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University mental health awareness day: How to start a conversation about your mental health

March 7, 2019

Despite the romantic image we often have of student life, for a lot of people university doesn’t live up to those high expectations of being “the best years of your life.” One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in any given year, and we know that statistic is higher amongst the student population for many reasons. If you’re affected by a mental health problem, the most important thing to remember is you’re not alone.

Talking about your own mental health can be really hard. It takes enormous bravery to say, “I’m struggling”, especially when you don’t know what sort of response you’re going to get back.

A good place to start would be to consider with whom you are going to have that conversation. Think about what you want them to know and what you would like back. Are you looking for someone to listen, or are you wanting help? You might find it useful to write down what you want to say. If you’re unsure on what to say, take yourself somewhere quiet and try and answer the following questions:

  • What would you describe as your main problem?
  • How long has it been a problem for you?
  • Have you ever had treatment in the past?
  • Did you find it helpful or was it unhelpful?
  • What would you like help with right now?
  • What would be a good outcome for you?

The answers to those questions will help guide your conversation and make a difference to who you go and speak to.

If you are looking for someone to be supportive and to listen, it can be beneficial to tell the other person precisely that: “I’m going to tell you something. I don’t want you to do something about it; I just want you to listen”. It could be a friend, a loved one, or even your tutor. Whoever you choose, make sure that it is someone you know who cares about you. Arrange a time that is good for both of you, in a space where you feel most relaxed and comfortable; you could go for a walk or coffee. Not wanting a solution is ok, sometimes knowing that someone genuinely cares can be reassuring. Remember, you don’t have to have the conversation face-to-face. You might find it easier to do it by email, telephone or even text. Whatever the medium is, make sure that it’s right for you.

If you are seeking help, a perfect place to start is your university’s student wellbeing service. The service is confidential and completely free. They will have a range of options available and a team of advisors who will help you decide the best way forward and be able to signpost you to other organisations to suit your needs. You can find details of your student wellbeing service on your university website or via your student union. In addition to this service, there will be a peer support service, who are trained to listen. If you want an anonymous option, the Samaritans offer a safe place for you to talk any time you like, in your own way – about whatever’s getting to you. You don’t have to be suicidal. They can help you explore your options, understand your problems better, and be there to listen.

You can also seek help outside of your university. Your GP will be able to determine the most appropriate service to refer to you. They can also help by providing a doctor’s note in case you need extensions for essays and assignments or special consideration in exams. Alternatively, you can visit the NHS Choices website and input your postcode to see where your nearest psychological therapy service is. There are many services that offer very effective support and treatment, and they will help you feel better.

If you feel you are ready to start a conversation and would like to explore online therapy, ieso may be able help you. Check here to see if our service is available in your area.

Useful links:

  • NHS Choices
  • The Samaritans or call 116 123 - Lines are open 24/7
  • NHS 111 - The free number to call when you have an urgent healthcare need. It directs you to the right local service, first time. It is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  • CALM - The CALM helpline is for men in the UK who are down or have hit a wall for any reason, who need to talk or find information and support. You can contact them for free on 0800 58 58 58 from 5pm - midnight.
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