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Let us build a better student life through compassion

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News | 18.4.2018

Today is the Students’ Mental Health Day. With this day we want to generate a discussion on the mental wellbeing of students. The theme for this year is compassion. Below I will outline how every one of us can improve our wellbeing through compassion. But let us start with the bad news.

Students’ mental health problems have been on the rise throughout the 21st century.

More than a third of students suffer from mental illness symptoms at least weekly, and only 66 per cent of students feel that their mental wellbeing is good or very good. Many of the problems are related to stress and feelings of inadequacy. More and more students feel that their workload is too heavy, and they worry about their studies, their finances and their future career prospects.

In the light of these somewhat gloomy results, one might ask oneself why the theme for the first Students’ Mental Health Day is compassion. And no – we do not believe that compassion alone can solve all the problems mentioned above. The student movement continually works to influence issues that affect students’ mental health, such as studies and study guidance, student services, and the access to the FSHS and public mental health services.

Compassion is not a trivial matter, however. Issues relating to compassion – both towards oneself and others – play an important role when talking about mental health. Compassionate behaviour is connected to better health and a better mood, as well as lower levels of stress and anxiety. The power of compassion lies in the fact that it is available to everyone. Through small, everyday actions we can improve our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others.

Three ways in which compassion can improve the life of a student:

Self-compassion

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received: observe your internal voice when you feel that you have failed, and think about whether you would speak to a friend in the same manner.

Students’ feelings of inadequacy have increased. Many of us put too high demands on ourselves and blame ourselves when our work does not turn out perfect. Constantly beating yourself up can eventually lead to perfectionism and a feeling that your self-worth is tied to your performance.

However, research supports the idea that self-compassion leads to better performance, reduces stress and gives the courage to do challenging things. So start observing how you speak to yourself in different situations. If you notice that you are beating yourself up, try instead to imagine what a good friend would say to you in that situation. Changing your inner voice does take time, but becoming conscious of its importance can help you create a better relationship with yourself and your work.

Compassion through everyday actions

How we treat people around us and how they treat us has a huge impact on our mental wellbeing.  It has also been found that the support we receive from our friends and family has an impact on how well we do in our studies. Compassion is often made up of everyday actions.

So challenge yourself to act in a compassionate way towards others, including strangers. Ask people how they are, and try to feel genuine empathy for their experiences. Being heard improves people’s wellbeing, and hearing other people’s views can also give you a new perspective on your own life.

Do not hide your failures and weak moments. This increases openness and reduces people’s feelings of being alone with their problems. Do not be afraid to offer and ask for help!

View compassion also through positive emotions. Sharing someone else’s joy and enthusiasm shows that you value their feelings. It also brings both of you positive energy. Do not be afraid to compliment others for small accomplishments and good deeds, and to share positive feelings.

A compassionate community supports its members

Most students feel like they are part of their student community, and this feeling has become more common in the past few years. That is why it is extremely important that we build student communities that encourage compassion. Research shows that a culture of empathy improves the functioning of a group and increases satisfaction.

In a compassionate community people feel safe and can be themselves. They can be open about their strengths and weaknesses. Student organisations can show this for example by offering a variety of activities that enable very different kind of people to take part.

A compassionate community does not link the worth of a member to their performance. Too often we see student organisations idealising performance and even unhealthy levels of busyness and stress. If someone starts boasting about how stressful and tough their life is, try to make it clear in a polite and understanding way that this is not a desirable situation, and offer the person your support in sorting things out.

A compassionate community encourages helpfulness and gives its members the space to try and fail. This supports the creation of new ideas and operating models. It also gives people the feeling that the group is genuinely encouraging and supporting them.

You can start to develop your compassion straight away by taking part in the social media challenge of the Students’ Mental Health Day. What good deed could you do for yourself or others today? How could you show compassion towards yourself or someone else? It can be something really small or a bit bigger – a nice moment that you share with yourself and/or others. Take a picture or film a video of the moment and share it on Instagram using the hashtags #myötätunnostahyvinvointia and #opiskelijoidenmielenterveyspäivä.

Ada Saarinen
Member of SYL Board