As a first-year undergraduate student, I was quickly thrown out my depths into a world that was very alien and new. From growing up in the country where it was cows on the road that made me late to school, not rail strikes or tube failures. At 18, I quickly learnt as both a student of psychology and as a person, that university and this age is a prime time (want for a better word) for mental ill health to occur. Here is a brief overview of how to get help and what exactly is meant by mental health, because we need to start talking about it in the same intensity that we talk about physical health.
1 in 4 adults will have a mental health problem at some point in their life. Couple this with all the newness and stress of university, it is little wonder why student mental ill health is such a big issue facing universities today.
As a psychology student I was taught about the scary mental health problems. People with schizophrenia believing they are being watched by the government, or those with OCD who hadn’t left the house for years. But mental health (and I say health as everyone has it) is a continuum and fluctuates all the time. Signs things aren’t going right can be no motivation to get out of bed, not eating enough or crying over that god-awful essay that you need to submit but get panic attacks when you try to sit down to look at it.
I learnt as student and as ‘patient’ of mental health services that early intervention for both serious and so called ‘minor’ issues is imperative for better outcomes in the long run. Please, please, if you feel things are slipping, get help.
Firstly, if you feel things are getting on top of you, from lacking motivation which may be indicative of depression, or anxiety leaving your halls, talking to your university and making them aware can be a good step. Most universities will have counselling and psychological support services designed just for students. They can help you advocate for things such as disability student allowance (DSA), extensions for coursework and arrangements in exams such as extra time or smaller rooms. The pros about accessing services through your university as opposed to (or as well as) NHS services is that the waiting list, which is notoriously long, can often be a lot quicker in access to such help. As a side note, you may require medical evidence to access such help, where a GP would be a good idea for seeing as well as your university service.
Services that universities run specifically for mental health for students include: drop in sessions with a trained counsellor or social worker, night time phone help (such as night line: https://www.nightline.ac.uk) and workshops (including improving confidence or help managing stress).
Also, most universities will have a tutor scheme, where an academic member of staff will be allocated usually in the first month or so of university to be there for pastoral and academic concerns. This may be helpful and enough support as you feel you need.
For me, my symptoms became an issue to the point where I was going to fail my first year. It was recommended by my university disability team to take a year out. This was a life line I needed to get my life back on track without the pressure of exams and coursework. If you feel you need some time out, be it a couple of weeks or even a year, talk to your universities’ disability/psychological services team and your personal tutor and course leader to discuss options. Your degree can wait, your health should come first.
You will see a lot of advice on TSR and other mental health forums with a default reply of ‘go see your GP’ when someone, or yourself asks ‘what do I do?’ and ‘how can I get help for x?’. And there is a reason for that, your GP can signpost you to a wide range of services and treatments.
I, and many alike struggled in my first GP appointment to say what was wrong and why I was there. Writing a list of things, you want to discuss, be it a list of symptoms or questions on treatment, even those will versed in conversations can find such appointments tricky to verbally navigate. I highly recommend this website: https://www.docready.org, where you can create a list of issues and topics to talk about, perhaps you will come across experiences others have listed that you didn’t initially put down to mental health reasons.
Apps and websites
There are a number of online therapies should you choose not to seek help in person. I recommend the following:
Online CBT: http://www.beatingtheblues.co.uk
Mindfulness and meditation: https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app
For some, GP (or primary services) or university intervention may not be enough. Here, students can be referred to other community services such as a community mental health team (CMHT) where they can be assessed for more moderate to severe issues and symptoms.
A lot of people I have talked to who are thinking about disclosing mental health issues to their university or getting help for issues believe this will mean they will be kicked off their course, have a big red ‘mental’ stamped on their permeant file or be treated differently by academic staff.
The equality act 2010 is a law that means none of the above can occur. You have every right to get help without discrimination from your university or work place. And as a side note, getting help or saying something is not right does not go on any record for future employers to ponder over!
I have left this until last, but I believe it runs as a narrative for this article, that talking and saying those words ‘actually I’m not ok’ when someone asks is imperative. Be it to a friend, university lecturer or a GP. This applies too as someone on the other side of this conversation, when someone says they’re fine, ask again if they really are ok. Be there to listen and hopefully from this article, guide them to the first steps of getting help.
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