Setting off to university can be an exciting time.
You’re leaving home for the first time.
Getting the chance to spread your wings.
Furthering your education.
Meeting new people and having new experiences.
Managing your finances.
Manage your time.
For many, it’s that first proper taste of independence.
And for all the above reasons, it can be a pretty terrifying, unsettling, anxious and overwhelming time.
Thousands of people head off to university every year.
As you settle into your new life, you may feel alone at times.
The people in our Closed Facebook Peer Support Group are wise, caring and supportive. They also know a thing, or two, about mental ill health and the things that have helped. We thought it might be useful for you to hear some of their advice, their experiences and hindsight, to be able to use as your foresight. They’ve got some really good words of advice for anyone who might be feeling a little anxious about taking this next step.
Emily-Rose Cluderay Find out whether the university has a mental health team. If there’s not a dedicated team, its often included within welfare or disability support. Make contact with them as soon as possible, even if you’re not sure you’ll need their help, it’s better to be on their radar, and know who to call, rather than try and do it all for the first time in the middle of a crisis. I recently returned to my old uni to do a Masters, and I was advised to flag up my MH on my application- within a week of being accepted, the MH Inclusion Officer called me to arrange a meeting, and he has been my main point of contact through my first year- contacting tutors and the Faculty when I’ve felt unable to, and supporting me to access additional help. His focus has been to enable and empower me to achieve, despite numerous MH challenges, and I can quite honestly say that without him, I probably wouldn’t still be studying.
ANON Don’t try to hide it, from tutors or peers. Be honest with people if you are struggling and ensure you get the support you need. From experience it has certainly put my mind at rest knowing that when I am finding it difficult to cope with my anxiety there is always someone there I can talk to.
Donna Gregory Look into Disabled Students Allowance, it can cover useful equipment but also a support worker and make recommendations for your tutors – such as deadline extensions and flexible library loans. I had free postal loans, which was a godsend!
With regard to support worker funding, you don’t have to use the university ones – you can recruit your own and claim directly from Student Finance.
Kathryn Powell Get all the help you need and don’t shy away from the advice of your tutors, I left it too late and it almost cost me my degree, everyone is so supportive and are there to help you too succeed so don’t be afraid to speak out even if you don’t want your course mates to know, arrange a private meeting with your tutors and tell them what’s going on! It was my biggest mistake refusing to accept the help I needed as I didn’t see when everyone else did, so try not to make the same mistake! Xxx
Sophie Elizabeth-Anne Malcolm If you’re like me and extremely anxious in an unfamiliar environment, if you can, visit the university grounds and halls a few times before you eventually start. Familiarise yourself with the new surrounds and don’t be afraid to take someone with you.
Also, if you know someone who is already at the university, maybe meet with them and ask them to show you around.
My mental health deterred me from going to university, so I hope this can help someone else.
Sophie Koranteng Don’t think that you’re the only one dealing with mental health issues, there are other people with difficulties too- and the student mental health team have been very supportive to me.
Also, understand your own needs and don’t put expectation on yourself to be partying every night if that’s not for you – in my first year I tried to keep up with the ‘expected student lifestyle’ and felt bad that I couldn’t. That extra pressure just isn’t worth it.
Ruth Indica Joni Dennis Keeping organised can really help keep you calm. I find that having all new stationery and things really helps, a calendar and a planner to keep yourself in check of when and where you’re doing things and when things are due 🙂 xx
Emily-Rose Cluderay Oh actually Sophie has just reminded me of something I wish I’d realised at uni- be aware of the impact alcohol can have on mood and anxiety, and don’t be afraid to abstain if it’s better for your health in the long term. Actually, I saw on the news the other day that apparently freshers week isn’t the booze fest it once was, and more universities are doing booze-free activities, which I think is great, as the peer pressure to join in drinking can be immense.
Holly Wheeler Emily-Rose, Yes I also agree with this. I chose to stop drinking because it was really causing me to feel incredibly low and really unwell after very small amounts. Yes, there is such an incredible amount of pressure to join in with drinking games, nights out but stand your ground and say no if you don’t feel comfortable drinking. People will respect you for being honest with them and if they don’t they’re not worth spending time with!
Emily-Rose Cluderay I still love my gin and cocktails, but now a bottle lasts me 6 months, rather than 6 days! There’s nothing wrong with drinking, but I think it’s very important to be aware of your limits, especially if taking meds that may interact.
Heather Eyre You aren’t alone. I really wish I had known that support was available before I was in desperate need of help. It is much better to have the support in place and try and prevent the need for emergency intervention. Don’t put off speaking to someone until the last minute.
Krissi Asher Remember that your parents/guardians always have the best intentions for you. And that they will help when you’re having problems with anything from budgeting to being homesick. They will always be at the other end of a phone, they want you to have fun, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes, everyone does!
Cathy Samantha be safe 🙂 make sure you have your student finance in place . budget wisely ..work hard but play as well .there is always someone you can talk to if you need advice …
Cathy Samantha as above your family will always be on the other end of the phone or email etc … it’s also very scary making this kind of a transition. I’m currently changing my uni for my final year and I’m moving away one to be with my boyfriend and 2 to continue my studies. I’m a mature student so it’s even more scary ..at the same time it’s good .. the main thing is if things get to you. There is always your tutor and student wellbeing service. If your struggling both personally and academically .dont be scared to talk to someone. I have done that and it helped me a lot. It’s better than to struggle. 🙂
ANON. University is going to be highly competitive and to those of us who are emotionally sensitive it is going to be quite hard. You may feel like an alien sometimes. I wish someone had told me that grades and building an amazing CV with lots of extracurricular activities are not everything and it is a lot more important to keep yourself safe, to enjoy growing up, to appreciate the meaningful friendships that will probably last a lifetime, and to take advantage of your summers to cultivate other interests, volunteer and contribute to society in the way that you find is better for you. Introspection and compassion are sadly underrated but they are amazingly fulfilling. Being assertive and action driven and competitive is not for everyone and that is also okay. Good luck to everyone who is starting uni! It is certainly an amazing period.
