Going to university is an exciting time, but the change it brings can be overwhelming. Moving away from home, making new friends and being responsible for your own learning – it’s a new sense of independence for many.
It’s important to look after your mental health throughout your years studying, because that freedom can present challenges.
Student life is busy, with lectures, seminars, societies, a social life, and maybe a part-time job to balance. Because of this, looking after yourself can often come low on your list of priorities. It’s important to take care of your wellbeing – including your mental health.
Good mental health allows you to work in a productive way, juggle the different commitments you have, and enjoy spending time with your loved ones. It also helps you cope when life gets busy or stressful.
According to the Mental Health Organisation, “early interventions and home treatment for mental health problems can reduce hospital admissions, shorten hospital stays and require fewer high-cost intensive interventions.” Not only does early recognition of a problem help the person to deal with it quicker, but it can also save the health sector up to £38 million per year.
It might not always be obvious something is wrong – or you might feel a bit ‘off’ but not be able to identify what the problem is. Although mental health conditions have different characteristics, there are some common symptoms that indicate poor mental wellbeing
Look out for:
Support is available from different sources, both at your university and outside of it.
Most universities will have a student wellbeing service that encompasses all aspects of health, including mental health. Your university may provide its own free counselling service, for example, or a mental wellbeing team.
The 2018 Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey asked participants to rate their universities on their welfare support, and how their personal requirements were catered for. Harper Adams University received the best rating, followed by Loughborough University and the University of Chichester.
It can be difficult to speak to someone about your mental health. Some prefer to talk to people they don’t know personally, which is where helplines come in. You can also visit the resources on mental health charity websites.
You can contact the Samaritans helpline anytime – they are available 24 hours a day, year-round, providing non-judgmental support to people who need it via phone or email. Everything you tell them is confidential and it’s free to get in touch.
Despite their name, they are not a religious organisation and you can contact them no matter what your beliefs are.
Phone number: 116 123
Mind is a charity that provides support and information about mental health, including different types of mental health problems, guides to everyday living, and a list of support and services.
You can contact their infoline to get information about the support available in your local area. It’s open from 9am-6pm, Monday to Friday, except on bank holidays.
Call: 0300 123 3393
Making an appointment with your doctor can be a big step forward. It might feel daunting to discuss your mental health with a medical professional, but appointments are confidential and there are a number of ways your GP can help you:
Before your appointment, write down your symptoms and any other information you think the doctor needs to know, such as stressful events from your past or present, or any family history of mental illness. Even if you find it difficult to explain your situation out loud, you’ll have something to show them.
Don’t be afraid to ask your GP questions about the information they give you, or the treatments they suggest for you. You can make a note of their answers if you think it will help you remember.
Did you know?30% of GP visits are related to mental health source
Talking therapy involves discussing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour with a trained professional. They can help with several different issues, such as:
There are different types of talking therapy, including:
Many therapists are trained in more than one technique and will adapt their approach according to your individual situation.
There are several factors that determine how useful you’ll find talking therapy: whether or not you trust your therapist, what you want to get out of the sessions, and how you feel about therapy in general.
Many people think of therapy as something you only do once you’ve reached breaking point. But it’s worth trying even if you feel like something isn’t quite right. It can help you understand your thoughts and behaviour better, which in turn can help you cope with any difficult situations that arise in future
Medication can be prescribed to help ease the symptoms of mental health conditions. There are four main types of psychiatric medication.
There is still some stigma surrounding medication for mental health. However, medication can treat many of the physical symptoms of mental health, and lots of people find it to be a great help. Reducing these symptoms enables them to carry on with their lives as normal.
Think of it this way – you wouldn’t expect someone with a physical illness or injury to heal without medical treatment. Mental health conditions are the same. There’s no need to be embarrassed if you need to take medication.
Luckily, research shows attitudes towards mental health problems continue to improve. In the most recent Mental Health Network factsheet, 65% of respondents were willing to state someone they were close to had or has a mental illness, compared to 58% five years prior.
A healthy lifestyle can’t cure a mental illnesses by itself. But we all know drinking plenty of water, eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep are good for us. Taking care of yourself can be difficult when you’re struggling with your mental health, however, so here are some tips for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
We’ve all heard the theory that we should drink eight glasses of water per day to stay properly hydrated. However, it depends on your individual needs – the NHS currently recommends drinking between six and eight glasses per day (more in hot weather).
Staying hydrated improves your concentration and brain function, improves digestion, and can prevent fatigue and headaches from developing.
As a student, you’ll be sticking to a strict budget. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat well – you just need to be savvy when it comes to your weekly food shop.
Here are some of the best tips
Planning most of your meals in advance means you’ll only buy what you’re going to eat. It can be difficult to buy the right amount of ingredients when you’re only shopping for one person, so consider cooking extra portions in the evening and saving them for lunch the next day. You can also keep some meals frozen.
The cost of impulse buys can quickly add up, so make a list before you hit the supermarket and make sure you’re not shopping on an empty stomach. It’s a lot more tempting to put extras in your trolley when you’re hungry.
Don’t forget to browse online for cheap, healthy recipes.
