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Young Minds Building Resilience – Expert Talk by Dr. Doherty

This year, the Strathmore University Medical Centre together with the Office of the Dean of Students have invited Dr. Michael Doherty, a consultant psychiatrist who has wealth of experience in dealing with students at University of Belfast- Northern Ireland. The workshop is aimed at paving the way for an e-learning module that will be used to advicese students on the important issues of maintaining positive mental health and the principles of resilience to help them overcome setbacks. 


International Studies show that up to about 40 to 50% of students can experience symptoms of stress and depression during their undergraduate career.  Dr. Doherty points out that these issues come from various factors including the fact that students joining university are working and adapting to new pressures both social and academic and are at an important phase of maturing in their personality when they are often away from home.


First year students may be more vulnerable as they are adjusting to change in their lives for the first time but it can affect students at any stage. Times of pressure such as exams, breakdown of a relationship, concerns about their own family, as well as many other things can contribute to this.  Some of the signs of development of these issues include: Students falling behind in their studies, not attending classes, being more irritable, withdrawn etc.


Dr. Doherty described the stress and depression symptoms as often being mild or short-lived but in some cases they can be intense and last longer. The problem is that students may revert to alcohol and drugs to try to help themselves or if things get worse they don’t look for help. Resilience is about seeking help when it is needed. Sometimes a more severe mental disorder might develop, which can happen in this age group and the sooner the students’ seek help, the better. Early intervention is important, there is no mental disorder that cannot be helped but the sooner the better.


 Dr Doherty’s talk on resilience and positive mental health will be based on a programme delivered as an e-module to medical students at Queen’s university of Belfast, developed by Prof. Ciaran Mulholland and Dr Caroline Donnelly.


Dr. Doherty urges members of staff and mentors to be observant towards students starting to fall behind in their studies, or attendance, or becoming more isolated, and try to seek them out to discuss the root cause. He underlined that students should develop a balance in their lives which would be an investment for their future career.


“A university health centre doctor in Belfast, Dr. Martin Cunningham, has worked on a structure that includes the balance in social activities, academic activities, physical activities, meaning and purpose,  and health activities that will generally encourage a positive mental  life”, explained Dr. Doherty . Students should be encouraged to seek help when they need it and to speak to their doctors, members of staff, mentors etc. Sometimes it is a friend who recognises that there is a problem: The friend should encourage their colleague to seek help or if they are worried about them to talk to a member of staff or mentor.


Dr. Michael Doherty – now a retired Psychiatrist – is a graduate of The Queen’s University of Belfast (QUB) class of 1979 and has worked in the health service as a psychiatrist for many years attending to both adults and students in Belfast. He has also lectured at Queen’s University, Belfast for nearly three decades and more recently as an Honorary lecturer and later as an Honorary Senior lecturer. Although he has retired from the health services since 2011, he continues to work for the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust in developing services and implementing policies; one of the service developments is Student mental health well-being.