How to get the right mental health support at uni

If you’re worried about your mental health at uni, here’s what you need to know to get the right support

The current mental health crisis sweeping UK campuses can seem alarming if you’re planning to go to uni. But mental health difficulties are definitely not a barrier to getting a degree and there’s more help available than ever.

It’s no secret there has been a surge in students suffering from anxiety, depression and mental breakdowns in recent years with 15,000 first-year students reporting they had a mental health problem in 2015/16, compared to 3000 in 2006. However, thanks to high-profile campaigns from charities such as Mind and Heads Together, along with support from Princes William and Harry, and numerous university initiatives, mental health has lost its stigma and people talk about the issues they’re facing much more openly.

What if I have mental health issues before I go?

You might think uni is out of the question if you’ve experienced mental health difficulties in the past or are struggling with them currently. But this is absolutely not the case. 

In the past, students, as a demographic, were largely ignored when it came to their mental health. But universities have woken up to the fact that mental health matters and now provide a raft of support for those who are affected.

Laura, a psychology with criminology student at Birmingham City University (BCU), faced many challenges whilst deciding to go to university. “I always wondered if it was even possible to be a student, as someone who had been admitted and that had bipolar. 

“Since starting at BCU, I have learnt that anything is possible, and I have gone from strength to strength. Being a student here means inclusion for everyone, that I can achieve anything and most importantly that I have a voice regardless of my disability.”

According to Rethink Mental Illness, it’s vital you check out what student support services are available at your chosen university, what support is given to students with mental health issues, whether there are any peer support services and if you’ll be assigned a personal tutor.

BCU has a mental health support service which can give you advice whether you’re in the process of applying or merely considering it as an option. You don’t have to be in crisis but if you are having emotional difficulties or any concerns about your wellbeing, they have counsellors who are able to help. 

Dealing with the transition from college to uni

One of the toughest times as a student can be in the weeks following your first few days at uni once the initial euphoria of being there has subsided. Homesickness, not knowing anyone, being in a new environment, getting used to a different level of work; all these elements can make it hard to transition from college to uni life.

“I personally suffer from a lot of anxiety, which was definitely heightened when I moved away from home to study. I come from a very small, close-knit family with no siblings, so going from that to suddenly living with five strangers was completely daunting." says student Isabel. “Being on my own for the first time led to times where I regretted my decision to move away from home.”

“Looking back, I absolutely do not regret my decision to come to university. It pushed me out of my comfort zone but I’m proud of myself for what I have achieved so far.”

Charity Student Minds has created a guide to transitioning that can help you navigate university life called Know Before You Go. The guide is there to help give students advice on settling in to life as a student, from paying bills to taking care of yourself and your mental health. The charity also runs student-led peer support groups at universities around the country.

Where can I get help if I have a mental health crisis at uni?

It’s not uncommon for students at university to develop mental health issues whilst studying. Money worries, a heavy workload or situations with friends, for example, can mean that even if you were totally fine when you first started you experience symptoms as time goes on.

BCU’s mental health support service helps enrolled students who are experiencing sleeplessness, anxiety, low moods, isolation or self-harm. The service has counsellors available free of charge for 51 weeks of the year.

“My main barriers have always been with mental health, and due to their fluctuating nature, I can either be on form and flying through course material, or unable to function to the point of being incapacitated by my mental state”, explains Adam, a sound engineering student who has autism.

“Having lecturers that are understanding and accommodating of my situation was essential and exactly what I found here at BCU. With their help and support, I’ve been able to thoroughly enjoy my course while achieving outstanding results.”

Extra help you can ask for

Don’t be frightened to ask for extra help if you need it; universities want to make sure you’re okay and give you the right support to succeed in your chosen degree. These are some things you might like to ask about or consider:

•    Sitting exams in a separate room
•    University counselling or an external service
•    Getting extra time for assignments
•    Having a seat near a door or window
•    Having a personal tutor to speak to
•    Financial support

The main thing is not to be afraid – there is support out there if you need it. Just ask.

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