Wednesday 11 November 2020

WELL at Uni?

Michael shares his experience about wellbeing at University.

- Michael 

University is a journey. For me, it has been a really rewarding road; I have learned so many things about myself and achieved things that I never would have imagined possible! But it can be challenging when you first settle in, and it took me a while to learn some tips and tricks to adjust, and get the best out of my time at university. Here is my story.

Coming from two years out of education, I always felt that I didn’t belong academically or socially at university. My application to my university had been previously rejected (twice!), and I never shook the feeling of imposter syndrome and that I wasn’t ‘good enough’ to be there. This made me anxious around others, self-critical, and develop some pretty unhealthy working patterns, as I strove to prove to myself and others that I deserved my place on my course.

Unsurprisingly, this unhealthy mindset made it really hard to settle in. I was so fixated on not falling behind with my studies that I never got involved in any clubs or societies where I could meet other people and make friends. In class, I didn’t contribute or talk to other people for fear I would expose myself as being out of my depth. I was constantly fixated with running out of money, and felt that I couldn’t afford the student social lifestyle anyway. And I was also a couple of years older than most people, and after a period of mental health difficulties which had resulted in two years away from education, I felt as if I was coming from a different background, with different experiences, to everyone else.

I found the academic culture and pressure especially difficult to adjust to. I struggled with workload and time management, I stressed about minute details and found it hard to prioritise, and I was constantly preoccupied with ‘failing’ or ‘falling behind’ and the need to be productive. I found the competitive culture and environment at university was not conducive to self-compassion, self-care, and mental wellbeing. I interpreted my whole education as a threat, never contributing to anything in class for fear that it was a test which I would inevitably fail. I worked unhealthy hours and patterns trying to feel comfortable on my course and though I belonged at university. But the harder I worked, the more that I isolated myself, the more unwell I became, and the worse I performed. 

After receiving some support from the counselling service that helped me to understand my feelings, I gradually grew in confidence and started to really enjoy my studies and my time at university. Approaching my studies differently helped to develop my sense of purpose, confidence, and wellbeing. Based on this experience, I started to question whether and how changes to university structure and culture could support better student mental health and wellbeing. And how changes to curriculum, assessment, and teaching and learning could improve student education and wellbeing.  

My experience of university inspired me to launch the WELL @ UNI study, or the Wellbeing and Experiences of Living and Learning at University study, to explore how university policies and practices can impact positively or negatively on student mental health and wellbeing, and how this is experienced by different student groups. I am currently conducting an online survey, open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students in the UK until 11.12.20. It takes approximately 15-20 minutes to complete and participants will have the opportunity to enter a £50 prize draw. Please consider sharing your story, so that we can represent and learn from the diversity of student experiences and, working in collaborative partnership with mental health organisations, make recommendations from the study for healthier policy and practice. Follow me @PriestleyMJ to keep up to date with the project and find out more. 

We know that experiencing mental health difficulties at university can feel overwhelming. Explore the support that is available at your university and further. 

Student Space is here to help you through coronavirus. Explore online resources, access direct support via text, phone, web chat or email and find the support available at your place of study.

Tips on navigating university life/Freshers: Explore tips and resources to help you navigate university life in Student Minds’ Transitions guide.

I’m Michael and I used to be the editor of the Student Minds Blog and a member of the Student Minds Advisory Committee. I am a PhD student at Durham University studying student mental health and wellbeing. I write for Student Minds to share my own experiences of mental health difficulties and to advocate for change to improve the state of student mental health. 




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