Whether it’s your first or third year, being at university can be a stressful experience. Therefore, it’s of paramount importance that you take the time out of your day to look after your mental health whilst you’re there. So, here are a couple of home-brewed tips and tricks to help you do just that.
1. Let your university know about any mental health issues you may already have.
Having a mental illness isn’t easy. Letting your university know that you have one helps them to ensure that you have the help and support that you may need during your studies (e.g. extra time on assignments or counselling services).
Your first port of call of who to tell should be your personal tutor, but you can also tell other members of teaching and/or organisational staff. They will then be able to direct you to various other people who can help you more specifically. This usually includes the university’s disability officer.
2. Register with a GP
If there is one thing to know about mental illnesses, it’s that they are unpredictable. Today might be a good day, but tomorrow might not necessarily be as great. Being registered with a GP ensures that you have a professional alongside you to help you monitor your good and your not-so-good periods.
Most universities have a residential GP that, depending on your postcode, you might qualify to register with. If not, don’t worry: you can click here to find your local GP service if you live in the UK.
Once registered, make sure you visit your GP regularly. A large part of living with a mental illness (or even if you don’t) is being able to catch anything you may feel early on and nip it in the bud before it is able to develop into a much worse case. Also, medical personnel are able to pick up on things, such as changes in mood or behaviour, that you may have dismissed as unimportant.
And finally – yes – waiting times and scheduling appointments may take a while but remember this: your mental wellbeing is absolutely worth it.
3. Have a good support network
Having someone who cares about you to talk to and support you when you’re not feeling your best is really important (as is being that person to someone else). However, if you’re just joining a new university, the chances are that you won’t necessarily know anyone yet. But don’t worry, just look around: everyone else is also in that position.
So what can you do? Easy: try to go out of your way to talk to people, join societies, become a mentor for a younger student, join clubs or the gym and visit new places. However, don’t forget to keep in touch with your old friends too. It’s possible that they’re also going through a similar experience which, by talking/bonding over it together, can come as a relief to both of you.
4. Make sure you have an easy way home.
Being away from home can have various effects on your mental health. For some, being away is just fine, if not a little nerve-wracking. For others, however, it can be an isolating experience.
Mental illnesses, such as eating disorders, depression and schizophrenia have the danger of becoming exacerbated whilst you’re alone. Therefore, having an easy way to get home allows you to have some time to recuperate whilst being with your family and/or familiar surroundings.
5. Keep a short-entry journal.
Journals are great for keeping our younger selves’ memories and thoughts in – but that’s not all that they’re good for. Journals are also good for keeping track of mood swings, emotions and anxieties that you may experiencing whilst at university.
A short-entry journal is just a notebook that you can write a sentence or two about how you feel on a daily basis. Having one of these can help you vent about, document and identify any issues – either environmentally or health-wise – that you may be experiencing.
Lastly, like all other diaries, if you plan on writing things that you may not necessarily be comfortable with others reading, be sure to keep it in a safe place.
6. Pack an emergency anxiety kit in your book bag.
Whether you have a mental illness or not, having comforting things at hand during stressful times can be a huge reassurance. An emergency anxiety kit is basically this: a couple of items that you pack with you – either loose in your bag or in a small case – that make you feel calmer.
The kinds of things that you might want to pack in your emergency kit can include things such as headphones to block out noise, post-it notes with reassurances written on them, a fiddler to keep your hands occupied, chewing gum, plain paper to scribble or doodle thoughts on, and whatever else it is that you personally know to be comforting.
7. Plan important dates in advance
Deadlines, exams, presentations, and even graduations are all really important dates that tend to be a little stressful. Planning important dates in advance (such as making and sticking to a realistic study-plan) ensures that you have an order of events mapped out in your mind that you can resort to when you’re feeling a little anxious. Plans also ensure that you have enough time to dedicate to regular breaks and very important self-care.
However, although plans are great things to have, don’t worry if you can’t always stick to them. The ebb and flow of daily life can sometimes throw unpredictable events our way, simply causing us to be elsewhere and do things slightly differently to what we originally planned. This is normal and you will catch up.
8. Don’t take on more than you can manage.
Students are often encouraged to involve themselves in as many leadership roles, societies, volunteering opportunities, mentoring schemes and/or social events as possible. However, students are also only human: they can only do so much before the build up in pressure becomes a little too intense. So, to avoid this, identify a few things that you are interested in doing, check your availabilities and then make sure you still have time to wind down and do something devoid of responsibility before you sign up to anything new.
Conversely, if you are asked to do something that you feel you won’t be able to keep up with, try not to agree to do it. A lot of the time, saying ‘no’ to something is difficult – especially if you don’t want to disappoint someone. However, your ability to cope (i.e. Your health) is far more important than any amount of disappointment that saying ‘no’ may cause. Chances are, if you explain yourself well, the other person will understand.
9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
A study carried out by NUS saw that approximately 78% of university students experienced mental health issues within the academic year 2014-2015, and less than half of which sought for help. Why we may not ask for help when we experience a mental health issue may stem from a number of societal and/or personal reasons. However, here’s the thing: asking for help can be the difference between being happy or miserable, being stressed or not, and – in the most extreme cases – it can be what keeps us alive. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness nor is dealing with a mental health issue ever a shameful thing.
If you feel you exhibit any of the signs of a mental illness, please do get help. There are people who want to help you feel your best. You deserve to be happy.
10. Remember that you are not alone, you do matter, you won’t always feel this way, and recovery takes time.
Mental illnesses are very able to distort an individual’s perception, often allowing them to feel as if they are alone, worthless, and that nobody else can understand what they’re feeling/going through. These can be some of the worst feelings to have to experience when you’re unwell. However, they are also untrue: you are not alone, you matter more than any words can justify and there are others out there going through something similar.
No matter how permanent the ‘low’ parts of mental illnesses can feel, the fact is that – although it takes time and a lot of perseverance – things do get better. You won’t always feel this way.
Mental illnesses are never easy, but they are possible to cope with when you have the right support and methods put in place. To help, below is a list of organisations that you can get in contact with at times of emergencies or for longer-term issues.
- Samaritans: samaritans.org or call 116 123
- Nightline: nightline.ac.uk
- Student Minds: studentminds.org.uk
- Students Against Depression: studentsagainstdepression.org/
- Inspirited Minds: inspiritedminds.org.uk
- Mind: mind.org.uk
- Papyrus: papyrus-uk.org
11. Be there for others
If you know or think that someone else may be experiencing a mental health issue, knowing what to do is sometimes tricky. However, there are a few simple things that you can do.
- Just try to be there for them, listen to them and gently encourage them to seek professional help.
- Offer to talk to people or get in contact with helplines for them.
- Bring them things that they love (like pizza or a good book) if they’re having a down day.
- Don’t be judgmental. Mental illnesses are not discriminatory, anyone can be affected. Just keep an open mind and aim to understand rather than judge situations.