Over recent years, the mental well-being of students has come under increasing scrutiny. Modern stresses and strains have been intensified by continued rises in the average cost of living, and other social and academic expectations, all of which place extra pressure on students.
The figures are telling
The most recent data available from Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) relates to 2014-15. In that academic year, 1,180 student abandoned their university studies due to personal experiences with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. This is a massive 210% rise from the 380 students who dropped out of university with mental health problems in 2009-10.
Whilst some of the reasons for this can be attributed specifically to on-campus factors, such as social anxiety and homesickness, there are many issues that can lead to this with online study too.
What can you do, and avoid doing, to help ensure you have the best chance to maintaining your positive mental health, and make the very most of your online learning experience?
Prepare before you start the course – it’s sensible to research the content of the programme so that you have a clearer idea of what to expect. This will help give you confidence and cut out the chance of nasty surprises about what you are not able to do.
Plan your studies properly – whether you are balancing your studies with career or personal commitments, make you sure you structure your studies to suit your circumstances. This includes making sure you are getting enough sleep! Don’t burn the candle at both ends because disrupted sleep patterns are closely related to the onset of depression.
Organise yourself – following on from above, make sure you are aware of any deadlines. Make a to-do list and use whatever organisational means you are most comfortable with to make sure you don’t let things slip and spiral out of your control.
Vary how you access your online studies – one of the many advantages of distance learning is the ability to access any time, any place. There’s no reason to study in isolation all the time. If you can find a WiFi connection in a public place, take the opportunity to vary your location and enjoy the flexibility that comes with distance learning!
Don’t expect to breeze through every part of your course – it’s an unrealistic expectation to place on yourself, which can increase pressure on yourself to reach unlikely targets. You will be better at some areas than others, and that’s perfectly natural.
Avoid unhealthy ways of coping with stress – drink and drugs are unhelpful ways to combat stress or to reward good work. It is easy to become dependent on ways to self-medicate. Instead, reach out for help either from health professionals for lifestyle advice or university tutors for tips on better ways to structure your learning.
Never be afraid to reach out and seek help – universities and GPs are very understanding of the anxieties and demands placed upon today’s student. You won’t be wasting their time, even if you just stop by for a quick chat with them. As they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.