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The time you spend at university is often expected to be one of the best times of your life. However, despite all the benefits of newfound independence, moving away from home, meeting lots of new people and adapting to a new environment can be overwhelming. It can take a toll on your mental health.
It can also be a nerve-wracking time for family and friends, as well as the student. Our blog for University Mental Health Day features some tips if you're looking for ways to support yourself or others during this time.
Recent data suggests that 1 in 5 students have a current mental health condition, according to a 2020 report by The Insight Network and student organisation Dig-In. In fact, in 2021/22, access to NHS mental health services for 18- to 25-year-olds was almost a fifth higher than pre-pandemic. Research into ‘University Mental Health: Life in a Pandemic’ found 74% of students reported that Covid-19 has had a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing at university.
Hannah Brookfield, Clinical Supervisor at ieso, explains: “You may find that, post pandemic, learning is now offered in new ways, whether that be remotely, in person or in a hybrid combination of both. It is therefore even more important to stay connected with others and to build a regular routine to stay well. Remember that universities offer a plethora of opportunities to meet others through special interest groups, societies and social events and most universities have designated services for students who require additional support with finances, learning, employment, mental health and other areas”.
In the run-up to Time to Talk Day (3rd February), launched by Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the Co-op, it’s important that you know what support is available to you whilst studying at university to manage your mental health from freshers to graduation. “Early access to treatment is shown to improve the likelihood of people feeling better sooner”, says Hannah, “have a look at your university website for more details on how to access the support available”.
To help get you started, here are a few ways you can take care of your mental wellbeing at university:
Notice any changes in your regular behaviour. Are you dropping out of sessions, and find it difficult to concentrate when in lectures or seminars? Have you found it difficult to motivate yourself to study, socialise or do things you used to enjoy? Do you struggle to stick to a healthy sleep routine? These are some tell-tale signs that you may be struggling with your mental health.
Rest assured, you’re not alone. You’re likely to find others who are also seeking support. When symptoms aren’t visible, it can be easy for a mental health condition to slip through the cracks at university.
Speak to someone. If the prompt has come from a close friend or family member, listen to their concerns. If you’re feeling worried, unhappy, out of control or you simply don’t enjoy university as much as you initially expected, let someone else know. If you’re feeling homesick or lonely, meeting new people can open up opportunities to build new communities and friendships. The best way to do this at university is by spending time with like-minded people doing something you enjoy at a society or club.
Avoid taking on too much. Set boundaries for the number of social clubs and activities you sign up to. Overexerting yourself and spreading yourself too thinly means you have less time to recharge your batteries. Try to maintain balance in all aspects of what you do so you still have time to relax and do those things you enjoy.
Decide what you’re comfortable with. Remember, you have the right to choose what you do and don’t do. You might need to be assertive if your friends are trying to persuade you to do something you’re uneasy about. Being mindful of how sometimes inhibitions can go out of the window when indulging in addictive behaviours or taking unnecessary risks, such as using drugs or alcohol, could also save you a lot of anxiety the morning after.
Practice self-care. Be kind to yourself by keeping your living space tidy, getting enough sleep and eating healthily. Remember to take time out to do things that will help you switch off and relax. Have a break and pick up a new book, cook a tasty meal or go for a walk through a park. Take time to understand your feelings and, with the right help, you can identify the problem and develop techniques to overcome it.
Seek support early. Don’t be put off seeking professional guidance and try not to leave it until you reach crisis point. Speak to your doctor if you’re confused about your feelings. If you feel uncomfortable going to your GP at first, your university may also have dedicated welfare officers, tutors or an on-site hub that provide support. Sharing your concerns with them can spur you towards a positive course of action.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is on effective way to manage anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. There may be several ways you can access this whilst at university. Some offer individual support or access to groups – your welfare tutor or wellbeing department can point you in the right direction for these. Your GP might be able to refer you to local services as well. If you've recently moved to university, make sure to register with a GP nearby for this. Alternatively, you may be able to access online therapy through ieso, who can help you understand what’s behind your symptoms and learn practical techniques for managing them. Find out why typed therapy might work better for you here.
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