Friday 15 September 2017

10 things you need to know about Mental Health at University

Jodie writes about the 10 things it is helpful to know about mental health at university. 
- Jodie Goodacre

University is so often talked about as being the best years of your life, a place where you will make life long friends, get involved with many societies and gain independence.  However, this is a large leap in a person’s life and it can bring with it a number of difficulties. Students are warned about the stress that studying at university will bring with it, as well as potential mental health issues that may arise. However, what is not often discussed is the level at which mental health problems exist, with the number of students dropping out from university courses due to mental illness increasing significantly in recent years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, mental health difficulties are more prevalent in university students than the general population with 75% of all mental health difficulties developing in individuals by their mid-20s (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2010). It is recognised that a student’s mental wellbeing will directly impact on their performance academically, the friendships created and their overall experience at the university. It is not simply in the best interests of the university to invest time and money into the wellbeing of their students (and staff), but in fact it is their duty to do so. 

For those considering going to university, for those with friends or family going to university, for those in the education system and for all, these are the ten things that you need to know about mental health at university. 

1.  Academic pressure can fuel mental health difficulties
Whilst the majority of students will have joined university straight after completing their A-levels or similar qualifications and work pressure is nothing new to them, the sheer intensity can come as quite a shock. University is likely to be the first time that a student is asked to learn independently, to manage their own time and to think outside of the box, creating their own ideas far beyond a textbook. It is important that whilst at university you make time for self care and to know that your results do not define you or your worth.

2. Financial strain will become a larger strain than you first imagine 
Another huge pressure is the financial implications of going to university. Financial stress can drive mental health difficulties; expensive tuition fees alongside uncertain job prospects mean students are becoming ever more stressed about whether the costs incurred will pay off. If you would like some more advice on how to manage your finances you will be able to find some information here.

3. A routine is essential to your mental health at university
At university, the ball is well and truly in your corner. You choose to attend lectures, if you skip them there will unlikely be any follow up unless you are regularly skipping. You choose what time to wake up and go to bed. For many, self-management can be incredibly difficult, there are different social events on different evenings, there are deadlines at different stages, it won’t always be easy, or possible to stick to a regular routine and losing this structure can have a really big impact on productivity and wellbeing. Start the year in the way you wish to continue, use bullet journals, diaries, calendars – whatever it is you find helpful to your own organisation

4. Social media is a blessing and a curse 
I am sure this is nothing new to many students, however, at university social media seems to become ‘more central’ to the experience: friend requests left, right and centre, tagged photos, house party invites. Social media in general is known to have both positive and detrimental impacts to a person’s mental health, with a whole network allowing us to judge ourselves and our lives against others. The constant and sometimes relentless stream of status updates and photos of people appearing to have a good time can turn social media into an area of competition instead of relaxation. It is important to reclaim social media and make it a more honest place – you can share your best night in here.

5. Living in halls is not as scary as it first seems 
The thought of living with complete strangers can be scary at first, but there are many thousands of others taking this step as they start university. It is important to try and make your room as homely as possible, put up your favourite photos, get nice bedding and make it your own. Why not buy some tea and biscuits for that first social meeting with your new housemates? It is also ok if you do not get on with your house mates, there are plenty of other ways to meet people at university. It will be useful to prepare yourself before you move in order to make the transition smooth.

6. Living at home can be beneficial and isolating at the same time
When you picture a university student, you may imagine students living away from home but what about the 27% of students living at home (Guardian, 2017). You will have to try harder to fit in with close groups that live together. This is especially noticeable in first year following ‘freshers’, which is definitely not made for students living at home and you may notice most of your friends are from your course rather than across university courses – be sure not to shoot off straight after lectures, stay around and socialise if you are able to as it can feel very isolating at times.

7. Making friends 
Being at university is not purely about studying, it is a whole experience, and socialising is a very important aspect. Students are put in the same position, thrown into a new environment, often not knowing anyone else – you become a very small fish, in a very large pond. It can be very overwhelming and very anxiety provoking, but a great chance to meet likeminded people. The first person you meet might not be your best friend for life and that is okay. If you are lucky, you might develop strong friendships that will last a lifetime. People may find this time in their lives difficult; know what to look out for in Student Minds Look After Your Mate guide.

8. Fresher’s week may damage more than your liver
Fresher’s week, the start of the university year. It is a great way to meet people, make friends, relax and slowly ease into university life. Whilst this period is usually seen as a student essential, the sheer amount of clubbing, events and most notable… alcohol can become too frequent and prove overwhelming for some. Please, look after yourself and watch your alcohol consumption. Also if you do not drink that is also ok and there will be other students who are exactly the same as you can read here.

9. Societies give you a much needed break from university work  
There are lots of ways to embed yourself into your university community and joining societies is one of them. Always wanted to try out something new? Been part of a club at home for years? Attend your societies fair or check out your student union website to find out what societies are available at your university. This can be a great way to meet likeminded people and have fun outside of the academic pressures of university.

10. Services are there for you, make use of them 
At university there are a variety of services to support students such as a doctor’s surgery and a wellbeing centre. When at school you will have had a large amount of contact with the staff, however at university you will have minimal contact hours with staff and thus sadly much less likely for them to pick up on symptoms of poor mental wellbeing, unless you bring it to their attention. It is very important that you speak to your tutors and also the wellbeing centre when you need that additional support. Find out what further support is available to you here.

Hey! I am Jodie, a final year Geography student from Hertfordshire living with Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Type 2 and Anxiety. I am a passionate Mental Health Campaigner, having worked across the UK delivering speeches in schools, speaking with ministers at the department of health, working with the media all with the aim of raising awareness and reducing stigma.  I am thrilled to be working with Student Minds to continue this journey in highlighting the difficulties that can come with education whilst showing that life can continue with a mental illness, you can achieve greatness just like someone without a mental health condition.

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