11 Things To Remember If You Struggle With Mental Health at University
According to mental health charity Mind, 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer from mental health issues every year, and university is an extremely common time for these issues to rear their ugly heads.
Speaking from personal experience, I know it can be extremely difficult to deal with mental health crises while trying to balance a work schedule, social life, and attempting to actually enjoy the crazy ride that is uni.
But whether you’re feeling apprehensive about going into first year or you’re worried about the prospect of returning to uni for another year because of your mental health, there are certain things you should always try to remember when life gets dark.
1. Your family may be far away but they are still there for you.
Moving away from your family can feel unnatural and, frankly, just plain strange when you first arrive at university, and for some people, each new term or year doesn’t get much easier. When you throw mental illness into the mix as well, uni can feel like an isolated place. However, one of the most important things to remember is that even though you don’t live with your family anymore or see them every day, they are still there for you.
A phone call, a chat via video call, or even a text is all it takes to be reminded that the support system you have at home is right there with you at uni too. Mental illness doesn’t have to isolate you from them, just as the physical distance between you doesn’t have to either. By opening up to them, you can be reminded of the unconditional love of your family and maybe even feel closer to them than ever before.
2. Your home friends are there for you too.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your parents or just want another support group, know that your friends from home haven’t gone anywhere either. You may feel like they are busy with their own university lives but they are your friends for a reason. Just because they are potentially far away, it doesn’t mean that they suddenly aren’t there for you.
You are not a burden or a chore, and for all you know, they need someone to talk to as well. Remember all the times they have been there for you before and remind yourself that they are still the same people you’ve always confided in. I know from personal experience that distance can be distorting, and with a tired mind, you can convince yourself that they won’t want to hear from you or that they won’t care. But please try and remember how much you love them and they love you.
3. Although your uni friends may be new, the bond you create with them is strong.
When you head to university, you are thrown together with a huge group of strangers and, naturally, the bond you create with them ends up running deep. Make sure you remember this and turn to them in times of trouble if and when you feel that you can.
They may not be your oldest friends but they understand your lifestyle and personal situation first-hand. Open up to those you trust, and chances are that you’ll be rewarded with friendship, love, and support in return. You may even find that they too struggle with some of the same issues as you.
4. Don’t let peer pressure force you to hide your personal problems or make them worse.
University is about many things, including enjoying yourself: drinking, socialising, and having new experiences and adventures. However, forcing yourself to participate in such activities at the expense of your own mental well-being simply to avoid disappointing others serves no purpose.
It’s so easy to feel pressured to participate or give in to the fear of missing out, but if those are the only reasons you’re going out despite what you’re going through, then it won’t do you any good. Remember that if the people you are trying to please are true friends then they will understand, and there will be plenty of other opportunities to enjoy yourself.
5. Your university is there to help you and their services are unique.
Thankfully, these days, the vast majority of universities have mental health professionals on their payroll. Counselling services and stress-battling workshops are some of the most common forms of help set up for students to turn to in difficult times, and they are there to be used.
The number of times that struggling friends have told me that they don’t deserve help because ‘other people need it more’ breaks my heart because these services are there for all students who are suffering, not just a select few. You are worthy of the help if you feel you need it and you should contact your university for information on how they can help your personal needs.
These services are unique because, in general, they have much shorter waiting times than NHS services that are set up to serve entire cities or regions. I only had to wait 2 weeks to see a university service instead of months and months of waiting for an external provider, so it’s certainly worth investigating.
6. Your personal tutor is the perfect contact when your mental health is harming you and your work.
It’s exactly what they are there for. You don’t just have to talk to them about course content or grades – they are available for your personal well-being as well as your academic performance. They can get in contact with your seminar tutors, deal with any necessary assessment deadlines, and provide you with emotional support, all of which takes the stress and responsibility away from you.
This saves you multiple personal conversations that are not only time-consuming but emotionally challenging as well. They are the inside link at uni and will make balancing your mental well-being and your work possible.
7. Mental health is as important as physical.
By this I mean two things. Firstly, that you should treat mental illnesses as you would treat physical illnesses: let yourself rest and let yourself receive help. This leads to my second point: you deserve your doctor’s time as much as anyone else. Just because you aren’t necessarily visibly injured, coughing, sneezing, or whatever else, it doesn’t mean you need the doctor’s time any less or not at all.
Leaving mental health illnesses untreated because you feel it’s not important or that you aren’t worthy of the same help as others is damaging to your own wellbeing. Doctors are there to help everyone, and your case should be taken as seriously as anyone else. If it is causing you suffering, then it matters to them.
8. Self-love is also as important as work.
This is so simple and yet so easy to forget. Chances are, you’ve made it into university because you work hard, strive for excellence, and you’re ambitious – but it’s not always easy to know when to give yourself a break, even if it’s good for your health.
Always consider how negatively you’ll be affected (personally and academically) by not taking breaks, compared to any potential positives gained from working too hard. Mental illnesses are draining and regardless of how much work you have to do, it’s imperative that you look after yourself before everything else.
9. You have nothing to hide if you’re receiving any kind of treatment.
It’s important to remember that getting help is nothing to be ashamed of. At university, people are notoriously open-minded; however, the internalised and invisible nature of mental illness can make you feel as though you have something to hide.
When mental illness becomes visible in your life in the form of tablets, counselling, support groups or extensions on course assignments, you might instinctively feel as though you have to hide them from others because you fear judgement or the stigma attached to mental health problems. However, getting help is a demonstration of strength and resilience, and shows the world that you are taking control of your life.
In my experience, telling people what I was doing and why simplified my life. I had nothing to hide and I could just be my authentic self without worrying about ‘slipping up’. If you have people you trust and want to be open with, then you have nothing to hide!
If you get a negative response from anyone then that tells you all you need to know about them and the kind of role you would like them to have in your life. Equally, it’s important to remember that your health is your business and it’s up to you who you tell. There is absolutely no obligation to declare anything about yourself unless you desire it.
10. It’s perfectly okay to not be okay sometimes.
University is a transitional time in life, whatever stage you’re at. The combination of high work levels, limited sleep, exhausting hours, and social commitments are all fun in their own way, but they can also be overwhelming.
Even with all the support in the world, mental health problems can still haunt you and it’s important to remember that you are not to blame. There is no shame in taking a step back and giving yourself a break. If at one point you aren’t okay, you aren’t okay. But this will eventually pass, so keep that in mind.
11. You are not alone.
It may be a cliché, but it’s true. So many people have had the same struggles as you, and remembering this can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s also really important to remember this if you don’t have supportive friends or family.
Unfortunately, even in this day and age, a sad few still refuse to acknowledge or understand how difficult mental illness can be for an individual, even if they know the sufferer well. Some may even refuse to believe that mental health is just as serious as other diseases. But in a diverse and inclusive community such as your university campus, you are guaranteed to find someone who understands.
Whether it’s Nightline, a mental health society, a counsellor or a seminar tutor, there will always be someone who understands. Try not to keep your worries to yourself – instead, share them with others whether you do this anonymously or not. Please take care of yourselves and always keep in mind that you are not alone and never will be at university.
Here are some helpful links if you’re struggling right now: