Mental health education: the importance of distinguishing between stress and depression

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University students struggle to distinguish between a mental disorder and a negative emotion.

Photo: Bigstock

Between 2015 and 2017 there was a 60% increase in students seeking mental health support services, which is forcing universities to pay more attention to this issue but, what happens when even students themselves cannot distinguish between stress and depression?

In an article by Lauren Barack for Education Dive, different experts on the subject talk about how it has been normalized to use mental health disorders to describe stress or anxiety. For example, after taking a test where they felt unsure about the outcome, students say they are "depressed," rather than stressed.

Part of the problem comes from a lack of education in mental health. Teachers must be trained to understand the differences between the two areas to teach students effectively. Giving students questions or symptoms of depression will not be useful if students do not know what the words or terms mean.

Asking administrators to bring in experts to train them in these subjects or planning a strategy to follow when students ask for help, will help teachers understand more about mental health and how they can support their students. One of the simplest ways that teachers can use to help their students is by teaching them to manage stress. Taking small breaks, practice breathing exercises or going for a walk, are good practices that teach them self-control and self-care.

By educating both teachers and students in mental health leads to access to proper resources when necessary. When teachers understand their students' needs, they are more prepared to support them.

Teaching students to manage stress also helps them distinguish between healthy and toxic feelings, mainly because 80% of these feelings are a result of common factors such as exams. And as the difficulty of the classes increases, stress increases, while the factors that could help to calm it, such as proper sleep, decrease in exam season, which can cause anxiety that can be confused with depression.

It is essential that teachers and students understand the difference between stress and mental disorders to end stigma and increase aid for the student who needs it. By training teachers and including conversations about mental health, it would help to create a culture of self-care and improve their emotional stability.