Britain wakes up to student mental health plight

University of Bristol had reported nine cases of students committing suicide since 2016. (AFP)
Updated 27 May 2019
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Britain wakes up to student mental health plight

  • One in five reported suffering from mental health issues, mostly depression and anxiety, according to the survey conducted at 140 British universities
  • The proportion of British students reporting mental disorders has ‘significantly increased’ over the last decade

LONDON: Former business student Greg used to resort to drink and drugs to get to sleep — a common story at British universities struggling to adapt to growing concerns about student mental health problems.
“I was super, super depressed,” Greg, now aged 26, told AFP.
Around half of the 37,500 students interviewed by The Insight Network, a therapy provider, used drugs and alcohol “as a means of coping with difficulties in their lives.”
One in five reported suffering from mental health issues, mostly depression and anxiety, according to the survey conducted at 140 British universities.
In Greg’s case, it was a combination of factors at play, including the disappointment of not liking his course and coping with having more time on his hands.
The end of a five-year relationship, on top of the death of his grandparents, however, made things even worse, he said, asking not to be identified by his full name.
Dominique Thompson, a doctor who has treated students for 20 years, said their anxiety could be debilitating and was “not about feeling a bit stressed about exams.”
“They would not be able to go out with friends, to go to their lectures, to study, to read... they stop socializing, leaving their room,” she said.
And students with depression sometimes develop “suicidal thinking,” she warned.
Over the last decade, the proportion of British students reporting mental disorders has “significantly increased,” according to a study.
From 0.4 percent in 2008, the figure rose to 3.1 percent last year, the study of nearly 2.3 million students published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency indicated.
However, “we do not know how much of this increase is due to increased awareness of mental health conditions, the willingness of students to report such conditions, or a genuine increase in the prevalence of mental health conditions,” the agency said in written comments to AFP.
Jolted into action, the government announced in March the creation of a new working group “to support students to deal with the challenges” of starting in higher education.
“Our universities are world leading in so many areas and I want them to be the best for mental health support too,” Education Secretary Damian Hinds said at the time.
Students often impose “extremely high, often unrealistic, expectations” on themselves and have difficulty coping with failure, said Andrew Hill, director of a wellbeing research group at York St. John University.
There is also anxiety associated with “seeing mistakes in your work, or that others will spot mistakes you have made,” he told AFP.
Social media, with its visibility and reach, has also contributed to the pressure on young people, said Thompson.
“Cake baking is now a competition, putting on makeup is a competition, sewing, painting, sculpture...
“You name almost anything that could have been fun and relaxing, it’s now become a competition,” she said.
“They’re ... 24/7 under the microscope because of their social media.”
The doctor also said that the rise in student mental disorders was an international phenomenon.
She said students also battled the feeling that it was “no longer enough” to have a university degree because they were now so common.
Another factor can be “helicopter parents,” who micro-manage their children’s busy activity-packed routines while they are still at school, leaving them at a loss once they have to manage on their own, she said.
The experts say that universities need to implement new strategies to help struggling students.
Non-competitive activities just “for fun” should be introduced, as well as teaching students how to deal with failure, said Thompson.
For his part, Hill urged tutors to receive “basic mental literacy training” to “recognize the signs and symptoms” of potential disorders.
Greg remembers asking for help when he was a 20-year-old student at a top London university in 2013, but said that the process took “so long” he gave up.
“They recommended books, numbers to call and asked if I wanted a chat,” he recalled.
“They eventually get back to me between eight and 10 weeks after I contacted them. It was very frustrating.”
Some universities have recently taken up new approaches.
“Like many universities, we tended to focus on the point when they needed additional support,” said Mark Ames, head of student services at the University of Bristol.
Shocked by the suicides of nine of its students since 2016, the institution set up two services, made up of around 60 staff, who “focus on supporting students’ wellbeing,” such as encouraging them to get more sleep.
It is also reviewing how often it tests students and its examinations schedules to “make sure they don’t all bunch at the same time.”
However, it was recently in the headlines after the parents of one of the nine — Natasha Abrahart, 20, a physics student who was found hanged last year — accused the university of failing to do enough.
Birmingham University meanwhile told AFP that it was “actively working” on developing a “single strategic framework,” to replace its case-by-case approach.
Greg said that the approach to mental health at many universities had changed radically since his own experience.
After a five-year “break,” he has returned to university to study geology.


Berry versatile: Falsa rules the roost as Pakistan’s most favored summer fruit

Updated 16 June 2019
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Berry versatile: Falsa rules the roost as Pakistan’s most favored summer fruit

  • From kulfis and juices to pickles, the tangy-sweet fruit is on most checklists
  • Restaurants put on their thinking caps by adding it to traditional dishes and drinks

ISLAMABAD: When it comes to berries, falsa remains the top pick for Pakistanis in this scorching heat, with several food and beverage outlets reaching out for the versatile fruit to pack a punch in their choice of menus.
With its botanical name as Grewia Asiatica, falsa or phalsa traces its roots to South Asia and is very similar to the blueberry.
Demand for the tangy-sweet fruit reaches a fever pitch in summer when restaurants and bakeries dole out falsa-based desserts, juices and smoothies.
One such food outlet is Funky Pop, an ice-cream retailer which is popular for its fresh fruit popsicles that are devoid of artificial flavours or added sugar. Watch out for their falsa popsicles available at their outlet in F10 Markaz, or if creamy Italian ice cream is more up your alley, right around the corner at Manolo Gelato in F11 markaz they are serving up falsa hype with a special availability of falsa gelato.
Close on the heels of Funky Pop is Sooper Scooperz in Islamabad’s Jinnah Market, whose rich and seasonal juices are a favorite among locals and visitors alike. New on their menu is the falsa juice which can be devoured on its own or blended with a combination of other fruits.
Not one to be limited to juices and popsicles, the fruit – with the help of Karachi-based Tempting Bites by Zee – is pushing the envelope by adding a little bit of glamor to the humble kulfi as well.
The retailer which delivers the delight at home too, has been churning out cups of the icecream for years now and is very popular among residents in the metro.
Shehreen Farhan who runs a bakery in Bara Kahu, Islamabad says the fruit has been an industry favorite, mostly for its versatility, as it can jazz up any classic desserts.
“Cobblers (that are traditionally made with apples and peaches), pies and fruit tarts are so easy to modify by using falsa in place of berries and other fruits,” she said, adding that “fruit tarts are our best falsa seller.”
A more desi spin to the fruit is by using it in fruit chaats and salads, as well as boiling it down to jams and syrups or as a tangy replacement for regular chutneys and achaars (pickles).