How are you? This is not a rhetorical question.

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Image: Odyssey

I am sure this is not the first time you have been asked this question, nor the last. We live in a society where we are told to talk about our problems but we do not talk about our personal issues. How many times have you been greeted with ‘Hi, how are you?’ Yet, we all unconsciously lie and answer ‘Yes, I’m fine thank you’ even when we are not. It has become socially acceptable to lie through our teeth and forge a smile everyday no matter how we are truly feeling.

It is no wonder mental health is still affecting so many of us today, with young men under 35 suffering the most. It’s the ‘silent killer’ that affects us all in some way or another and still many of us cannot confide in even our closest of friends or family. Now that is the tragedy. Why has it become so socially acceptable to ‘bottle it up’ especially for men? Have our gender stereotypes made it difficult for men to talk about their feelings without feeling emasculated? Is social media to blame when we are made to believe that other people have it all; the perfect life, the perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect house and the perfect partner? No wonder we can never be satisfied.

Mental health is affecting more people today than is even imaginable. Astonishingly, in a recent poll in the United Kingdom, half of the university students ‘who took part [38,000] reported thoughts of self-harm’. For some, who have struggled with mental health issues in the past, their problems can be exacerbated with the new independence they gain at University. With more time to themselves, being alone in an unfamiliar place without family and friends can deepen their issues. For others, University can bring about stress and anxiety over their financial situation. The added pressure from family and even other students to achieve a ‘good’ degree can instil further anxiety and stress.

Yet, not all students know how to handle this pressure. While four in 10 students, resort to drugs and/or alcohol to help them cope with their mental health, some take matters in their own hands. Only recently at The University of Bristol, 10 students died over an 18 month period in the run-up to their exams. In placing so much pressure on exams and testing as a means to success, are we neglecting student’s mental health in the process?

Is it the responsibility of Universities to do more to protect their students against mental health? Many lecturers teach a large group of students, resulting in many not even knowing their students’ names, making it even easier for students to slip under the cracks. Should a greater effort be made for students to be able to get help easily without necessarily having to go out of their way? Should University lecturers be keeping a closer eye on the wellbeing and attendance of their students? Supervisor meetings at Universities are becoming more focused on students’ well-being but more needs to be done than just asking ‘so is everything okay with you?’ Universities should be proactive in their approaches to help students, whether that is having procedures in place if a student is missing classes or increased support that is specifically tailored to students.

It is not just Universities that need to be aware of mental health; we as a society need to make that discussion mainstream. Open discussions surrounding mental health and offering advice and support can help dispel the social stigma surrounding mental health. We all have to make mental health less of an issue and recognise it as a need for help. After all, mental health affects everybody at some time or another; you can know someone really well without even knowing they are suffering.

So… how are you? How are you really?

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