On World Mental Health Day, observed October 10, various international organisations gave undergraduates tips on how to gauge their mental health. Here we provide several of their suggestions to help students to maintain their mental health in the face of stress.
Studies have shown that Arab youth are troubled by psychological problems like anxiety and depression as frequently as their counterparts in Western countries, and sometimes much more so. Armed conflict and economic turmoil in some countries are added stressors on youths’ mental health, and the isolation and disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have added to the toll everywhere.
Many Arab universities have programmes to support their students’ mental health, though some struggle to find trained specialists to staff them. At universities where mental-health support units exist, students experiencing psychological problems should not be afraid to seek their help.
If counselling services are not available, experts advise that just speaking openly and frankly to someone close to you will greatly improve your mental well-being. So be sure to share what you are going through with those who care about you, no matter how you communicate.
What Is Mental Health?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) website defines mental health as a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn and work well, and contribute to their community.
“Talking to someone you trust, whether a friend, a family member, or a colleague, can help. You may feel better if you are able to openly share what you are going through with someone who cares about you.”World Health Organization
MentalHealth.gov, a government website in the United States, says mental health is all that encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
Mental Health Risks
The risks to mental health can be found in more than one cause. The Western Australian Government Mental Health Committee website suggests the following risk factors:
- Genetic predisposition
- Homelessness and unemployment
- Alcohol and other drug use
- Discrimination and racial injustice
- Family conflict or family disorganisation
- Stressful life events
The same website asserts that similar events can have different impacts on individuals, depending on what they were experiencing at the time and their ability to cope with and learn from life events. This means that if a number of individuals are at risk, it does not necessarily mean that all of them will have mental health problems, and if some have problems, they will not be in the same form, nor to the same degree.
Organic diseases can often be easily detected, because of pain or visible symptoms. Mental-health disorders are different. There are some indicators, however, that could signal the presence of a threat to mental health. According to MentalHealth.gov, early warning signs include:
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little
- Pulling away from people and usual activities
- Having low or no energy
- Feeling numb or like nothing matters
- Having unexplained aches and pains
- Feeling helpless or hopeless
- Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
- Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
- Yelling or fighting with family and friends
- Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- Having persistent thoughts and memories you cannot get out of your head
- Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
- Thinking of harming yourself or others
- Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States has long experience in public health protection and believes that psychological illness can lead to significant damage to physical health. Long-term depression, for instance, can be linked to health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Maintaining Mental Health
The World Health Organization has provided six tips to help cope with stress.
Talk to Someone You Trust. Talking to someone you trust, whether a friend, a family member, or a colleague, can help. You may feel better if you are able to openly share what you are going through with someone who cares about you. If you live in an area where face-to-face interactions are limited, you can still stay connected with your loved ones through a video call, phone call or messaging app.
“If you feel like you cannot cope with the stress that you are facing, seek professional help. Call your local mental health helpline or get in touch with your counsellor or doctor. Remember you are not alone, and there are things you can do to support your emotional well-being.” – World Health Organization
Look After Your Physical Health. Taking care of your physical health helps improve your mental health and well-being. Be active for at least 30 minutes daily, whether that is running, walking, yoga, dancing, cycling, or even gardening. Eat a balanced and healthy diet. Make sure to get enough sleep.
Do Activities That You Enjoy. Try to continue doing the activities that you find meaningful and enjoyable, such as cooking for yourself or your loved ones, playing with your pet, walking in the park, reading a book, or watching a film or TV series. Having a regular routine with activities that make you feel happy will help you maintain good mental health.
Steer Away from Harmful Substances. Do not use harmful substances such as drugs, kava, alcohol or tobacco to cope with what you are feeling. Though these may seem to help you feel better in the short term, they can make you feel worse in the long run. These substances are also dangerous and can put you and those around you at risk of disease or injury.
Focus on the World Around You. Communicating effectively with the world around you helps rid your mind of negative thoughts. In the same vein, you will find appreciating the detail of the surrounding environment has a good effect. You can do that by asking yourself, What are the first five things I see in front of me? What are the first four words I am likely to hear? How do I describe the texture of the ground under my feet?
Seek Professional Help. If you feel like you cannot cope with the stress that you are facing, seek professional help. Call your local mental health helpline or get in touch with your counsellor or doctor. Remember you are not alone, and there are things you can do to support your emotional well-being.
- AUC Seeks to Promote Mental Health and Well-Being Across Its Community
- Iraqi Universities’ Psychological Support Units Struggle to Meet Needs
- Student’s Suicide Highlights Lack of Mental-Health Services in Yemeni Universities
- Mental-Health Care on Arab Campuses is Increasing—Slowly
Read more about mental-health issues affecting Arab youth in Mental Health, an archive of Al-Fanar Media’s reporting on this topic.