support for any kind of mental health concerns on campus” says O’Mara.

“Your student advisor is a good place to start, they can direct you to the most appropriate avenue of help. The welfare officer is also useful in that regard, he/she can also direct you where required, or just listen to you blowing off some steam if that’s what you need. There are also counselling services available on campus and a mindfulness course. The Student Counselling services are located in the Student Health Centre in the Old Student Centre.”

The on-campus Health Centre offers a free counselling service. There are also chaplains on campus who you can turn to for support. Additionally, there are phone lines you can call to talk to someone such as Samaritans.

Struggling with mental health can be scary, but there are many places and people you can go to for help. Similarly, it can be very difficult if a friend or someone close to you is going through a difficult patch — according to PleaseTalk, “you are not an expert” — so when a friend is going through a hard time, you do not have to have all the answers. Simply be there, listen and have tea/coffee and a hug ready when they need it.

With so much help available, you don’t have to struggle through on your own. Having coping mechanisms, playing an instrument, going to the gym, knitting socks, being aware of where you can turn to in times of stress and being willing to talk about overwhelming feelings will help you keep your mental health in good health