A period of change and personal development combined with stress and pressure to academically exceed can trigger episodes of mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, in students.
Although there are a lack of statistics supporting the incidence of depression within university students, research conducted by Dr Helen Stallman, University of Queensland in 2010, indicated that of 6,000 students screened, 84 per cent experienced some from of psychological distress. The research also showed that almost one-fifth of students showed signs of mental illness.
Two participants in our recently launched, groundbreaking study (the Australian Genetics of Depression Study) revealed that their depression manifested during university.
Anna, 28, Sydney, relocated to Canberra for her studies. Although usually bubbly, Anna couldn’t seem to connect with others at university and experienced immense feelings of loneliness as a result.
“I had always lived in Sydney, but I moved to Canberra to study at the Australian National University (ANU).
“Although nothing particularly bad happened at Uni, I failed to connect with people, and started to experience an overwhelming sense of loneliness,” said Anna.
This sense of loneliness soon developed into something much more serious, as Anna worked hard to hide her feelings from her family and those around her.
“I was living on campus, and becoming overwhelmingly sad. But I didn’t want to bother my family with my feelings,” Anna said.
Similarly, Jennifer, 33, Canberra, began to feel overwhelmed by negative emotions while at
university. She experienced difficulty sleeping, and was reluctant to get out of bed in the morning.
“I often think about what triggered my initial episode of depression, but can’t quite put my finger on it. I was at uni at the time, but nothing else had really changed in my life. My depression came out of the blue.
“I began to really struggle with my studies, and withdrew from my friends,” Jennifer said.
“I had a lot of trouble sleeping, and didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. So I spent my days locked up in my room.”
For Jennifer, depression made her feel as though she was an outsider. She felt cut off from the rest of the world, “trapped behind an opaque glass wall, observing the world pass by but unable to participate in it.
“I had no idea I was living with depression. It took months before I realised that I was unwell, and it wasn’t until that point that I sought help,” said Jennifer.
Many universities have facilities on campus to assist students experiencing mental illness, however some believe it is lacking. Benjamin Veness, former president of the Australian Medical Students’ Association, told the Sydney Morning Herald [March 18, 2016] “I think universities here have conceived of students’ mental health as a nuisance rather than something they should take responsibility for.”
If you are a University student living with clinical depression, or know a university student who is demonstrating signs of clinical depression, contact Headspace on 1800 650 890, or BeyondBlue on 1300 224 636, or talk your on campus support service, your doctor or someone or someone you trust today.