2 April 2023
By Elaine Murphy
Munster Technological University (MTU), its Students Union and the HSE are collaborating on a campaign to raise awareness of common mental health difficulties among its student population. HSE research found that one in two adults had experienced a mental health issue.
Young people can experience ongoing stress, anxiety, low mood and sleep difficulties and may accept them as part of normal lives. However, they are related to students’ mental health and the HSE and MTU are encouraging students to take time to make that connection. If students recognise that they need some help they can talk to someone or explore the information and resources available, including self-help apps and courses, on yourmentalhealth.ie and through MTU’s supports. The HSE research found that young people between the ages of 18 and 24 were more likely than all other ages to search for help online and from text services.
Mark Smyth, HSE senior clinical psychologist, said “If young people can spot small things in themselves that are starting to persistently bother them, seeking advice and support as soon as they become aware of them can really help. This isn’t always easy as the busyness of life can distract young people from the impact that low mood, stress, anxiety and lack of sleep can have on them. If students become aware of their thoughts and feelings, the information on yourmentalhealth.ie can help them to understand the effects on them and to find solutions. Recognising the signs and their effects before they deteriorate can empower students to take control and seek support early on.
“What also helps students is knowing that they are not the only one who worries a lot or are feeling down because of a relationship or an exam result. Knowing many other students experience the same stress and anxieties and have the same low or sad feelings makes getting support seem less daunting. I’d encourage students to share their feelings with family and friends, knowing that mental health affects us all. For those who are not ready to talk to someone else, the online supports such as mindfulness, CBT or a stress control programme may suit some students.”
The HSE’s research also found that many people reported that sleep is key for maintaining positive mental health and equally that problems with sleep contribute to poor mental health. Mark Smyth added that “Keeping an eye on one’s sleep pattern is essential. Students are juggling different aspects of academic life and need energy. Sleep gives their bodies, brains and minds time to take a rest, recharge and get strength for tomorrow. If any students have gotten into a habit of staying up late and want to change this, try starting with pulling it back by 15 minutes a night.”
He advises practical help for students “by focusing on four items, try getting some daily exercise – not running marathons or half marathons, just a light activity that you enjoy. Eat a relatively healthy diet, often when students are stressed they tend to eat fast food or they forget to eat. Try to keep to a healthy sleep pattern and finally being around other people really helps too. You can mix these up by meeting a friend for lunch on the college’s spacious campuses. While these techniques may not make you extremely happy immediately, they will assist in improving your mental health to perhaps finding contentment.”
MTU President, Professor Maggie Cusack, said “We are delighted to join with the HSE and the Students Union to raise awareness of the Your Mental Health campaign. At MTU, our students are the heart of our university, and we are committed to doing everything we can to support their mental health and wellbeing. The practical messages promoted through this campaign will ensure our students are informed and empowered to make better decisions around their mental health as they journey through MTU.”
Head of Student Counselling for MTU Cork, Dr Honor Carroll, highlighted how “fostering a culture of mental health awareness is a key factor in the wellbeing of individual students as they progress through MTU. Along with the HSE’s yourmentalhealth.ie we have mental health and other support services for Cork and Kerry including our online peer support platform, digital mental health programmes, and the text ‘MTU’ to 50808 service, all of which are free and accessible to all MTU students and staff 24/7.”
Derek Chambers, HSE general manager, Mental Health Operations said, “Collaborating with MTU on promoting common mental health difficulties among young people is vital. Our research found that young people, particularly men, are hesitant to talk about their mental health with close friends, family or a GP and we want them to know that it’s good to talk and seek help at the earliest opportunity. Websites, texting services and social media from the HSE and other trusted mental health organisations are also popular among young people and the information on yourmentalhealth.ie responds to that need.”