Preamble: The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not just the absence of disease of infirmity.
Mental health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
Mental illnesses are “health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.”
Mental disorders are common with the WHO estimating a lifetime prevalence of one in every four persons (25%) and a point prevalence of 10 per cent. It is established that mental health problems occur across the lifespan; with some occurring in childhood such as Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Others have their onset in adolescence such as drug abuse problems, depression, schizophrenia as well as bipolar disorder. Some are more common among females such as depression; and yet some have their onset in the elderly above the age of 60 years such as dementia.
Thus, mental health should be accorded due priority in every facet of life, including on campus.
Critical age of high risk:
We know that more than half of adult mental disorders have their onset before the age of 15 years. Furthermore, some serious mental disorders have their peak age of onset between the ages of 15 and 25 years. Thus, the university student population has a youthful population that is within the age bracket of high risk for the onset of mental disorders.
Furthermore, some students will be leaving their homes and parents for the first time and are therefore under some pressure to adapt to their new realities. Academic learning is also more unstructured and fluid – requiring better organization and self-discipline. Other potential stressors include difficult room-mates, financial challenges, difficulties initiating and managing emotional relationships, heavy academic work load, and temptation to experiment with drug abuse. Some others may experience sexual harassment, intimidation or bullying from cultists, etc.
Cause for concern:
Globally, there is a steady rise in the prevalence of mental health problems. The trend is also obvious in Nigeria, with the recent spate of suicides, drug abuse problems, increasing rates of depression and other mental health problems.
In the United Kingdom, the Office for National Statistics says that a university student dies from suicide every four days. And the University of Bristol recorded 11 suicide deaths between 2017 and 2018. What are the rates for Nigeria? We simply don’t know for sure. Over the past few months, the media reported at least five cases involving university students.
We know that suicide commonly occurs in the context of a mental health problem – especially depression. And that it is always a PREVENTABLE loss of human lives, which is why the theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day being observed today (October 10) focuses on working together to PREVENT suicide.
Overall, the WHO estimates that 800,000 suicide deaths occur every year. This translates into one suicide death every 40 seconds. And the number of attempted suicides is 20 times more, so in the range of 18 to 20 million per year. Or one suicide attempt, every two seconds. It is something we should be concerned about.
Ten steps to enjoy optimal mental health in the university?
It is within our control to strive for positive emotional well-being, and identify early, warning signs of emotional ill-health and seek for interventions from mental health professionals. The following are useful steps in this regard.
- Understand that FAILURE is NORMAL in the REAL SCHOOL OF LIFE. When you stumble, get right up, learn the lessons from that failure and then march on.
This speaks to the concepts of attaining resilience and overcoming vulnerability.
- Invest in social relationships: Make deposits in your emotional bank with people so they can also be there for you when you need to make withdrawals in your low moments. Everyone needs a shoulder to lean on from time to time.
- Good sleep is essential for optimal brain functioning
- AVOID DRUG ABUSE….it damages the brain and increases the risk of mental health problems
- Strong Family ties are protective
- Healthy extra-curricular activities such as sports and exercises are healthy.
- Early detection and intervention steps are critical to success. If there are problems, go to the university clinic.
- If you know someone affected or that you are worried about and they refuse to go, please discuss with the social workers or with an experienced adult.
- To thyself be true, look out for yourself and nurture your physical, mental and social well-being.
- Utilise online access to mental health groups with expertise such as the Asido Foundation.