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Prevent or heal: why choose?

When and who to see?

“Deal with it!”, “It’s not that bad!” or “You’ll get over it”, etc. Who hasn’t already heard phrases like this that minimize the expression of psychological difficulties? These old-fashioned approaches from another era die hard. According to a survey by the French National Observatory on Student Life (OVE - Observatoire de la vie étudiante) in 2016, more than 57% of students prefer to wait and let their problems sort themselves out. But it can often be quite difficult to find solutions on your own. And yet today, offers of support and care are well-developed and accessible. This can be even more risky, as if not addressed, a mental disorder can get worse or become chronic. Worse still, isolation and withdrawal are risk factors and can increase psychological suffering. The Covid-19 epidemic is a good illustration of how the breakdown of social ties considerably increased the psychological distress of isolated people.

Not seeking help, misconceptions

    • "Should I see someone? It’s too expensive!"   FALSE
      A wealth of help is available for free, including that provided by counseling and support associations. Although sessions with a psychologist are not reimbursed by Social Security, this is not the case with psychiatrists. You can also approach the University Health Services (SSU), which offer psychological consultations free of charge. Finally, you can also find out more about the national “Chèques Psy” scheme ("Shrink Cheque"), which entitles you to 8 free consultations with a psychologist, with no upfront costs.
    • "Should I see someone? I don’t have the time!"   FALSE
      Of course, your schedules are often pretty busy! But think about getting help as an investment of time: poorer mental health means less concentration, less ability to recover... in short, less efficiency.

Beware of denial

It not only is the illusion of autosuggestion that explains not seeking help. In addition to a lack of resources and time, there can also be the underlying fear of discovering “madness” within oneself. What’s more, some students hesitate to seek help for fear of being stigmatized. The psychiatrist Frédéric Atger points out that “this is a population that finds it hard to ask for help. They see it as a sign of dependence at a time when they’re actually looking to achieve their independence.” (Le Monde, 2020). This is of course a problem, because students, who are more likely than the rest of the population to experience difficulties, are also those who seek help the least. But it should be no more embarrassing to ask a doctor to help with depression than with a broken leg! Mental and physical health are part of the same whole, and there should be no shame in feeling unwell.

The warning signs

When to see someone? A number of signs can indicate the need for support. Irritability, anxiety, sadness, sleeping or eating disorders for instance, are to be taken seriously, especially when they persist over time. Listen to those close to you who may alert you to changes in your behavior, and talk to them. As a general rule, when in doubt, don’t hesitate. It’s particularly important to act early, without waiting for the situation to become disabling or for psychological suffering to set in.


The assessment scale, an indication, but use with caution

      • There are many tools available for assessing mental health, including online and offline questionnaires.
    • Among the various possibilities on offer, you can take advantage of the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scales or WEMWBS, easily accessible on the internet. They are very easy and quick to use, and allow you to estimate your psychological well-being with 14 questions.
    • While these tools can be extremely useful, they only provide pointers, and in no way replace direct or telephone contact with someone qualified to answer your questions!

The care and support on offer

Specialist or general practitioner? Professional or volunteer? Doctor or no doctor? For a fee or free of charge? At the university, in a private practice or at the hospital? There are a wide range of highly diverse opportunities for care and support offered by the system. It is easy to get lost! To get the right kind of support, it helps to understand who does what. This will make it easier to contact the person best suited to your needs. The infographic opposite gives you an overview of each person’s role, but if you’re in any doubt, don't panic: counseling associations can give you initial advice and point you in the right direction.

To help you, you’ll find a list of resources available at universities and higher education institutions, and a directory of existing structures and initiatives in our region.

Consult the glossary of healthcare practitioners

How to take care of yourself and others

Cultivating your mental health

It is entirely possible to improve your mental health. How? By cultivating the so-called “protective” factors, as opposed to the risk factors. These protective factors include a wide range of sporting, cultural and social resources. Eating a balanced diet, practicing yoga or meditation, exercising, seeing friends, discovering art, reading a book, taking breaks... many everyday activities help improve quality of life and, as such, contribute to good mental health. Regular leisurely exercise, particularly team sports, protects against stress and anxiety, and reduces the risk of depression, according to data from Inserm (French National Institute of Health and Medical Research).
The same is true of meditation, which studies show helps us to better manage stress and emotions. Identifying emotions and learning to use them can be beneficial.

To take or not to take psychostimulants?

    • From coffee to cocaine, the range of psychostimulants is hugely diverse!
    • Some, such as coffee, vitamin C and even chocolate, can help boost mental faculties on a temporary basis.
    • Others should be avoided at all costs, first and foremost because they are harmful to your health.
    • Make sure you get clear information and consult your doctor, as many psychostimulants can have side effects (addiction, heart problems, insomnia, etc.) and may have the opposite effect to what you are looking for.

Open up to others, for yourself and for them

Denial and withdrawal are two signs of psychological distress. This makes it all the more important to be attentive to others, as it is sometimes difficult to spot their discomfort. If you notice that a classmate is withdrawing from others, having mood swings or changes in behavior, do not hesitate to talk to them. Feeling heard is an important form of support, especially when it comes to preventing suicide, the second most common cause of death among 15-24 year-olds.
And while caring for others brings them real comfort, it can also improve your own mental health. Rebeca Shankland, a professor and researcher in psychology, even considers kindness to be a lever for improving our well-being, in the same way as other psychosocial skills such as gratitude.

Here are a few examples of ways to take care of yourself