Starting university can be a difficult time, and even in your second, third or final years, it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed with work or being away from home. Uni can be a strenuous time for anyone, especially if you’re far away from home. So, looking after your mental health is one of the most important things you should consider. Being aware and mindful of your mental health is the first step you can take to help combat the most common mental health struggles. So that you’re well informed and prepared, here are 7 common mental health issues at university that students will often face throughout their time at uni.
Stress can sometimes be quite a useful thing. A little bit of stress is one of the things that motivates us to get work done. It can kick us into gear when we’re experiencing a lack of drive. Managing your assignment deadlines and upcoming exams is bound to bring on a certain amount of stress. But, this can easily tip over into becoming a problem for your mental and physical health.
Being proactive with planning and making sure you take time out of your studies to relax are two of the most important things to help alleviate stress. It means you won’t be leaving everything until the last minute, and so you will be more able to face the challenges university brings head-on.
Being at university is one of the most confidence-building experiences you will put yourself through. The number of people you meet in an academic, social and, later on, professional context is huge. You will have a lot of conversations with a lot of people, and this will be doing your confidence the world of good (even if it doesn’t feel like it right now). As well as this, your course might involve doing some public speaking.
If you feel like you’re lacking in confidence, there are things you can do to help boost it. Just be aware, though, that just being at university will really help with your self-confidence, and you might even get to the end of your course wondering what you were concerned about.
Understandably, university students might be dealing with anxiety. You’re away from home, away from friends and family, and you’re spending all your time in a new place with new people – not to mention having to deal with a full-on workload.
Feelings of panic, worry and fear activate our ‘fight or flight’ response which is our body’s way of protecting us in threatening situations. Your heart rate goes up, and adrenaline is released to help you be stronger (fight) or move faster (flight). While some anxiety is completely normal, it can be damaging to your health over prolonged periods. As well as sharing how you’re feeling with those around you, there are practical things you can do to help maintain your anxiety levels. Exercise and simple breathing exercises that you can do anywhere can help your body settle down to a more natural, resting state and reduce feelings of panic.
It might be that your course requires you to do a lot of presentations and this isn’t something you’ve had much experience with. Or, maybe you find yourself getting nervous when you meet new people at day-to-day university classes and events or in social situations. This is all normal and is all part of it. Managing your nerves is something that you can learn to do over time with more experience. You might find helpful advice online, like breathing techniques and body language tips and tricks. Just remember that others around you will often be feeling the same way.
If your mental health is struggling for a prolonged period, it’s possible that you can slip into depression. This involves a change in your brain chemistry brought on by things like prolonged stress or anxiety, grief or heartbreak and even your past experiences can play a part in it. Depression is particularly troublesome for students at university because it can affect your concentration levels and your memory. Your sleep can be disturbed too – either not getting enough or oversleeping. Depression is also likely to have a negative affect on your self-esteem and confidence, which can make it difficult to feel connected to those around you at uni.
It is recognised that there is a connection between depression and spending a lot of time on social media, as young people are left feeling isolated and with feelings of inadequacy. So, seriously cutting down on your social media intake is the first thing we’d suggest doing if you’re feeling low on a more permanent basis.
Living costs are a struggle for many of us at the moment, and students are no exception to this. Worrying about money can lead to stress and anxiety – but at this stage of your life, as long as you can make do with what’s coming in, that’s all you need to worry about.
To stay on top of things, it’s a good idea to take some time to budget and plan out your spending at the beginning of each term (or whenever your money comes in). Make sure the money will last you until the end of the term and that you can set a little aside for doing things you enjoy. If you need to get a part-time job to tide you over, this can be a great way to meet new people and to keep yourself busy, which are both real positives for your mental health.
We get it – you’re in a new city, maybe even a new country. The food might be different, the weather might be different, and you find that you’re struggling to make genuine connections with the people around you.
It’s common to feel a little homesick when you come to university, and even throughout your time at uni. Try to combat these feelings of loneliness by opening up with your flatmates or friends on your course. They might just be feeling the same way as you. You could even suggest getting some food together from where each of you are from.
While it’s wonderful that you can catch up with your friends at home over video calls or social media, try not to spend too much time with them digitally, as this will prevent you from making connections in your new city.
Where to get help if you’re struggling
Whatever you feel right now, there will be others feeling the same way. The first thing you should do when you’re struggling with your mental health is to talk to others. If you’ve made friends on your course or with your flatmates, allow them to be a listening ear and open up about how you’re feeling. They mightn’t have the solutions you’re hoping for, but sharing your problems with others is proven to help ease the burden of mental health struggles. Just saying how you’re feeling out loud is a positive step. Plus, you might be surprised at how similar some friends of yours are feeling too.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to any of your peers, you will find help through university. UWS students can benefit from CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) using Silvercloud, which is a digital therapy service that is confidential and completely free of charge. It’s a web-based resource that is made up of a library of CBT resources. This is a great option for students who are proactive with maintaining good mental health, and we recommend it for keeping on top of the daily stresses and struggles that university brings. On Silvercloud, you can learn about the nature of stress and anxiety and how to manage them. And you can work on developing your self-esteem and assertiveness skills too.
As well as using your university for mental health support, you can find free and independent help from mental health charities and organisations. Charities like the Samaritans allow you to chat with someone for free when you just need someone to listen. Shout is an organisation that will have a conversation with you over text messages. Both of these are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so remember that you’re never alone, as there’s always someone there to listen. The Mind charity has a whole host of useful information online on how to manage your mental health.
You can also approach your GP about your mental health, just as you would if you had a problem with your physical health. They will be able to guide you to the right kind of information and maybe even some local help in the area you’re living in.
If you’re an international student, you might also find it helpful to speak to one of our International Student Advisers here at UWS. We understand that our international students might be experiencing a particularly unsettling time and need practical advice with a few things to help stave off mental health issues. Our advisers can help with advice around visas and immigration, travel advice, family visits and questions about money.