How to Support Your Mental Health at University
Student Mental Health is often a topic which can be overlooked whilst studying at university. For most, moving out of home to a new city can be quite daunting, and a new challenge which will take some getting used to.
As part of the Which? University Student Survey 2019, students shared their university struggles. The most common point of concern was loneliness, with 52% of students saying they had experienced this, while a little less than half said their course / studies were the main struggle.
Students are clearly at a higher risk of succumbing to mental health problems during university, for reasons including:
Age – a large proportion of students are under 25 and around three-quarters of adults with a mental illness have their first episode before turning 25.
Stress – being a student can be a stressful experience for many reasons. Although stress isn't a mental health problem itself, it can lead to mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
Lack of support – students might have left home for the first time, or just don't have enough time to see friends and family. Not having a good support network can make you vulnerable to developing a mental health condition.
We are currently experiencing one of the most unusual periods the world has ever witnessed. The COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on all our lives, however it is becoming increasingly apparent that the mental health of university students is being particularly affected. Looking after your mental health is especially crucial right now, and it is important to remember that there is always help available.
Mind’s coronavirus survey revealed the following:
People aged 18–24 reported worse mental health and wellbeing during the 2020 UK lockdown.
Nearly three quarters (73%) of students said that their mental health declined during the lockdown.
Mental health should be a focus for us all, and prioritising our mental wellbeing should take precedence over any academic commitments. Studying through these unprecedented times can increase anxiety and stress of young people at university.
Therefore, it’s important to recognise the warning signs of common mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety. The NHS website lists some common signs of depression and anxiety, including 'feeling low or more anxious or agitated than usual, or losing interest in life or motivation'.
Here are some ways to ensure your mental health remains a priority:
In the last 20 years, the emergence of the internet has made it even easier to access online mental health services, many of which are perfect for students. Apps may not offer the maximum support needed to tackle an issue, but they are a good starting point for dealing with conditions such as anxiety and stress.
Click here for the NHS App Library, which includes a list of mental health apps that have been assessed and approved by the NHS.
2) Keep in touch online:
If you can’t meet up with people in person, make plans to video chat instead. You can also arrange phone calls or send instant messages or texts. If you are feeling lonely, think about things you can do to feel close to others. Equally, there is no obligation to do so, if that causes you anxiety.
Listen to a radio station or podcast if your home feels too quiet.
3) Get as much natural light as you can:
Try to plan your day to get the most natural light possible. For example, you could try sitting by a window where you can look at the sky or trees, or watch birds and other animals. This can help give you a sense of space.
If you are able to spend time outside, such as in a garden or on a walk, you could plan to do this during daylight hours.
4) Take care of your physical wellbeing:
Think about your diet. If possible, try to eat regular meals and keep a balanced diet, as this can help your mood and energy levels.
Drink water regularly. Drinking enough water is important for your health. Changing your routine might affect when you drink or what fluids you drink. It could help to set an alarm or use an app to remind you.
Build physical activity into your daily routine, if possible. There are options for most ages and abilities. This includes things you can try indoors if you're spending lots of time at home.
If you can, try to wake up and go to bed at regular times each day.
Give yourself some tech-free time before sleep, avoiding bright screens.
5) Take care with the news:
Stay connected with current events if you find it helpful, but take care with where you find your news and health information. Try to use trusted sources to find reliable updates.
If news stories make you feel anxious or confused, think about switching off or limiting the amount of time you spend consuming them.
Social media can help you stay in touch with people but might also make you feel anxious. This may include people sharing news stories that you want to avoid, or posting how they feel about coronavirus. Consider taking a break or limiting how you use social media. You might decide to view particular groups or pages but not scroll through timelines or news feeds.
6) Challenge your thinking:
Understanding your worries can help you challenge them and explore ways to cope with stress.
Questions to ask yourself about negative thoughts:
Do I believe this?
Is it true?
What happens if it is true?
Why do I think this?
Can I change this?
What would I say to a friend if they said this?
Once you know why you feel a certain way, you may be able to change your situation.
Please remember, self-help resources are not a substitute for trained mental health advice. For immediate support, please contact one of the helplines below, which are staffed by trained advisors and will be able to support you in the correct way:
Nightline is a student-run listening service that offers confidential support by phone, email, online chat or face-to-face.
Student Minds, the student mental health charity, has a website packed with advice for dealing with a wide range of mental health issues. It can also provide a list of cheap and free alternative counselling services in your area.
Students Against Depression can help you create a personalised action plan to work your way out of depression.
For General Mental Health Concerns:
Samaritans. Listening service, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call 116 123 (free from any phone) for immediate support or email firstname.lastname@example.org if this feels easier.
SANEline. Free helpline available 4.30pm-10.30pm every day for those with/supporting people with mental health problems. Call 0300 304 7000.
Papyrus HOPELINEUK. For those under 35 who are struggling with suicidal feelings, or concerned about a young person who might be struggling. Call 0800 068 4141 on weekdays 10am-10pm, weekends 2pm-10pm and bank holidays 2pm–10pm, text 07786 209 697 or email email@example.com
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). If you identify as male, call 0800 58 58 58, 5pm–midnight every day. They also have a webchat service.
Switchboard. If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you can call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 for immediate support. Open 10am–10pm every day . Or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or use their webchat service. Phone operators all identify as LGBT+.
You can also use the NHS urgent mental health helpline search tool to find other services available in your local area.
For covid related advice, visit these pages for the latest government guidance: