University and Mental Health
Posted by Leon Hubert
9th Jun 2015

Laura sent us this blog about mental health at university. You can read more of Laura's blogs here:

Moving away to start at university as a fresher is undoubtedly one of the most exciting times you will face as a young adult. The freedom, the student clubbing nights, the new friends, the getting mortally drunk every single night of freshers week and disgracing yourself in front of people you’re likely to be spending to next three of fours with and turning up to lectures drunk… University is made out to be this widely exciting and amazing time, but is that really the case?
Starting at university can also cause a lot of anxiety and stress, more so for students who have underlying mental health conditions, in whatever form. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t enjoy life as a student. The free rein at university, change in routine and surroundings can cause fluctuations in the stability of your mental health, so having an open-mind and some pre-planned self help targets can be of benefit.

Know What Support Your University Can Offer
Before moving away to university, have a look on their website to see what support services are offered to students. That could be counselling and well-being sessions, to learning support groups or workshops with the disability team. There will be a dedicated team of staff whose main role is to offer support and advice to students throughout their time at university. I was incredibly lucky with the support I received from my university’s well-being team; from week one as a fresher to my final week as a third year I worked with a wonderful counsellor, who honestly made staying in university possible. In my second and third year I also worked with a mental health advisor, who was able to give more specialist support and guidance as my health would vary from week to week.
It’s best to approach your university’s support services team as soon as possible. Whilst every effort is made to see students as soon as possible, the nature of the teams mean that there is often a waiting list. If you are in desperate need of support, ask for an urgent appointment.

Something I’ve commonly heard from other students is that they think their problems “aren’t serious enough” to seek support from the wellbeing or student support team. Regardless of the situation, you deserve and are entitled to help – try not to compare your situation to that of another person’s. Mental health is something which can and does affect anyone, life’s changes can impact us in ways we least expect. How you feel is very real and if something is causing upset or anxiety or affecting your studies then there will be people who can help you. It’s also worth remembering that despite how isolated you can feel because of a mental health condition, you are not alone. One in four of us will be affected by mental illness at some point in their lives; if you’re taking an average, that’s about one person in every student flat.

A lot of universities also run a Student Minds society. This can often be a great please to meet like minded people or get some informal support in terms of your mental health. As well as (potentially) having a shared understanding of mental health, working together in running awareness campaigns is a good way of getting integrated into student life and keeping busy.

Register with a GP
Depending on how far your university is from your hometown, registering with a university GP may or may not be needed. Your institution will either provide a GP registration form in a welcome park, online or you will need to go into the surgery. The sooner you register the better, as you will then be able to make the necessary appointments. If you were under CAMHS or the CMHT prior to moving away, it’s worth talking to your care coordinator about a case handover to avoid being left without support for long periods of time. If you are taking medication, ensure that you have enough to last until you have a GP appointment: going cold turkey at an already emotional time isn’t the best idea!
Having regular communication with your GP not only will build up a relationship, but it will also mean they have a better understanding of your care needs and are likely to notice a change in your moods or behaviour.

Starting a conversation about your mental health with a group of people you’ve been housed with and don’t know well isn’t always a realistic expectation. Initially, it’s a good idea if you talk to a lecturer or tutor who you get on well with. This is especially important if your academic worth is being affected, as they will be able to offer guidance on mitigating circumstances or extensions of assignments. Knowing that there is someone who is aware of things can sometimes offer a sense of relief. As with your GP, keep them in the loop of any changes so they are best prepared to help you.
As friendships become stronger, you will know for yourself who – if anyone – you want to confide in about your mental health. Initiating that conversation with a friend, for the first time, can be daunting but the more that they are aware of, the more they can do to support you.

Self Help
You will know for yourself what helps and hinders your mental health. Lack of sleep, combined with drink or recreational drugs can have a negative affect, which is worth remembering. Sleep problems can also be a very good indicator of how someone’s mental health is and can lead of a catch-22 of making mental health conditions worse. As much as possible. sticking to a regular routine can help with continuity, as well as giving you a sense of structure.

A large number of universities in the UK run a NightLine, offering confidential and non judgemental advice for students, run by students.You can see if your university has a NightLine here.

If your university doesn’t run a NightLine as if you are female and aged under 24 you can access support through TESS.

CALM is available to men, needing support or advice on mental health issues.

Samaritans are available 24/7 and like NightLine, offer confidential and non-judgemental support and advice.

Seeking help for a mental health condition isn’t anything to be ashamed of. A survey carried out by the NUS shows that a fifth of students consider themselves to have a mental health condition. Students are under tremendous pressure to succeed academically, to maintain a healthy social life and fit in, but the reality is that a large number don’t fit into the traditional 18 year old just-left-home model and face difficulty juggling their university life with other commitments. Universities have a duty of care to all students and support is out there; the initial conversation is hard, but receiving the help is worth it, meaning you can get the most out of university life.

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