Nicola Foyle It took me a year to make firm friends with people in my house and on my course but I loved uni. Take time to join sports and societies but make the most of uni. Take small things to make your room homely like photos or cushions or scarves that will help get rid of the sterile feel. There are usually plenty of services to help support so seek them out.
Frieda Blenkinslop If u feel an outsider anyway, there’s a chance u could feel even more so, so be prepared and have some strategies. Think about what u want out of the experience and take steps towards it. There are loads of opportunities to explore interests and volunteer which is a good way to find your people if they’re sparse in your peer group. If u haven’t got family support, or if u struggle, make finding out what support is available thro student services, counselling, etc, an absolute priority. There is no shame in asking for help and that’s exactly what they r there for. Remember there will be other people who struggle too, and for everyone, it takes a long time to build new friendships so don’t let your fantasies about how well everyone else is coping run away w u. Good luck! – it is a great first step to finding your own path.
Jo Walters Lots of students don’t disclose their mental health condition to their university which is absolutely their right to do but can make it harder to access support and get extensions on deadlines if you need them.
Naomi Barrow Remember you won’t be the only one feeling whatever you feel. Also if you know you’re prone to needing to chat, find out what welfare support is in place before you go. If you have a diagnosed MH condition, you should be eligible to register as a disabled student and apply for disabled students allowance. Finally, there’s a w curve, I’m going to find it, bear with!
Naomi Barrow Here we go https://www.york.ac.uk/…/sup…/health/problems/adjusting/. Also, if you’re on meds, make sure you have enough for at least your first week and book an apt with the new GP during the first week so you can get your prescriptions in place and transferred ASAP. If you’re seeing a GP regularly at home, ask them to write a letter to the new one so you don’t have to explain from the beginning. And if you’re on medication, check what does/doesn’t mix with alcohol (head meds is a great site for this) and take the drinking slow if you’re not used to it!
Naomi Barrow And if you’re bad at making yourself eat/making healthy food choices when busy/feeling crap and are self catered, make some ready meals for the freezer that you don’t have to think about on those difficult days. Also if, you struggle with sensory overload/anxiety/stress etc, buy a soft blanket (primark throws are ace for this) and/or cushions, they can help when stressed/lonely. And bring your fav film with you. Okay I’ll stop now :’)
Anon I found out at the end of my first year I could get disability support because of my mental health condition. I was allowed to record lectures and had study support and a mentor. It really helped me stay on track and keep up a bit more.
Anon I second the soft blanket. I have always been a cuddly toy person but more so after uni. I am so attached to mine it was a big soother through hard times and still is now.
Anon I took teddies to uni with me.
Naomi Barrow I have three teddies, and at least three blankets at any one time…
Naomi Barrow Oh, also, people’s facebooks are far more perfect than their lives.dont assumed that because they’re out partying every night they’re not just as homesick as you are.
And if you start to struggle, speak to someone then, don’t wait until you’ve missed a few deadlines before speaking out.
Anon I wish I had disclosed earlier and accessed disability support…
Jill Freeman Get a mental health toolbox together. Have a list ready of this to do when you start to slide. It’s better to have this before hand because when you are down you sometimes can’t think of what to do. Having a self-care list can help head off a full on slide as well. Research on campus clubs and groups and join a couple. Don’t stretch yourself too thin.
Maddie Hewitt Always ask for help if you feel like you need it and preferably as soon as possible. Make use of personal tutors and student support, most of them are used to dealing with students with mental health issues and are more than happy to chat confidentially to you. Chaplains are also an amazing source of support for people of any faith or indeed no faith and will often just sit with you and chat and make you a cup of tea when you’re struggling.
Pam Stallard-Pleass My experience would be: definitely make a GP or nurse aware of MH history whilst you’re stable rather than approaching them first time in crisis. I would advise that if you see a GP at university to enquire specifically about the possibility of therapy of some kind as well as medication as I experienced a lot of meds being thrown at me without being referred for much help to deal with symptoms etc. Also to try and share with people whom you can trust that you have MH and be open so they can support you. I echo all comments about the issues that alcohol can raise too. I found being away from family exacerbated my symptoms sometimes and so keeping contact with family and friends from home is vital too.
Barbara Pugh Go careful during freshers week , cheap alcohol may seem like a good substitute for self-confidence…it’s really not !! And it’s better to take a break than break down and get a calendar for positive and negative deadlines so you don’t suddenly get overwhelmed with stuff.
Rachael Elizabeth Never, ever feel like you are “not struggling enough” to let your subject / department know that you have mental health issues. If it gets to a point where you are ill and need extra support, everything is a thousand times easier when they already have record that you struggle with such things!
Have a discussion with the disability team at university. I can’t emphasis this enough! Let them know what kinds of struggles you face (eg insomnia, low mood, inability to focus) even if you don’t necessarily have a diagnosis. That way, if you’ve had a bad week and haven’t been able to meet a deadline, you can say “I struggled a lot with my _____ this week and so for that reason I would like to request an extension.” It makes it a lot more likely that they’ll realise that’s genuinely why you haven’t done it, rather than thinking you were a lazy student who slept in late after a night out and didn’t leave time to do your work. Unfortunately there are people that lie to get work extensions, which means it’s more difficult for those who are genuinely struggling with their health to get the necessary consideration.
Resources to help you: