Understanding Mental health at university
Anna Savage, a student at Queen’s University, Belfast, was a typical young individual who looked forward to start the journey of her student life. However, the reality of moving away to university from home became daunting and she found herself spending nights alone in her rented bedroom with feelings of isolation and sadness. Anna’s feelings, now coined as ‘post fresher’s blues’ is common, and these feelings can happen at any point during studying for an undergraduate degree course.
Students who move away to university are most likely experiencing moving out for the first time in their lives, and the transition from sixth form and college to university can be difficult to comprehend. These mixed feelings can affect students’ mental health and how they perform at university and in other aspects of their life.
Anna said: “Trying to meet new people and make friends was something I also found hard… It was hard to get to know people in my first year”.
How to avoid university blues
Financial worries can have an impact on student happiness and stress levels, therefore, creating a student budget and sticking to it will help ease financial pressures. Try to eat healthy food at university and keep the fast food and takeaways to a minimum. Food rich in vitamins and nutrition make you feel great on the inside and the outside.
University is a social experience, although that doesn’t mean you have to be down the Student Union bar every night to feel included within social circles. Make the most of the opportunities available around campus, from societies, activities, debates and extra events held by the university – these are great ways to meet new people outside your class or your dorm.
Avoid shying away from asking for help if you feel that you need it. All colleges and universities offer support to their students, and talking about your problems and feelings can help. If you don’t feel up to talking to university staff or a counsellor, then sit down with your friends at university, or call someone from home who you know can offer support.
Dealing with mental health issues at university
If students are experiencing mental health problems, whether they are feelings of anxiety, depression, homesickness, an eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, or any other complex mental health issue, then the first step is to know that you’re not alone.
National mental health charity, Mind, notes that students can struggle with mental health issues while studying at university. Head of information at Mind, Beth Murphy said: “For lots of students mental health can be an issue and can get worse if people don’t seek support for it”.
Thoughts to get out of your head
Students who are reluctant to seek help may feel embarrassed, nervous, or feel that other people’s problems are worse than theirs. Your problems are as important as the student sitting next to you in class, and support will be available to you.
No staff member, counsellor, or fellow student will turn you away, and your university might be able to help you, both academically and emotionally with counselling.
The range of help available
A spokesperson for Mind stated that the common forms of support can include adjustments to your timetable, one on one advice and support, as well as flexibility around absences and deadlines.
Speaking to your GP or student nurse, or the student union is a good idea as they will be able to point you in the right direction if they cannot offer the services direct.
Dr Rachel Andrew, a clinical psychologist, who works with young individuals said: “If you’re at university and beginning to feel overwhelmed by things then there’s a lot of pastoral care available to help. There are counselling services at your university or you can seek help from a GP”.
Where to go to ask for help and support
If you are experiencing feelings of despair, distress, or suicidal thoughts you can ring the Samaritans for free, on 08457 90 90 90 or contact them online.
A national charity for mental health issues. The Mind helpline, 0300 123 3393 offers advice, guidance on where to seek help and talk through medication and types of mental health problems.
Minding your head
A government initiative which aims to support students who are finding university life stressful.
An anonymous service run by students for students, the helpline offers students the ability to talk through their problems. Contact your university to find out your local Nightline helpline, or check online.
A national charity helping students to talk about mental health issues. A range of resources are available for students, and advice on different types of mental health problems.
The National Union of Students
The NUS also cares about the mental health of students, and offer a downloadable guide on how to look after your mental health whilst at university.
Family and friends
Building friendships and talking to those that you feel you can trust can help. Calling on an old friend, a parent or family member, or a new BFF at university will make you feel better and begin the journey of managing the issue.
Course mates/Dorm mates
The people who you meet through similar circumstances could even be dealing with the same issues that you are. People you meet through your degree, or those that live around you in student accommodation can also offer support.
Speaking to an academic supervisor, or a personal tutor about any mental health problems may seem scary at first, but they are there to help you with any issues you face. They will also know where you can go to receive the right support for you.
Identifying mental health problems early, and finding ways to manage them will help. It is important that you don’t suffer alone and understand where you can go when it comes to your mental health at university.