The first semester has just begun at universities around the U.K, and that means thousands of young students will be moving away from home to begin their university studies. University life can be exciting, enriching, and full of opportunities, but it can also be difficult and stressful. Whilst at university, it can often feel like there are pressures to make new friends and have a good time. Moving away to a new city can be daunting and comes with lots of new responsibilities. On top of all this comes the inevitable stress associated with academic deadlines and exams. It’s perhaps not surprising then, that around one quarter of students report experiencing mental health issues (https://yougov.co.uk/news/2016/08/09/quarter-britains-students-are-afflicted-mental-hea/).
How to spot the signs
Spotting the signs of mental health problems early means that changes can be made before the symptoms worsen. The most common mental health problems experienced by students are depression and anxiety. If experiencing these problems, you may find that you:
• Are having difficulty sleeping
• Are struggling to concentrate on your work or lectures
• Eat more or less than usual
• Feel restless or agitated
• Stop caring about how you look or keeping clean
• Often feel tense or nervous
Other, rarer, signs that you are experiencing a mental health issue may include:
• Hearing voices or feeling highly suspicious of others (as found in psychosis)
• Persistent and upsetting intrusive thoughts (as found in obsessive-compulsive disorder)
• Intentionally vomiting after consuming large amounts of food, or severely restricting the amount of food that you eat (as found in eating disorders)
What to do next
There are a number of different steps that you can take if you’re concerned about your mental health whilst at university.
• Use student support services – Most universities offer a range of services which are designed to help students. These services may help with practical issues, such as guidance on how to manage your finances, to psychological support from counselling services. Most universities also run a Nightline service, which offers non-judgemental emotional support, either via telephone or e-mail. Head to your university’s website or student services for more information on the services on offer.
• Speak to your tutor – This will help ensure that you receive adequate academic support, which may help to relieve some academic pressure.
• Develop a routine – Adding structure to your day can help you manage a range of activities that are important for your mental health; such as sleep, academic work, eating, exercise, and social activities.
• Get out there – Many students often feel isolated and alone. Meeting others can help prevent these feelings of loneliness. Volunteering and societies offer good opportunities for meeting like-minded people. Sports teams offer the adding benefit of physical activity, which can help to lift mood.
• Consider alcohol consumption – Student life has a reputation for involving lots of drinking, but alcohol can have a detrimental effect on your mental health. Many people find alcohol exacerbates their symptoms of anxiety or depression. If you’re concerned about the negative impact of alcohol on your mental health, try reducing your alcohol intake. Despite the reputation, there are lots of opportunities to socialise that do not involve alcohol. Looking through the societies on offer at your university, can be a good place to start.
• See a GP – If your symptoms are severe or seriously interfering in your life and studies, then it may be time to speak to your GP. Many universities have their own health service that you can register at. Your GP may offer medication and/or therapy to help with your problems.
Overall, it’s important to stay aware of how you are feeling and to look after yourself whilst at university. Of course, you’ll be aiming to achieve high academically, but this will be much more difficult if your mental health is suffering. Use the support and services around you and make sure you speak to somebody if you’re feeling like things are getting on top of you.
Nightline – https://www.nightline.ac.uk/
Student minds – http://www.studentminds.org.uk/
Mind – https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/student-life/student-life-and-mental-health/#.WdTBVsZryUk
NHS – http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/studenthealth/Pages/Mentalhealth.aspx
Writer for Cognitive Practice