How to choose a university that will provide support when you need it most
For all the excitement and fantastic opportunities on offer, going to university can be a hugely stressful time. If you already struggle with your mental health, it's understandable that you might be worried about how you'll cope with student life – but don't let that put you off.
One in four students in the UK suffer from some kind of mental health problem, and 95% of universities have seen an increased demand for counselling in the last five years. While this can mean that mental health services are overstretched, whichever uni you choose should have support available to get you through those more challenging moments.
When it comes to university mental health, the old saying 'knowledge is power' rings true. Research carried out by The Student Room and Campus Living Villages showed that more than a quarter of students don't know if their university provides information and support about mental health, and only half know who to go to for help or advice on campus.
TSR user Kindred advises getting yourself clued up well in advance, to make life easier during those chaotic first weeks. "I'd contact the uni you're moving to before you get there and let them know you have mental health issues," she says. "There will be a support centre of some sort to help students with special needs, disabilities, and mental health problems.
"They will be able to put in tons of support. Try to deal with as much as you can in advance. It will make it easier."
So what kind of support can you expect? In an ideal world, universities should offer what the University Mental Health Advisory Network (UMHAN) recommends: counselling services, mental health and disability advisers, and peer support programmes to help students dealing with psychological distress or personal difficulties.
The reality, of course, is that some universities are better at this than others. Do your research on the services provided by your uni or students union before you start. Many unis also have Nightline services – confidential, non-advisory information lines that can provide a listening ear and signpost you towards relevant support or services in your area.
When it comes to accessing the most appropriate help for you, the advice from UMHAN is to get in touch with the university's mental health advisers or counselling services as a first step, or booking an appointment with your GP. That's what TSR user Mollyoo did, while suffering from anxiety during her first year at uni. "I was prescribed medication, which I was sceptical about at first, but now I'm so thankful for them," she says.
"I'd also recommend counselling… it's weird how well it works. Even if it just gets you used to talking about issues without feeling anxious or crying!" she adds.
Regardless of whether you need mental health support immediately, it's worth getting registered with a GP as soon as you arrive on campus, as UMHAN says they'll be best placed to let you know about the range of support available locally, and then help you explore the different options.
"We'd also advise you to talk to your academic tutor or personal tutor, as they can support you in managing your academic work," UMHAN adds.
Students suffering with a mental health problem are advised by UMHAN to disclose this to their university at the earliest opportunity – and particularly if it's having an impact on their everyday life, like studying and socialising. Of course, there's no pressure to disclose unless you're comfortable doing so, but making your university aware of the issues can help them to support you and understand why you might be struggling.
Remember too that there are steps you can take to look after your own mental health. Making an effort to get to know people will provide an invaluable support network throughout your time at uni, and staying aware of your triggers can help you to cope more effectively.
"There will be masses of things going on in the first few weeks – try to get involved where you can, but practise self-care too so it doesn't get too much," says TSR user doodle_333.
"If you need a night off to have some quiet time alone then take one,” she says. “Take care of yourself in other ways too: get regular exercise, eat well, and try to get enough sleep. Make sure the stresses of your course don't build up, keep on top of your coursework, and speak to someone if you need to."
Further options for mental health support
The mental health forum is one of the busiest areas of The Student Room and is a great place to chat with people who understand what you are going through.
Outside TSR, there are many organisations that can provide you with help whenever you need it. Here are some of them:
You can also read advice from a recent graduate: simple tips on keeping sane at university
Watch more videos about student life
Our vloggers are sharing their experiences of student life direct from the campus. In this video playlist, we've collected their vlogs about making friends at uni, to help you get an idea of what it's like when you first start.
Our partnership with the University of East Anglia
The Student Room is proud to work with UEA, a UK top-25 university (The Times/Sunday Times 2020 and Complete University Guide 2020), as the official partner of our student life section.
Not only is UEA highly rated in the league tables, it has also received a TEF gold award for excellence in teaching, learning and outcomes.
Located on the edge of Norwich, a lively city full of secret gems just waiting to be discovered.
Visit their profile page to learn more or join the conversation on TSR's UEA forum.