Saturday , 23 September 2017

Looking after your mental health as an architecture student

Recently, I have been reading about mental health in the discipline of architecture.

It is unsettling to learn that architects are very susceptible to suffering with mental health problems and in particular, architecture students also have concerns over their mental health. The reasons are pretty obvious. As students there are fears of debt, workloads and practical training. Out in practice, certain characteristics of the profession add an increasing possibility that a mental health issue may occur, some of these include: Long working hours, volatile workloads, most practices don’t have HR support, poorly paid in general.

In this brief article, we will look at what mental health is, why students are suffering, how to look after yourself, and what to do if you feel you need help.

What are we talking about when we refer to mental health problems?

In the same way physical health issues can be diverse, diagnosed and treated differently, mental health problems can be very varied too, and can include:

  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Depression
  • Drub abuse
  • Eating problems
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Paranoia
  • Phobias
  • Stress
  • Sleep problems
  • Suicidal feelings

Why are students suffering?

A study last year by the AJ revealed some of the concerns and issues UK based architecture students are experiencing during their studies.

Just over a quarter of students surveyed (26%) said they were receiving or had received medical help for mental health problems resulting from their course, while a further quarter of respondents feared they would need to seek professional help in the future.

It is noted that some students in all fields of study seem to be experiencing mental health problems, but this issue is exacerbated amongst architecture students, due to the length of the course, the ingrained idea that all nighters are acceptable, and length of time before earning a proper income.

Looking at the findings by gender, more female students reported seeking medical advice for mental health than male with 29% of women, to 23% men.

There seems to be a culture of all-nighters and that to be a truly dedicated architecture student there should be no life balance. One suggestion put forward is to put a time cap on studio access and no longer allow 24 hour studio, keeping students to a more acceptable working day.

Of course, this attitude to working long hours only continues into the workplace and sadly seems to be an embedded culture within architecture.

91% of students reported working through the night for their studies at some point, and 29% said they did so on a regular basis.

Debt is another major concern. 38% of respondents said they would have accumulated a debt of £30,000-£50,000 by the end of their course. Stress is added to this when students try to juggle part time work with their course commitments. 31% of respondents said they had been asked to work for free by practices.

Half of the women in the survey said they had experienced sexism at some point, also reporting that tutors often see them as less capable and more sensitive than their male counterparts. 13% of respondents said they had faced racial discrimination.

How to look after yourself

It is important that we are aware of these issues, and know where to go if we feel we need help, support or guidance. If you feel you are struggling, particularly when it comes to your workload or course requirements, voice your concerns to a member of staff or tutor. Don’t be afraid to speak up and explain what you are going through.

You may not be able to spot the signs that you are suffering from a mental health issue but guidance from the article published by the RIBA gives suggestions on early signs and how these can develop.

  • Early signs can include:
  • low level constant anxiety
  • worrying about your studies all the time
  • insomnia
  • sense of being overwhelmed
  • need to shut out home or social life

These can develop into some of the following feelings:

  • Down, upset and tearful
  • Restless, agitated, irritable
  • Guilty, worthless
  • Empty and numb
  • Isolated
  • Lacking self confident, self esteem
  • Hopelessness or despair
  • Tired and unable to sleep
  • Anger
  • Suicidal

You may feel some of these, but don’t know whether you need to seek help. Just remember, it is always OK to seek help, even if you aren’t sure if you have a problem. There is always someone who will listen. See the section below on where you can get help.

How to look out for your friends or colleagues

Keep an eye on your colleagues during stressful times and look out for signs that other people may be having difficulties.
Some signs to look out for include:

  • Change in behaviour or mood
  • Changes in motivation, focus or work output
  • Appearing tired, anxious or withdrawn
  • Changes in eating habits, appetite, increased drinking

Many people feel that it is a difficult subject to broach and find it hard to talk about mental health. For this reason, sometimes you may notice that someone is struggling, or their behaviour has changed but be unsure of how to approach it. It is unlikely you are in a position to offer advice to someone that might be struggling with a mental health issue, but being able to listen, show compassion and advise them on where they can get help if they want it is important. Just mentioning to someone that you have noticed they are ‘a bit down’ or they ‘seem to be struggling a bit’ and making sure they know that you are there to listen if they need you is a good place to start. There is some great advice on the MIND website, about how to help people who are suffering with mental health issues.

Where can you get help?

If you are a student, it is worth seeking out any of your on campus support services. They vary from university to university, but the University Health Centre/Service would be a good place to start.

If there isn’t anything available immediately to you, another great place to reach out to is MIND. MIND have local centres throughout the country which include talking therapies, crisis helplines, drop in centres, counselling and much more. Discover how they can help you by visiting their website.  You can also just give them a call: 0300 123 3393 and they can have a chat with you about where you can get help and any other questions you might have.

Want to share your experiences? I would love to hear from you – comment below 🙂

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