75% of mental health disorders begin by the age of 24, making the mental health of university students vitally important
Rates of mental health issues, and rates of suicide at university have increased almost yearly
Around 15,000 students reported mental health issues in 2016, compared to 3,000 in 2006
University students are a busy bunch, spending hours sitting at lecture halls, thinking deep thoughts about their lessons. They are also planners, thinking ahead of their coursework. And of course, beyond university, they have their own personal lives to deal with.
Students, who are often thinking ahead to this and that deadline, the next step, and to what happens after university, are rarely self-reflexive in the present. They rarely live in the current moment, which, for many reasons, is very problematic.
As Socrates declared at the trial which lead to his death, 'the unexamined life is not worth living'. That might be drastic, but there is some truth in it. What is life (or university life) if it is mostly spent worrying and moving from one thing to the next without any time for reflection?
The declining state of student mental health in universities is not a secret. Fortunately, a number of universities are actively addressing this.
For instance, York St John University have had a team of exercise professionals deliver four exercise-based interventions that were designed for people with mental health issues. These interventions have demonstrated that student volunteers are an important ‘resource’ that universities can use to help support people with mental health issues. Such volunteering can also present an important learning opportunity for the students involved.
Yet, in spite of these initiatives, university students continually find themselves distracted, uncentred and anxious. All these emotions can have negative mental health outcomes.
But there might be a way to lead a more peaceful, impactful and fulfilling university life. While this certainly entails many practices and, likely, several changes – the practice of everyday mindfulness might help students deal with the vicissitudes of university life.
Mindfulness is not just meditation, and that must be understood from the beginning. Mindfulness can be practised and integrated into every aspect of life. It is noticing the present moment. This philosophy comes from Vipassana, or 'insight' which is the crux of the Buddhist Theravada tradition. You do not have to be Buddhist or adhere to any specific religion to engage in mindfulness practices.
Many of us may feel like we don't have time for mindfulness or meditation, which signals something is very off in the first place. That’s understandable: most could easily fall into that exact same trap. But the good news is that being mindful does not require massive amounts of time or energy. And as mindfulness has been scientifically shown to reduce anxiety and stress, the benefits might quickly be seen.
Mindfulness can also increase psychological functioning, self-control and social connectedness. It could easily be integrated within your day: You could start with a mindful meditation before heading to campus, and follow this with a mindful walk in the afternoon. Finally, you can finish off the day with a mindfulness meditation.
A mindful lifestyle and meditation has differential success across the population, not everyone responds the same. But, the science is behind it. There is now a substantial knowledge base that mindfulness practices can have significant benefits to people – and university students are no exception.