In honour of World Mental Health Day (10th October) I wanted to take the time to talk about mental health at university. According to a University Student Mental Health Survey published in March this year ‘42.3% of respondents had experienced a serious personal, emotional, behavioural or mental health problem for which they needed professional health’. Now more than ever, mental health needs to be talked about as we try and reduce the stigma associated with it.
Not only do these students have to tackle university life with these conditions, they are less likely to progress in their degrees and have a reduced attendance. Mental health can be a barrier to education in the same way that physical health can be. Whilst thankfully I never experienced serious mental health issues at university, there were still times I felt extremely low, isolated, anxious and stressed. These occasions were well outnumbered by positive experiences, and overall I really enjoyed my first degree, but only because I learnt to prioritise my mental health.
Here are some tips that I’ve collated that helped me with my mental health as a student:
Stay in contact with friends and family
Moving to university can be lonely and scary, you might not know anyone at all, and whilst everyone is in the same boat, it’s easy to feel a bit out of your depth if you’re not the most confident person. Staying in contact with your family and home friends can really help to make you feel more supported whilst you’re finding your feet at university and meeting new people. Even after you’ve settled in and made new friends, make sure you don’t neglect your existing relationships, as they will want to hear about how you’re doing and you may get occasional bouts of homesickness!
Say no to things that you don’t want to do
Make yourself a priority. You might have just had a really busy day studying, you’re really tired and all you want to do is get into your pyjamas and watch Netflix, but you get home and your flatmates invite you out for dinner. If you really don’t feel like it, and you’d just be going for them, not yourself, then just say no. Another thing, you don’t need to explain your no’s. It’s so easy to start of saying ‘No, I can’t because….’ or ‘No, sorry that day I’m…..’ it is okay to just say, ‘No, thank you’.
Make time for yourself
The same way you would make plans with your friends, make plans with yourself. Have time to yourself where you just lock your door and do something for you: watch your favourite movie, listen to some music, do a facemask, journal, read, anything that really helps soothe your soul. Check out my post on the six forms of self care and how to practice them. I also have a post on creating evenings for ultimate relaxation.
Research has shown that exercises such as jogging, cycling, walking and evening gardening have proved to reduce anxiety and depression. These exercises work in various ways: increasing blood flow to the brain, triggering areas that control motivation and mood; distraction from everyday life; improves self-esteem and cognitive function. The benefits are incredible. Even if you’re not a super athletic person, at least start off with taking regular walks and then maybe building up to more moderate physical activity. It is possible to stay fit at university even if you don’t want to join a sports team.
Tackle the things that are causing you stress
Another way to protect your mental health is to tackle (or eliminate if possible) the things that are causing you stress. At first these things may even be difficult to identify, so it’s important to explore your stresses so you can solve the root problem. It could be stress due to failing grades, in which case I would suggest speaking to your university supervisor and explaining the situation. Maybe you’re stressed about lack of money, in which case you could talk to family, consider getting a job or contacting the university to see if there are any bursaries available to you. Another way of tackling this is to be a strict budgeter, check out my post on budgeting for students!
If you feel out of your depth at university, you wouldn’t be the only one. Especially when you first get to university you’re suddenly juggling school work and everything else such as cooking, cleaning, washing etc. To stay on top of this you need to stay organised and on track of your studies and everything else. Invest in a good planner or even just write it out on a piece of paper, just make sure you know what you’ve got going on.
Reward yourself for your accomplishments
Don’t be afraid to reward yourself when you achieve something. This doesn’t mean splashing out on a £500 pair of trainers whenever you turn up to all your classes in a week. Maybe if you do really well on a test or an assignment you buy yourself a bunch of flowers, or a new game that you’ve wanted, or a cake, or a fancy coffee, literally anything that would brighten your day. More importantly, having a little reward system for yourself helps keep you motivated to work hard on your next piece of work.
Treat yourself how you would treat a friend
This is one of the most important things I ever read about mental health. If I ever made a mistake I would really beat myself up about it and think ‘wow, how could you be so stupid, I can’t believe you would mess up like that….’. But then I thought about if one of my friends had made the same mistake, I wouldn’t be sat saying all that to them telling them how stupid they were, I would be consolling them, trying to make them feel better and more positive, so why do we treat ourselves differently. I’m not saying to never hold yourself accountable, because self-reflection is incredibly important when trying to grow as a person, I’m just saying that you don’t always have to be so hard on yourself. Treat yourself with a little kindness.
Consider professional support
Lastly, there are some mental health issues that no amount of self care is going to help, because professional help is required. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about if you have to seek professional health, it does not mean you are weak or anything like that. Try to look at it in the same way as seeing your GP if you had a chest infection or something like that.
Here are some phone numbers that may be useful:
- Samaritans – 116 123
Provide confidential support for those feeling distressed or suicidal
- Mind – 0300 123 3393
Offers advice and support to people experiencing a mental health difficulty
- Rethink Mental Illness – 0300 5000 927
Works to help people affected by severe mental health disorders
- PAPYRUS UK – 0800 068 4141
Charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide
- FRANK – 0300 123 6600
Confidential information and advice about drugs
- Money Advice Service – 0800 138 7777
Provides free and impartial money advice
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