For a lot of people (myself included!) university is a shock to the system. You’re away from home for the first time, living with a group of strangers for the first time, maybe going out drinking, getting into relationships for the first time. All while juggling the pressures of coursework and exams.
So naturally, it’s an emotionally demanding time which can have a negative impact on your mental health.
As a university student one of the most important things is having people you can talk to. Especially in those first few weeks where everything can feel a bit overwhelming. So make sure you maintain a strong support network back home. Don’t lose touch with friends and family just because you’re a few miles up the road. They still exist! And they’re still there for you in the same way they’ve always been. It just might require a bit more effort on your part. Check in regularly, reach out to them, keep them updated on your life and most importantly, stay interested in theirs.
Before arriving, find out what services the university offers in terms of mental health support. Most universities will have a Student Support Officer, or someone on site who assists students who are struggling. They may even have links to local charities such as Mind or Rethink to refer you to. It’s also a good idea to research GP’s and IAPT services so that you know where to go ahead of time. Ideally, arrive at uni armed with a list of local charities/support services, along with numbers to contact in a crisis. This will ease the burden of having to research everything when you might not be feeling up to it.
The last thing you want to do is spend uni worrying about whether you can afford to make it through the semester. Make sure you know what loans/grants/bursaries you’re entitled to. For university students from underprivileged backgrounds (like myself) there are financial support options available. Make sure you do your research thoroughly and get everything you’re entitled to.
Watch out for coping mechanisms that feel like they’re helping in the short-term, but are actually making you feel worse in the long-term. It’s easy to get carried away with going out, drinking, getting into relationships etc, and that’s fine. Enjoy yourself! As long as you’re actually enjoying it though. If it’s becoming a thing where you’re only drinking/partying as a way to distract yourself from feeling anxious or overwhelmed, consider healthier coping mechanisms such as Mindfulness, sports or journaling. It could be an idea to get some counselling, or look into local support services, just to have another positive outlet.
If you haven’t clicked with your housemates and you’re starting to feel lonely, try joining societies that cater to your interests. If you can’t find one that resonates with you, start one! You could even suggest a study group for some of the people in your class that you feel a connection with. (Spoiler alert: it’s not a study group really, it’s a social but you have to frame it in a way that creates the illusion of being something productive!).
Another option is volunteering. I WISH I volunteered while I was at university. Not only is a great way to meet new people, but it’s also a fantastic way to gain skills and experience to give you a great head start when you graduate.
These are just a few ideas based on some of the mistakes I made when I was at university. I did pretty much the opposite of the above and ended up graduating into a recession with a 2:2 in Drama. (Cut to me working as a cleaner and a gardener for a year just to be able to afford to move back home!). So don’t be like me. Get some structure and routine in place and make the most of the experience.
Not everyone gets to go to university. Don’t waste the opportunity on things that can be managed with a bit of forward planning.
Dan Licence, Mental Health and Wellbeing Advisor