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Mental health: everybody's business

Everyone can be vulnerable

There is no health without mental health!” With these words, the WHO makes it clear that we cannot take care of our health while neglecting our mental health. Mental disorders present a risk that can lead to the development of “non-mental” – or somatic – pathologies, and vice versa. Health is a whole that cannot be broken down into separate pieces, some of which are important and others negligible. Sometimes our mental health can be temporarily neglected, but we can also take care of it.

The individual is at the center of a multitude of interlocking factors that impact their health. These indicators of physical and mental health show that, in addition to individual factors, the environment plays a very important role. We are dependent on our environment. The Covid-19 epidemic is again a powerful reminder of this: isolation, the breakdown of social ties, financial hardship, uncertainty... all situations that SARS-CoV-2 imposed on us, and which demonstrate our physical, psychological and social vulnerability.

A positive factor in self fulfillment

We have said it before, but it bears repeating! “Mental health is a state of well-being in which a person can thrive, overcome the everyday stresses of life, be productive in their work and contribute to their community. The WHO also puts emphasis on health “perceived as a resource for everyday life.” (Ottawa charter, 1986). As such, it is more than just an asset to be preserved, it is the state from which individuals can fulfill their potential. For you, as students, taking care of your mental health is just as important as working on your thesis or revising your courses. And, researchers warn, “an untreated psychiatric disorder can lead to a significant decline in academic performance and increase the risk of dropping out of school” (Morvan et al., 2021). Do not wait for things to get worse to do something about it!

Mental health, a fragile balance

Everyone can be vulnerable to mental disorders. While the symptoms that signal mental disorders (insomnia, irritability, etc.) do not always reach the threshold to qualify as a pathology, they can still stand in the way of good mental health. And it should be noted, “there is a clear continuity between the disorder and a series of non-significant dysfunctions” (Doron, 2008). The effects may be inconspicuous, yet present, and can sometimes worsen insidiously. Analysis of the Health Survey conducted in 2016 by the French National Observatory on Student Life (OVE - Observatoire de la vie étudiante) shows, for example, varying degrees of depression. While for 5% of students, the depressive episode is serious, more than 1 in 3 have reported feelings of sadness, putting them in a vulnerable situation. Awareness is important, as it helps to combat denial, a major cause of failure to seek help or treatment.

Common situations that can be treated

More generally, it is important to bear in mind that mental disorders are common. Worldwide, the WHO estimates that one in four people will be affected by a mental disorder at some point in their lives. The most common disorder, depression, affects almost 10% of French people aged 18 to 75 during the course of a year, according to figures from the French public health agency, and around one in five people have experienced or will experience depression during their lifetime. As with other mental disorders, depression can be treated and should not be taken lightly.

Students, a high-risk population

While this concerns everyone, students are more closely affected than the rest of the population. Given this higher risk factor, greater attention should be paid to your mental health.

Youth, a critical age

Above all, itis  quite simply a question of age. Adolescence and the transition to adulthood are periods of great physical and psychological upheaval. They represent a time of instability that increases the risk of mental disorders: according to the French National Observatory on Student Life, 30% of students showed signs of psychological fragility (notably anxiety and depression).

It’s also a critical age for risk-taking and addiction. Substances such as alcohol, tobacco and drugs are often used to “let off steam”, while running the risk of weakening mental health.

Complicated individual situations

In addition to age, a student’s personal circumstances can be a source of risk factors. With often tenuous living circumstances and tumultuous social situations, it is not always easy for you to meet the demands of the higher education system, and cope with the uncertainty of the future in a highly competitive world.

Do not neglect personal development

For these two reasons, it is important not to neglect the positive aspect of mental health. Although we focus on risk factors here, this is to better highlight the importance of prevention and the need to cultivate the resources of positive mental health. These are immensely helpful for self-development and in fulfilling your potential.