The mental health stigma
In this generation, the importance of mental health is ever-increasing. In 2021, 52.5% of young people aged between 17 and 23 in the UK have experienced a deterioration in their mental health, along with a staggering 58% struggling with an eating disorder. These statistics have increased since 2020. So if 'mental health awareness' is really growing, why are more young people becoming affected by this illness?
Did you know that anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder in adolescence? There isn't enough coverage on the effects that growing up and social media have on eating patterns, and it is much more prevalent than you may think. Not only is it disregarded the fact that eating disorders are one of the main mental illness', but some may never receive the treatment they need because they weren't 'physically underweight'. This ignorance has caused patients to spiral and therefore the concern of becoming hospitalised.
The social media effect
In our lifetime, social media is the Jekyll and Hyde. We love it because we can express ourselves, share our lives, indulge in entertainment videos, but it comes with a filter. Although it has given us a new freedom, it has sucked us into a black hole that most of us are struggling to escape from. The Instagram Effect: Instagram's exposure to the 'perfect life' and the 'perfect body' have completely overpowered human behaviour in the 21st century. All of a sudden you have to achieve an 'hourglass figure', have the 'perfect style' or 'eat a salad for dinner' to be accepted by society. The constant back and forth messaging of 'you should do this' but 'this is wrong' but 'actually do this' is a mental explosion itself. No wonder young people nowadays feel astronomically hopeless.
"Influencers share their "what I eat in a day" videos, and while their intention may not be malicious, comparison truly becomes the thief of joy. You start wondering about how much you should be eating. Are you over-consuming? Are you eating too much sugar? Should you be eating after 8pm? - Ava
Mental wellbeing as a student
Moving to university is a huge subconscious life shift. One minute you have been dropped home from the school bus after a structured 9-3 school day, the next minute you are deciphering the best price value between 'Uncle Bens' rice and 'Aldis own'. This transition can really take a toll on a student's mental health- we have to remember, us students are pretty much put out to fend for ourselves from the age of 18. For some this may be a walk in the park, for others, it can be a challenge in various aspects. As a student living independently with an eating disorder, the voice of control is very real. For example, meal planning, prepping, and eating is all down to you. Which means people facing an eating disorder, particularly restrictive or anorexia, now have the freehand on how much to consume- no one is watching. Having total control of food can be freeing or even exciting for some but for those with an eating disorder it can be terrifying.
Not only this, but those battling with food may battle with exercise as well. In many cases there have been links between restriction and over exercise: the need to compulsively exercise in order to take more control over your daily life. Perfectionism comes into great play here: going from a strict 6 hour school day followed by after-school activities to now having the freedom to decide your whole week plan means there is no structure. As a result those struggling with an eating disorder may find other ways to control themselves and their week- and this is by perfecting every aspect of their life.
The ability to study
We all know that once you become a university student workload hits like it never has before. Students are expected to be fully independent and tutoring is much different in the sense that we no longer receive that after-lesson guidance. If we want help we have to find it ourselves in the small time tutors have available. Lectures are in front of a huge, daunting crowd of new faces every week whereas school lessons were in the bubble of your 25 classmates. This shift can also affect your mental health.
Scientific evidence has proven that some symptoms of anorexia and restrictive eating disorder include brain fog, fatigue, and loss of concentration. This makes it very difficult to achieve daily tasks- sometimes to even get out of bed, because every mental and physical task requires energy. A starving brain cannot operate optimally. So, the ability to study is really affected by an eating disorder, and we need to ask ourselves are these topics raised establishing enough awareness? A mental health disease taking over a students life, mainly due to the inability to adapt to a life shift.
"Severely ill patients may not be able to participate in current standard of care psychotherapies because they are largely cognitive-based" - Rylander, M
University resources: Are they doing enough for us?
The real question is are universities investing enough time and effort into mental health awareness? A 2019 report stated that service delivery on bettering mental health varies between universities and none have been systematically assessed in a rigorous way. In addition, research in university mental health has been limited to only one or two universities and is relatively small-scale. This suggests there isn't enough being done for students struggling with mental health. Going forward, universities should plan to focus their attention on all cases, mild to severe, such as targeting prevention interventions for more at-risk students. For milder cases, self-help resources should be made more accessible. However, ultimately different types of pathways should be increased in order for students at severe risk to receive counselling or cognitive therapy.