Alcohol is a depressant. This means it can alter the balance of your brain chemistry, which has an impact on your thoughts, feelings, and actions. This means it can also affect your mental health.
You might feel more relaxed at first. This can lead to increased confidence levels, and encourage you to drink more. However, the more you drink, the more likely you are to feel angry, anxious, or even depressed.
Alcohol can be hard to avoid when you’re a student. Not everyone chooses to drink, but if you do there are ways you can enjoy yourself more responsibly, like making sure you eat a big meal before you go out and alternating between alcohol and soft drinks. Never let your drink out of your sight in case someone interferes with it.
Exercise isn’t just good for you physically – it’s a huge mood-booster. It releases endorphins, chemicals in your brain that make you feel happier and more energized. It can also reduce inflammation in your brain, relieve stress and tension, and help you focus on something other than your worries.
And you don’t just have to go to the gym. Any kind of movement is beneficial, whether it’s playing on a sports team, taking a yoga or pilates class, or trying an outdoor activity like hiking. Find something you enjoy doing and you’re more likely to make it part of your routine.
There isn’t one amount of sleep that’s right for everyone – some people need more than others, even once they reach adulthood. However, as a general rule, The Sleep Council recommends adults between the ages of 18 and 65 get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.
Mental health conditions can often cause sleep disturbances, which can be frustrating. Getting good quality sleep can significantly improve our well-being. However, there are some basic techniques you can use to set yourself up for a better night’s sleep:
You could also try the Sleep Council’s 30-Day Better Sleep Plan to get personalised suggestions.
University accommodation varies. You might get your own bathroom, or you might have to share a bathroom and kitchen with strangers. The amount of people sharing will vary too.
Some universities don’t have enough accommodation for their undergraduate intake, so you could find yourself in shared private accommodation. Either way, it can take some getting used to living with other people.
Some of the best things you can do include:
You won’t need to buy multiples of basic essentials that everyone uses. This includes things like washing up liquid, bin bags, hand soap, and toilet roll. Setting up a small monthly budget means it doesn’t always fall to the same person to buy stuff.
These will never be split equally (some people are more bothered about cleanliness), but it’s important everyone chips in. Decide at the start whether everyone will be responsible for their own washing up, or you’re going to take turns. For other shared areas, you could set aside time to clean as a group or even decide to pay for a cleaner. It sounds silly, but a lot of arguments are caused by messy houses.
It’s better for everyone if you get on with the people you live with. Rather that relying on the time you have to spend together, dedicate time to go out and get to know each other away from the house.
This will only apply if you’re renting private accommodation (as bills tend to be included by universities), but make sure you arrange how you’ll all contribute to monthly bills early on.
You just need to be considerate of others and you’ll get along with most people. Take food, for instance. The last thing you want after a long day at university is to come home and find your food has been eaten. It’s bound to cause issues. When sharing space with other people, you’ve got to consider how they feel too.
If anyone opens up to you about their feelings, the most important thing for you to do is listen. Don’t assume you know how they’re feeling; ask questions and take them seriously without casting any judgement.
Similarly, if you think someone is struggling, you should ask. University is a major life transition and there’s naturally a lot of adjustment to talk about.
But it’s important they feel comfortable talking to you. Sometimes it can be easier to start a conversation with a text because it can be tough at first. Once people begin to share, it can feel like a big relief. 2 in 3 people report having experienced a mental health problem in their lifetime, according to the Mental Health Foundation. You might not even be aware someone is struggling, until they open up.
If someone talks to you about their mental health, it’s recommended you:
Try and make it clear you have time to talk. Make sure there aren’t any distractions. And check in after the initial conversation too.
Avoid saying things such as ‘you’re just having a bad week’, because it can make someone feel like you don’t take them seriously. Similarly, don’t say anything judgemental or try to second guess their feelings.
Let them control how much or how little they talk about.
How someone else feels shouldn’t be something you talk about with other people casually. It takes courage to discuss your mental health with another person; show them they can trust you.
Try and make it clear you have time to talk. Make sure there aren’t any distractions. And check in after the initial conversation too.
Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. You can look into what you’ve been told and continue to listen. If you have any doubts, ask them how you can help.
You could offer to go to their GP with them, or find help available online. You may feel that their problems are too serious for you to help with
NHS advice reinforces the message that “it’s normal to feel down, anxious or stressed from time to time, but if these feelings affect your daily activities, including your studies, or don't go away after a couple of weeks, get help.”
If you – or anyone around you – is struggling with the following feelings for a prolonged period of time, the NHS says it’s time to get help:
Universities have varying policies on what classes as ‘mitigating circumstances’, but if anything is impacting your ability to complete your work on time or to your usual standard (including mental health), then you can apply for extenuating circumstances for the exam or coursework you think it’ll affect. You could get an extension or special arrangements made for an exam (e.g. not having to sit in a busy exam hall).
It tends to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, so the best thing you can do is to speak to someone in charge of your course or the university’s advice centre. They might say you need evidence – for example, a note from a GP or counsellor. But don’t worry if you haven’t asked for professional support yet. You still have a reason to speak up.