Recent research I carried out has brought home to me how difficult it is for students to be honest about their mental health. I am a mental health nurse currently doing a PhD in mental health and wellbeing. A couple of months ago, I decided to conduct participatory action research on mental health, to give students a voice and opportunity to participate in a mental health research project. However most of the students that I invited refused to participate.
But who can blame this student? With the stigma, shame and social isolation associated with mental health, it is no wonder that higher education students want to be seen as “normal”.
As a mental health nurse, I am very aware of what the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) Code of Conduct says about my responsibility and accountability to patients. However, there is no code on my responsibilities to vulnerable students who do not have a diagnosis of mental illness, neither is there a code for the ones with a diagnosis who refuse to disclose.
The question is why mental health education is not a significant part of university student inductions, health promotion campaigns and mental health awareness initiatives? It is not enough to put up A4 posters, leaflets and sign with messages like “confidential counselling team”, “feeling stressed about your exams, want to talk it?” Stigma, shame and social isolation seems to ring through the information leaflets.
Experiences of mental health among higher education students are not limited to the student alone, but friends and family members may also have a diagnosis of mental health. This is huge mental responsibility for any student, in addition to studying to achieve academically.
Higher education authorities must recognise the importance of the student voice in facilitating help-seeking behaviour among higher education students with experiences of mental ill-health. The time has come to prioritise the voice, opinions and experiences of mental health among higher education students, so as to provide a platform for students to express their views on their mental health without the fear of stigma, shame and social isolation.
Josephine NwaAmaka Bardi is a Registered Mental Health Nurse and an Economic and Social Research Council PhD student on the mental health and wellbeing pathway.