It’s well-known that university can be a mental health pressure-cooker for students. Far from being the best years of their lives, many are lonely and being away from home can amplify academic, relationship and financial problems.
A survey by the National Union of Students (NUS) in December found that the majority of students (78%) had experienced mental health issues in the last year, with a third saying they had had suicidal thoughts and more than half (54%) saying they didn’t seek support.
University mental health day, founded by the University Mental Health Advisers Network (Umhan) in 2012 and supported by Student Minds, was started to encourage students to talk about their mental health and improve their understanding of how to support others.
It’s an understatement to say mental health is complicated, and there is obviously no quick fix to curing yourself of a serious problem. If you’re suffering, your first port of call should be your university’s mental health service or local child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).
However, universities and colleges can provide very supportive environments for recovery and there are simple things you can do to boost how you feel and make each day that little bit better while at university.
Talk to your tutors
“There is a lot of support available for students who are finding university challenging. If you disclose issues to your tutor or head of year early on, reasonable adjustments can be made,” says Nicky Lidbetter, chief executive of Anxiety UK.
For more information about the services that may be available at your university, browse the University Mental Health Advisers Network website, a network of mental health specialists working in the higher and further education sector. You can also contact the mental health adviser at your institution.
Talk to peers
It’s obvious, but talking to someone you trust about your problems can really help, says a spokesperson from Young Minds. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a peer, family or an old school friend. The mental health and wellbeing charity has just launched a campaign against university stress and a zine, Coping on Campus, which was created by students and contains tips and real-life stories about looking after your mental health at university.
Seek solace online
“Online support groups can be useful for young people who perhaps aren’t ready to talk to someone they know,” says a spokesperson from eating disorder charity Beat. They provide peer support and an intimate environment in which people can share their experiences.
“We’ve heard from many students who find our online support groups a safe haven where they can speak to others going through similar experiences to help them feel less alone,” adds the spokesperson. Ensure the boards you post to are moderated and confidential.
Small things can make a big difference
“There is no one ‘fix all’ activity that will suit everyone – although yoga is always a popular favourite,” says a spokesperson from Student Minds. “Think carefully about what you do on a day-to-day basis to help boost your mood. That could be making sure you get eight hours of sleep a night, taking at least 10 minute a day to go for a walk or preserving some time to catch up with a friend.”
The Student Minds ripple campaign, for students experiencing low mood and depression, has ideas that you could try out. Check it out for inspiration and share your own on social media with the hashtag #RippleTips.
The mental health charity Mind launched Emoodji last month, to help students reduce their stress by using emojis to reflect and track their mood. “Emoodjis”, are selfies or photos with an emoji applied on to them.
Kelly Griffiths, a student studying media production at Bournemouth University, uses the app and says it’s been most useful when deadlines begin to loom. “It’s been really helpful to use Emoodji to keep track of my emotions throughout the day, so I know when it’s time to take a break or seek some support from friends or family,” she says.
Meditation apps, such as Headspace, can also work for some people, as can apps that allow users to share their problems anonymously. Jeremy Christey, chair of the universities and colleges division of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), says: “Apps such as Silent Secret or KoKo can help you get support or another perspective.”
If you don’t have mental health difficulties yourself, chances are you know someone else at university who does. New research by Student Minds found that students who were supporting friends with mental health difficulties knew on average four individuals with similar issues. The mental health charity says it can be hard for these students to know what to say or do, and advises them to seek support.
“Speak to a mental health professional on your campus or another – impartial – friend who can offer a friendly ear,” says a Student Minds spokesperson. “What you are doing to support a friend is an incredible thing, but don’t feel that you have to cope on your own.”
- For further support, visit Student Minds for details of where to go for help.
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