Coping with University Life
Dr. Nic Hooper
(And Students!)
The Ubiquity of Suffering
 People often assume that struggling with a psychological
issue is rare
 In some cultures, having ‘Mental Health Problems’ is seen as
a weakness
 In the next 20 years this is going to change
 Because psychological suffering is so common that it will
soon be considered normal
National Institute of Mental Health
 An estimated 22.1% of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a
diagnosable mental disorder in a given year (this figure translates to 46.4
million people)
 4 of the 10 leading causes of disability in the U.S. and other developed
countries are mental disorders - major depression, bipolar disorder,
schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
 Mood disorders cost U.S. employers 16 billion dollars in lost work time
 More than 29% experience sufficient symptoms within last 12 months
to qualified for at least one pscyhiatric diagnosis
 Over 90 percent of suicide victims have a diagnosable mental disorder
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
 It appears as though it is a relatively rare event
o There are 11 deaths by suicide per 100.000 people (1 %)
 However according to Chiles and Strosahl (2005)
o 20% of community sample reported a two week period of
serious suicidality
o 20% had the ideation but not specific plan
 Count that out. Over 1 in 3 people will give suicide serious
thought at one point in their lives. How many people are in this
Specific figures
 Approximately 9.5% of the population aged 18 and older have a depressive
disorder in a given year.
Anxiety has a lifetime prevelance rate of 25.1 %
Approx 1 in 18 (or 5.55% or 15.1 million people) in USA are addicted to
Approx 1 in 68 (or 1.47% or 4 million people) in USA are addicted to drugs
Eating disorders - It is estimated that 8 million Americans have an eating
How about;
Relationships problems
Anger issues
Mild sadness
Addiction to smoking/gambling
Dieting issues
Sleeping issues
And Students?
 Many believe that University is a time when you can be very happy, and
drink, and go to parties and generally have a stress free and fun life
 And this is true at times! But you're human beings too. Sometimes being
a student is more stressful than outside life. According to the Guardian
 The proportion of students with serious and severe mental illness has risen
substantially over the last few years.
 30%-50% of students suffer from varying levels of anxiety and depression.
 53% of students had anxiety at a ‘pathological’ level.
 The bottom line is that University is stressful. And being stressed, just
like those other disorders, is a very normal thing to feel!
 I asked my 4th year Psychology students to detail the things that have
caused them stress over the past 4 years
 They came up with the following:
Reasons for stress
Grades not being high enough
The heavy workload
Multiple exams
Relationships with friends
Busy life
Reasons for stress
Boyfriend/Girlfriend issues
Financial problems
Speaking and understanding English
Reasons for stress
Future plans
Time management problems
Doing presentations
Family problems
And Students (continued)
 I also asked my students to rate the level of stress in the average
University week that they had felt over the past 4 years. They put
it at 7.33 out of 10.
 They also indicated that they had felt severe stress 5.55 times on
the following scale
Never 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Always
 Its seems as though being at University holds not only good times,
but stressful times too!
 What were your scores?
And so here we are…..
We know that psychological suffering is normal in human beings
We know that students are human beings
We know that students have many stressors
Therefore it seems to make sense that students may suffer
psychologically every now and then
So what do we do about it?!
 Over the next 20 minutes we are going to go through various
pieces of advice that may help you manage stressors!
 Firstly, I'm going to speak about a powerful but mostly
unknown psychological principle
 Secondly, Nihan is going to talk about the sort of advice the 4th
year students wish they would have had themselves when they
began University
 Thirdly, Ates is going to talk about tips for happiness from the
scientific research perspective
 Lastly, I’ll round up with some further points
 So here goes!
Our minds – are they good for us?
 Of course they are!
 They help us in all sorts of ways every day. Without them we couldn’t
read, problem solve, communicate, plan or generally be.
 Indeed it is our minds that have allowed us to be the predominant
species on the planet despite being weak, slow and poorly defended
 But the mind is a muscle like any other.
 Sometimes it can be unhelpful, let me give you a few examples
 Recently psychotherapy has sort to distinguish the relationship
between mind and action
 We seem to have come to the conclusion that we have to act on what
our mind says
 However we don’t. Lets elaborate our examples!
Advice from fellow students
• Know the structure of the University well
• i.e. know the rules and regulations that may help you get a better
• Try all activities to develop hobbies. These will keep you going in
times of boredom
• Especially do this in the first 2 years of your degrees because after
that life is going to be busy!
Advice from fellow students….
• Learn the content of the courses you will take
in the following semester
• You're more likely to do well in subjects you're
interested in
• Research the sort of career you would like
• This will give you the direction you need in the
4th year
• Create leisure time for yourself and stay away
from studying in that period
• Focus on what you want to do to feel relaxed
Happiness from a Research Perspective
 The following activities are highly correlated with happiness
(of course there are large individual differences across these
 Sleeping well
 Exercising frequently
 Spending time with the people that are important to you
 Eating healthily
 Following a chosen career path
 Doing novel spontaneous acts to keep things interesting
 Acting according to ones values
Other bits of advice
 Expect to be unhappy, stressed and anxious sometimes.
Feelings come and go like the clouds, they're normal. Be willing to
feel those things and control your actions
 Be there for each other. Those who live the most stress free lives
are those with large social networks i.e. friends.You all are the
biggest allies to each other that you can have here on campus.
 Be patient and compassionate with others and yourself.
Try to understand all actions in relation to the wider context.
 Live in the present moment. Too many of us are affected by the
past or worrying about the future. When we do that we lose touch
with the richness that is around us right now. These may be the best
years of your life.
Other bits of advice (continued)
 Keep in contact with your values. At times University is tough,
but if you value your education and career then that value will be your
guidepost when your feeling down
 Hold stories about yourself lightly. Sometimes they can get in
the way of you acting in a value consistent manner
 Don’t get involved in needless stress. Create a context where
stress is less likely to occur i.e. get to class on time, don’t cheat on
your boyfriend with his best friend, use protection, don’t leave
everything till the last minute etc
And the advice lecturers may not want
you to hear!
 Lecturers are people too. And these are the people that mark
your work. Manipulate them. Success is more positively correlated
with good interpersonal skills than it is with intelligence.
 Play the game.We all come to university with big ideas of being
enlightened but this isn’t reality. Make decisions based on passing the
course. Spend more time on the things that are marked. If this means
missing lessons then miss the lessons
 Extra reading. Forget about it unless you know the course material
 If you ever feel that you're the only person in the world who gets
stressed, depressed, anxious etc. Then look around you and count
every third person. They have experienced such pain that they
have had thoughts of taking their own lives.
 What's more is that if you walked up to that person and asked
them ‘are you ok?’ They would probably say ‘fine’.
 We live in a world where we know that’s what people want to
Thank you for listening