Uni Students, Mental Health and How You Can Help

 The stereotype image of university life is a group of students having a whale of a time: going out to college parties, getting drunk, enjoying being irresponsible before joining the real world of work… and even occasionally going to the odd lecture. And for lots of students, life really can be a ball sometimes.  However, student life can also be difficult, the pressures of leaving home for the first time brings up all manner of insecurities and anxieties. Many young people buy into that stereotype and if their reality doesn’t match up, they can begin to wonder what is wrong with them, which can be a huge emotional challenge. 

Think about it…. who would choose to be dropped off by their nearest and dearest into a situation where the accommodation is seriously under par, they don’t know anyone and they suddenly have to start to be completely independent? It doesn’t sound like a brilliant idea on the face of it but that’s what is happening to thousands of 18 year olds in the UK this month. Of course, the expectation is that it’s going to get a whole lot better but right now, it’s tough. And for some students, it’s tough all the way through. In fact statistics on student mental health make for a sobering read.  In a BBC report from May this year (Student Mental Health : ‘Failing a generation’), the most up to date statistics available showed that 146 students took their own lives in 2016, an increase from previous years. At Bristol University this May, three students have died suddenly in the past month alone.  Moreover, Universities UK have stated that, over the past 5 years, 94% of universities had seen a ‘sharp increase’ in the number of people trying to access support services, with some institutions noticing a three-fold increase.

There are many articles on the mental health services available at university – some institutions are better than others, as you might expect.  The state of mental health provision is another topic altogether and a controversial one!  Today, we are going to focus on individuals and what young people can do to stay healthy and happy.

Here are some advice you can give to any student you know to help them improve their wellbeing during their time at Uni.

  • Even if you’re shy and nervous, make the effort to go into the communal area of your accommodation – don’t sit in your room all the time. Leave your door open when you are in there so others know that you are up for a chat.

  • Have a look at the clubs and societies on offer at your university – create a social life for yourself with other like-minded people.

  • Remind yourself that everyone in your flat or on your course are all in the same boat as you – if you’re all too shy to make the first move, then you’ll never talk to anyone. 

  • Be honest about how you feel – you don’t have to off load ALL your fears onto the first person you see but there’s nothing wrong with admitting you’re a bit nervous or feeling anxious. Some people can over compensate by creating a whole persona of fake confidence but that is difficult to keep up after a while.  Be yourself.

  • Accept that the first few couple of weeks WILL be hard – but will get better.  Remember a difficult day is just that – try to get things into  proportion. 

  • Look after yourself – eat well, get some exercise and try to get into a good sleep pattern.  Be good to yourself.

  • Throw the ‘shoulds’ out of the window – you ‘do’ university however you choose to.  You don’t have to go out partying every night if that simply isn’t you.  

  • Acknowledge that it may be hard, as any change is at f irst. Give yourself time to re-adjust to your new life.

  • Know your own limits in terms of alcohol use … and remember, if you are feeling low, alcohol is a depressant, it’s not going to raise your mood.  The same applies to recreational drugs.  There’s a lot of information out there to suggest that drug use can lead to mental health problems and, if you already suffer from poor mental health, you may be more likely to experience negative effects with drug use.  And, of course, there are legal implications and your university will have its own rules too.

  • There are lots of Apps that are available to calm and relax you.  Headspace is very popular, for example or Mind Shift.

  • Lastly, if you feel that things really are getting on top of you, find out about emotional help from Student Services – lots of universities offer well-being classes (such as mindfulness) as well as counselling. Don’t suffer in silence.