Saturday 21 September 2019

#FresherPressure: Starting university with an existing mental health difficulty

We took to social media to see how students manage starting university with a pre-existing mental health difficulty.

Starting university is a scary experience for anyone; if you add mental health difficulties into the mix, the whole process can feel quite daunting. To be able to give you advice that has genuinely helped other people cope with this potentially challenging combination, we asked students for their tips on how they managed...

Prepare before you go

There’s a lot you can actually do to help yourself before you even get to university for the first time,  from gathering information to letting people know what you’ve been through. 

‘Definitely contact your university and get in touch with their support services. Perhaps a support plan can be put in place for you before you even arrive’ - Eli and ‘Have a printed sheet with emergency numbers so they’re easy to access’ - Suzanne

Have a look at what support is available on your campus and don’t forget to register for a local GP, you might be eligible for extra support - it is best to do this as soon as possible.

‘Look into DSA, you’re not alone’ - Grace and ‘Take advice and decide whether you are going to register with a GP local to uni or travel to your home GP. You can use any GP or walk-in centre if you need GP care in an emergency’ - Kate

Inform people

Once you arrive at university, it can be difficult to tell people about the challenges you’ve faced but if you can find a few people to trust, it can make your experience starting university a lot easier. As well as informing more formal services, having friends who are aware will help you to feel more supported.

‘It’s so hard to tell tutors but it’ll help them to understand why you might act a certain way’ - Lily and ‘Tell a flatmate, they don’t need your life story but having someone aware can help’ - Hayley

Know your worth

Although stigma around mental health difficulties has greatly reduced with the increase in awareness and openness in society, it can still be hard to feel confident in who you are when you are also facing these struggles. Remind yourself that your experiences are valid and you are just as rightfully at university as everyone else.

‘Nobody has the right to ever make you feel less due to mental ill health. You should feel so proud of the unique journey you are about to embark on at university’ - Michelle and ‘Never allow anyone at university put you down for difficulties you experience or make you feel that you are less capable, there is no shame in accessing support’

If you feel confident enough to proactively reach out for help, it can make your time at university a lot easier and more enjoyable. Make use of the services available to you - from practical allowances to being able to talk to someone face-to-face.

‘There's no shame if you need to delay exams/get extensions for mental health reasons - you'd be surprised how many others do’ - Steph and ‘It's such a relief having someone to offload to regularly, provide support and work towards goals with’ - Beth

Accept the possibility of challenges

It’s completely normal to find the transition to university difficult, no matter whether you have faced mental health difficulties before or not. Keep it in perspective; some of the things you’re struggling with may be very common amongst all your peers, such as adjusting to living independently and a harder academic level, but be aware when these challenges become prolonged and start to impact negatively on other areas of your life.

‘Remember it's okay to find things difficult - Rose and ‘Ask for help from other students’ - Paula and ‘All transitions can be a challenge’ - Martin

Be kind to yourself

While taking all the above (seemingly huge) steps, it can be all too easy to forget the simple things that can be done to prevent problems from escalating. Remember to dedicate time to looking after yourself in a more general day-to-day way.

‘It can be way too easy to focus on being the best student ever and let self care slide but it is so important to look after yourself’ and ‘If you need to take time out, do’ - Sarah

Hopefully this has eased your #FresherPressure surrounding starting university with a mental health difficulty, look at the support section of our website for more resources. 

Alys has produced content as the Communications Intern at Student Minds, passionate to share student voices in creative and engaging ways. She is going into her second year studying Sociology and sporadically writes about mental health over at

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