Mental health at Imperial

National Student Survey Response 2015

“Imperial College Union has argued strongly that in recent years that there is a growing issue of poor mental health in the Imperial community and the way we teach and learn – and the expectations put on our students – are contributory factors.”

A lack of mental wellbeing creates barriers to academic and personal achievement. As a personal tutor you may be in a position to promote mental wellbeing and to spot and help students to address problems early on.  

Here are some of the emotional and mental wellbeing issues that Imperial students experience and that it is helpful for Personal Tutors to be aware of:

  • Stress and anxiety – students identify assessment as the number one cause of stress
  • Relationship issues - with family, girlfriend/boyfriend, PhD supervisor
  • Loneliness - sometimes students lack friendship-forming and social skills
  • Bereavement – for example, the loss of a close grandparent
  • Disappointment - for example in course choice and the experience not being as transformative as they had hoped it would be
  • Depression and low mood

(Based on Imperial’s Student Counselling Service data)

Students and depression

Signs of depression

  • Depressed mood over a period of two weeks or more, lack of pleasure
  • Loss of interest, negativity, feeling tired/low energy, slowing down
  • Change in sleep patterns (perhaps leading to being late for or missing lectures or appointments)
  • Change in appetite or weight: too little or too much eating
  • Poor concentration, difficulty thinking clearly
  • Feeling preoccupied
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness: self-critical, self-blaming
  • Isolating self: withdrawing from social contact
  • Lack of self-care
  • Looking distracted/flat
  • Possible thoughts of death or suicide
  • Possible psychosomatic illness
  • Possibly anxious and agitated

What should I do if I think a student might be depressed

  • Talk with the student – ask them: “How are you feeling?”
  • Take the student seriously: listen to him/her.
  • Try presenting a broader/more comprehensive picture than the student is able to see from their depressed viewpoint.
  • Ask about support systems, for example friends, family.  Is anyone else aware of their concerns?
  • Give the student information as appropriate about College support facilities
  • Be vigilant: keep an eye on the student.
  • Inform the Senior or Postgraduate tutor of your concerns.
  • Recognise your own limitations: seek help/advice if you need to.

Who do I contact if a student tells me she/he/they may be intending to seriously harm themselves?

All staff who deal with students could potentially build up a relationship such that a student may confide in a staff member that they are feeling deeply unhappy. Rarely, the student might indicate that they are intending to seriously harm themselves, perhaps that they have suicidal thoughts. This situation is likely to evoke a feeling of fear in the listener, and perhaps a sense of powerlessness and not knowing what to do.

Since individual situations differ, it is impossible to indicate exactly what a listener should do. However, the Emergency Contact Guidelines (p4) in the Mental Health Difficulties Protocol (PDF) suggest a possible course of action. It will be important to use discretion as the situation allows. The Student Mental Health Code of Practice and Guidelines is also a useful source for guidance in such circumstances.

See the Crisis section for more advice and resources. Do not hestitate to talk to your Senior Tutor if you have concerns.

Student perspective

Student perspective

"Personal tutor gave clear and good advice and support. Counselling felt safe. GP knew what she was talking about and showed real care. " (The Mentality Report 2015)

Student perspective

"Personal tutor was amazing, he talked to me and we decided together that I would take an interruption of studies and then helped me get back into the swing when it was time for me to come back."