So Semester 1 is over and exam results have been released. You’ve had a few weeks break and now you’re back at university, ready to tackle Semester 2! But you’re having trouble getting out of bed in the morning to attend that 9AM lecture, or you find yourself tossing and turning until the early hours of the morning, unable to fall asleep. Perhaps you’re eating more than usual, or perhaps it’s the opposite and you find yourself eating little at all.
It’s normal to find ourselves in a bit of a ‘slump’ every now and then – life can be demanding, especially when you’re studying. Mental health is important for maintaining that GPA, when living away from home for the first time, and in general. But it can be hard to differentiate symptoms of a mental illness from just a bad day. Below is a short and incomplete list of potential warning signs of three major mental illnesses that can affect young adults, as well as some guidance and advice on what to do if you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms.
Warning Signs for Depression
- Inability to concentrate (on lectures, tutorials, conversations with friends, etc.)
- Not getting things done at work/uni
- Procrastinating assignments or handing in late assignments
- Problems sleeping
- Loss or change of appetite
- Negative thoughts you can’t seem to shake
- Feelings of guilt, irritability, sadness, indecisiveness, etc.
Warning Signs for Anxiety
- Heart palpitations
- Feelings of losing control
- Trembling or shaking
- Excessive fear or worry
- Obsessive thinking
- Avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious
Warning Signs for Eating Disorders
- Preoccupation with weight, food, calories
- Lethargy and low energy
- Distorted body image
- Dieting behaviour
- Compulsive or excessive exercising
- Changes in food preferences or refusal to eat certain foods
Sometimes feelings of depression are caused by poor health in general. This can creep up on you during times of stress, like Week 10 of semester when all your major assignments are due, or during SWOTVAC when you’re more preoccupied with cramming for that exam than cooking an actual meal.
Here’s some tips, or ‘natural antidepressants’ that can help boost your mood:
- Turn on the lights! In Tasmania, our supply of natural sunlight is diminished,even more so during the winter months. Flicking on the lights in your room may boost your mood.
- Increase your intake of foods rich in Vitamin C, such as oranges, red capsicums, broccoli, tomatoes, and dark leafy greens (like spinach, silver beet, or kale). Vitamin C works with dopamine enzymes in the brain to regulate mood.
- Stay hydrated! Sometimes symptoms of dehydration cross over with those of low mood, so stay on top of it by carrying a drink bottle with you to classes.
- Limit processed foods that contain overly refined ingredients (white bread, pasta, anything from McDonald’s) and instead reach for whole wheat foods like rice, porridge, popcorn, or wholemeal bread.
- Chat to someone you trust about how you are feeling.
Sometimes these measures alone can ease you out of the funk you’ve found yourself in. If you’ve found yourself trying these out but still can’t seem to shake those negative thoughts and feelings, perhaps it’s time to see a GP.
What to expect at your GP appointment:
Commonly, a visit to a GP is the first step in seeking professional help for mental health problems. This seems like a daunting and scary task, but it is crucial in assessing your mental health and determining which treatment options may work for you.
Book an appointment at a GP clinic, either in person or via phone. If you hold a Medicare card, you may be eligible for bulk-billing at your appointment, meaning no out-of-pocket expense. For international students, the UniDoctors are available at the Sandy Bay campus and are free of charge for current students. For those not living in Hobart, your Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC) should cover the costs of a GP visit.
Here’s some tips on navigating your first appointment:
- Your GP will assess your mental health, usually by asking you questions about how you have been feeling over the last few weeks.
- Emotions can run high when first seeking help, and it’s totally okay to burst into tears in front of the doctor or struggle to explain what you are feeling.
- If you are diagnosed with a mental illness, your doctor may refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist who specialises in a particular illness (e.g. depression, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.)
If you are referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist, it is your responsibility to book an appointment for yourself. You can ask your GP, or the clinic receptionist, about booking an appointment if you’re unsure.
What to expect at your first psychologist/psychiatrist appointment
The first session of psychotherapy is all about ensuring you feel comfortable and safe. A psychologist/psychiatrist may start the session by:
- Introducing themselves
- Explaining what they do/specialise in
- Explaining how long each session will last
- Assuring you that anything you say to them is strictly confidential.
They may ask you questions about yourself, such as what you are studying, your age, if you live at home, etc. and what you are hoping to gain from your sessions. It is important to be honest with your psychologist/psychiatrist, they are there to help you. The first few sessions are mostly about getting to know one another.
In order to facilitate your recovery, you need to connect with your psychologist/psychiatrist. If you are uncomfortable talking to your psychologist/psychiatrist, it is totally okay to ask to see someone else.
Psychotherapy can be an expensive treatment option, particularly for university students already dealing with rental payments and sometimes living away from home. If you are a Medicare card holder, you are entitled to six rebated psychotherapy sessions if you’ve been referred by a GP. A rebate means that Medicare pays for approximately 75% of the bill and you pay the difference.
“So, you need antidepressants”.
Sometimes, in recovery from a mental illness, psychotherapy just isn’t enough and you need antidepressants to assist in your recovery. These can be prescribed by a psychiatrist, or by a GP in consultation with a psychologist.
Antidepressants can take up to two weeks to take effect, and like all medical drugs, can come with a list of side effects. Your psychiatrist or GP will explain it all to you, and can answer any questions you may have.
Some people may only take antidepressants for a few short weeks, some may need a longer treatment course. It is important to note that, regardless of how long you take them, being prescribed antidepressants does not mean you are weak, or broken.
Mental illness may be invisible, but it is the same as any other physical ailment. You take Panadol for a headache, you get a cast for a broken leg, and sometimes you take antidepressants for depression or anxiety. The important thing to note is that you don’t have to suffer alone or silently. There are people and organisations that can and will help you.
UTAS offers counselling services to students at the Hobart, Launceston, Cradle Coast and Sydney campuses. Appointments can be made online at https://careerhub.utas.edu.au/students/login or in person.
Level 1, Student Centre
Phone: (03) 6226 2697
Ground Floor, Kerslake Student Centre
Phone: (03) 6324 3787
Mooreville Road, Burnie
Phone: (03) 6430 4949
Darlinghurst Campus, Education Centre, 1 Leichhardt Street (Mondays only)
Rozelle Campus, Building 103, Room 6, Corner of Glover Street and Church Street (Tuesday-Friday)
Phone: (02) 8572 7953
Headspace (eheadspace.org.au) offers online and telephone services to anyone seeking help, going through a tough time, or who just needs someone to talk to.
Phone: 1800 650 890
* Headspace offices are also located in Hobart, Launceston and Devonport.
The Butterfly Foundation (thebutterflyfoundation.org.au) offers web-counselling, telephone and email support to those experiencing eating disorders.
Phone: 1800 ED HOPE (33 4673)
Lifeline (lifeline.org.au) offers web-counselling and telephone support.
Phone: 13 11 14
beyondblue (https://www.beyondblue.org.au) offers telephone and web-counselling support.
Phone: 1300 22 4636