Around 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health problem at some point, so it's not surprising that many students experience this whilst at university.

Not only is it a period of significant workload and exam stress, but there's also the upheaval of moving away from family and friends, or living with (initially) unknown people.

It can be difficult to recognise when tiredness or other problems are an appropriate response to your current demands, or a mental health problem that requires to be addressed.

Student of Staff in Mental Distress (Flowchart)

Student or Staff in Mental Distress Incident Recording Guidance Notes

Student or Staff in Mental Distress Incident Recording Form 1


Student or Staff in Mental Distress Incident Recording Form 2

Common signs and symptoms

  • Poor appetite, or compensatory over-eating
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Poor concentration
  • Deterioration in self-care skills e.g. personal hygiene
  • Impaired motivation
  • Difficulty in remembering things
  • Problems in making decisions
  • Loss of drive, energy and interest
  • Disturbed sleep pattern
  • Feeling low or miserable much of the time, even despairing at times
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Withdrawal from social events/contacts
  • Fears about attending lectures and/or tutorials
  • Hearing or seeing things that others seem not to
  • Increased irritability
  • Odd thinking

If you are experiencing a number of these symptoms then it is a good idea to seek a professional opinion and support. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, get help quickly.

Getting Help

There are various options both within and outwith the University, for you to choose from.

  1. Your own doctor has access to your medical history and therefore is able to contextualize your experiences to some extent, which can be very useful. They are also the gateway for referral onto other specialist services, should they feel that this is indicated.
  2. The University Health Service consists of a medical adviser (doctor), who is available for two short clinics each week, and mental health nurses. We link in with the statutory NHS wherever appropriate and you would be advised of this on attending.
  3. The University Counselling Service If you are feeling distressed, unhappy or confused, counselling may be able to help you. If they feel that your mental health is seriously impaired or at risk, they will advise you to contact your own doctor.
  4. Outwith office hours, you may 'phone NHS 24 who will assess whether or not your presentation is considered an emergency or urgent enough to warrant immediate medical assessment. Either way, they will advise you of what to do next.
  5. The Samaritans are a confidential, free helpline, where there is always someone available to talk and listen.
  6. Breathing Space is a confidential, free helpline, funded by the Scottish Executive.
  7. Choose Life help and advice for those with suicidal thoughts and their family & friends.
  8. Living Life Guided Self Help a confidential telephone service based on a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approach for people suffering low mood, mild to moderate depression and/or anxiety.
  9. Touched by Suicide Scotland run support groups for people who have suffered a bereavement through suicide. For more information contact them on 0141 584 3211.

It is important to talk to someone and to do something, rather than ignore the situation and hope that it will go away. Getting help earlier means you will feel better sooner, with less disruption to your studies and your life.

Suicide Prevention

Thoughts about suicide can be very distressing and isolating. These can occur without any real warning and lead to feelings of panic and being out of control of oneself. If this happens to you or to someone you know, it is essential that professional help is sought. Although many people experience such thoughts without ever then acting upon them, it is a dangerous position to be in and specialist assessment and input is required.

For many people, just knowing that outside help is coming can be a source of great relief e.g. an appointment is organized, even if it is not immediate, and can really ease their sense of despair. Support from a friend or relative is also very valuable, but you should not expect to substitute this for professional help if you are desperate.

If you feel that such suicidal thoughts are very immediate and persistent, i.e. you feel that you are in danger of acting on these imminently, you should contact your own doctor, indicating that you need an urgent appointment or, outwith office hours, contact NHS 24, again highlighting the urgency of the situation. Alternatively, you can present to 'Accident and Emergency' at Ninewells hospital, where your mental state will be assessed by a trained health professional.

Remember that whilst university is an intense and, at times, all consuming period in your life, your health is more important. It is surprising how effectively people begin to effect positive change with the right support in place, and how what seemed like insurmountable problems quite recently, can be put into realistic perspective and therefore back within your control.

Referral to Mental Health Service

If you have a mental health condition and are not receiving mental health nursing, psychology or other psychological intervention elsewhere, the University Mental Health Nursing Service may be able to provide short term, goal oriented therapeutic interventions, further to specialist mental health assessment. In order to ensure that this service is appropriate to your needs and offered within an integrated plan of care, referral from your own doctor or other health professional is required.

Should you feel that you require this type of input please liaise with your own GP, who will be able to advise you whether our service matches your current mental health needs. Should they feel that this service is appropriate to your current needs, they can make a referral direct to our service.

If you are not registered with a GP, please contact us for advice or see the 'Getting Help' section above.