By Chloe O’Sullivan
These are the best days of our lives, or so the old saying goes. College is a new beginning. It is a time of transitions – our first time leaving home, our first time being treated as an adult, our first step on the road to the future we want. Lectures, societies, new friends, and going out. You finally have a life free from your parents. So would it surprise you to learn that we students are more likely to experience mental health problems than other group?
These things may not seem very scary on paper, but when faced with a million first steps at once, the pressure and stress can become overwhelming. A report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that students report more mental health problems than other group, but also that they were more likely to seek help.
While college life is an exciting new experience, it comes hand in hand with pressure and stress for many students. Students must deal with new housemates, a lessregulated education system, independent learning and financial pressures.
“We all have to learn to manage our money much better. It’s ok to splash out a little, but not the first week or two of semester one,” says Helena Ahern, Head of Counselling and Personal Development in DCU. “We are in an uncertain environment at the moment but we still have a lot of control. Live in the moment but remember tomorrow as well.”
For students dealing with financial stresses, DCU’s Student Advice Centre in The Henry Grattan building can be a valuable resource. The Centre offers advice on coping with financial pressures and budgeting for college, and for those especially in need of financial help, the Student Assistance Fund is available. All you need to do is drop in for a chat and they will see what they can do for you.
Venturing into the ‘big smoke’ for the first time without your parents at your side can be an intimidating prospect. It can be an emotionally demanding experience – not to mention a shock to the system for students.
“If you are coming to Dublin for the first time, it can be quite an adjustment. Moving from secondary school to the larger community of college can be a big change. It is quite normal to be anxious or stressed,” says Ahern. “Of course there is a level of excitement. Just take it step by step, day by day. This makes the change more doable and contained.”
Ahern advises students making the jump into college to go to Orientation.
“Everyone is in the same boat,” she says. “Orientation gives you natural places to just say hello to the person next to you.” Ahern says that one of the issues counsellors encounter is depression among students.
“Depression is like a continuum,” she says. “It is normal to feel down for a day. But depression lasts for more than two weeks.” Ahern says that good indicators of depression are feeling you can’t get out of bed in the morning, change in appetite (overeating or under-eating) or a change in sleeping patterns.
“Exercise has been shown to help depression. You may not feel like it but it helps a lot. Omega 3 and 6 are also very good. There are things you can do for yourself but you can seek professional help,” she says.
Ahern says the best thing students can do when dealing with stress, depression or any other difficulties is to become aware of all the services available on campus to help them out. She says, “the Student Advice Centre is there to help.”