Student wellbeing


J&PR IconLooking after your own mental health

As a journalism or communications student, or when you begin working in the field, you may find yourself in circumstances which are distressing or in which you need additional support. For example, journalists may be required to report on traumatic events, such as natural disasters, accidents, warfare, or violent crime. Journalists are often working to tight deadlines and may be under considerable pressure in the newsroom.
Most students and people entering a new career experience some stress. Students in any discipline may have motivation problems, concentration lapses, or personal difficulties which make it difficult to manage their study. As student journalists, we also need to talk about the ethical reporting of difficult or emotive issues, such as suicide, abuse or violence. This can be distressing for some people.

 

Discussion and disclosure

It is important to recognise that a number of students on campus will have had some experience of difficult life events or mental illness - either in their own lives or in someone close to them. People around you may have had personal experiences with abuse, violence or mental illness. Some students may know someone who has attempted to take their own life or has taken their own life. In discussing any issues like this, we need to be sensitive to the needs of others and to the issues they may not have disclosed. While it’s important to explore these topics, keep some guidelines in mind.

  • Always show respect for the views of others - you can disagree constructively and calmly and explain your perspective, but don't ridicule anyone for their beliefs;
  • In general a lecture or tutorial is not the best place to disclose in-depth personal information or distressing experiences - even if you feel fine about it, others may not. Talk about the issue more broadly in class, then talk to trusted friends or in private with a professional if you feel the need;
  • If you know you might be distressed by a particular lecture or tutorial - perhaps because you've had difficult personal experiences yourself - don't just skip the session. If you feel unable to attend, explain this to your lecturer or tutor. It may still be important for you to learn about the issue in some other way as part of your professional development - particularly if you want to be able to help others in the future;
  • If a discussion brings up difficult issues for you, talk to your lecturer or tutor afterward, or to a professional.

Most university campuses have a confidential counselling service that can be readily accessed by students.

 

Dealing with stress

Everyone experiences stress from time to time and the experiences that trigger it are different for each person. An event that someone else finds stressful might not trouble you at all; on the other hand, you might find certain things difficult when others do not. Don't judge or blame yourself (or other people) for feeling stressed. We all have different personalities and experiences that contribute to who we are. Both positive and negative events can seem stressful, because they force us to change or respond to a challenge.

Signs of stress include:

  • Feelings, e.g. feeling anxious, scared, upset, irritable or moody;
  • Thoughts, e.g. low self-esteem, worry, fear of failure, difficulty concentrating;
  • Behaviour, e.g. crying, acting impulsively, being easily startled, laughing nervously, grinding teeth, increased use of drugs or alcohol;
  • Physical responses, e.g. sweaty hands, perspiration, shaking, racing heart, fast shallow breathing, physical tension, headaches, dry mouth, 'butterflies' and stomach problems.

A certain amount of stress can motivate us and have a positive effect. However, severe or ongoing stress is distressing and it can 'paralyse' us with fear and prevent us from working constructively on what we are trying to achieve. It is important to develop positive strategies for dealing with stress. Suggestions include:

  • Monitor your stress - recognise your own signs of stress and identify situations you find difficult, so you can be more pro-active about managing stress at these times;
  • Set goals and priorities - be realistic, focus on what you want to achieve rather than comparison with others, accept that there are some circumstances outside your control;
  • Manage your time - avoid procrastination, plan ahead, make a schedule and follow it, evaluate how you are spending your time;
  • Be positive - don't put yourself down, challenge negative thoughts that pop into your mind (I'm no good, I can't do this) with positive ones, remind yourself of past success;
  • Have fun - schedule some 'time out' for yourself, pursue your hobbies or interests, spend time with friends; focussing too intensely on something can lead to 'burnout;
  • Look after your body - exercise (e.g. 20-30 minutes of walking or swimming most days), eat healthy food, get regular sleep, and avoid frequent or heavy use of drugs or alcohol;
  • Relax - learn and use breathing techniques, progressive relaxation, visualisations or meditation to consciously relax your mind and body - these become easier with practice;
  • Ask for help - if these approaches don't work and you feel 'paralysed' or unable to manage your stress, seek advice from a lecturer, counsellor or health professional.

 

Depression and anxiety

More pronounced feelings of depression or anxiety can occur when people have experienced severe or prolonged stress, or can arise without any obvious stress. These feelings can be temporary and may resolve over time by themselves, or they can develop into clinical depression and/or anxiety, which is more severe and long-lasting.

Try to be aware of your own wellbeing and supportive of others. People should seek help from a counsellor or a health professional if they have a few of the following symptoms most of the time, for two weeks or more:

  • Persistent negative feelings: feeling sad, hopeless, guilty, worthless;
  • Persistent anxiety: feeling agitated, irritable, restless, anxious, worried;
  • Negative thoughts: thinking about running away, death, violence, self-harm or suicide;
  • Problems with concentration, difficulty making decisions, feeling vague or distant
  • Feeling unable to cope with commitments, difficulty studying or working;
  • Lack of interest in people and activities that were previously positive
  • Changes in sleeping patterns: tired all the time, unable to sleep, or sleeping at odd times;
  • Changes in eating habits: not eating, irregular eating, overeating, only eating 'junk' food;
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs may be associated with risky or violent behaviour.

If you or someone you know is in need of personal support, your university campus should have an on-site counselling service, or be able to refer you to a counsellor in your local area. Alternatively, you could talk to a General Practitioner or contact a service like Lifeline (13 11 14). Universities also have policies regarding academic flexibility in regard to personal or health problems. If in doubt, start by speaking privately with a lecturer or tutor you trust.

For further information about depression, you could visit some of the following sites:

SANE: www.sane.org
beyondblue: www.beyondblue.org.au 
ReachOut! www.reachout.com.au
Dark Side of the Mood: Dealing with Depression: http://www.abc.net.au/health/library/stories/2007/06/05/1944066.htm 
BluePages: Information on Depression: http://bluepages.anu.edu.au/home
Adult Survivors of Child Abuse: ASCA: http://www.asca.org.au