Ursula (stitchedwords.wordpress.com) talks about how starting university can be daunting, but offers tips and advice on how to overcome some of those anxieties and fears.
1 in 4 of us will struggle with mental health at some point in our lives. This may include feelings of anxiety, addiction, obsession, phobia, depression, bipolar disorder, or an eating disorder. A recent study by Sussex Student Union has uncovered at least 42.2% of students started university with a mental health problem, meaning the remaining 26% of students developed a problem whilst or before joining university.
It’s that time of year again; universities all over the UK are about to open their pearly white Higher Education gates. It’s a bittersweet challenge for all involved, especially if you have a mental health issue. You may be feeling excitement as well as that deepening anxiety within the pits of your stomach.
Whilst the majority of ‘freshers’ are already planning their boozy nightlife Freshers week schedule and hoping that they will like their new housemates, those with mental health problems will be swamped with a multitude of other, more concerning questions. From ‘will my housemates think I’m weird if I tell them about my mental health,’ to ‘what if this all gets too much and I really struggle?’.
I was in a similar place before I began my journey to University. I remember being so excited for the new experience, flying the nest and being in a new city with new people. However, on the other end of the spectrum began the thoughts of ‘Is this for me? What if my new housemates think I’m weird? I know I struggle sometimes, will I have anyone to turn to?’. I was about to embark on a fashion course; the pressure to be pretty and look good was daunting.
Before starting University, nobody knew about my mental health other than myself. I faced frequent anxiety and panic attacks when things got too much. I already feared friends and family discovering this, so I revelled in the idea of starting somewhere new, a fresh start where no worries existed.
When we take that initial step into our university venture, nobody tells us that we’ll have days where we’ll feel homesick; days where we simply don’t want to go get out of bed, or days where we realise we miss our mum’s nagging, cooking, cleaning and general mum-like things, and it’s throwing mental health in the mix that makes all this 10x harder.
Instead we’re fed stories about how crazy nights out are – never about the horrid hangovers, or rubbish feeling you have when it hits home that you’ve spent your entire loan on drinks, taxis, and fast-food. What they forget to tell you are the truths and reality of University life – beyond the cloud of being the social bee and party animal; it’s a big transition, the move away from home and adjusting to a new lifestyle.
Talk that talk.
It can be a struggle to realise there are various support systems which we can turn to when we’re having that day, week or month from hell. But help is a simple courageous step away, and it’s important to remember you aren’t alone. There are various NHS and university services available to support your student lifestyle and overall well-being.
The NHS offer a variety of treatments, as well as counselling therapies such as: talking treatments (formerly known as counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)). These services are where individuals are given a safe confidential space where they can talk freely about anything that may be troubling them.
Most institutions offer some form of mental health support, and the process is pretty simple too; you’re initially referred to an advisor, who will then ask you basic questions about the thoughts and feelings which are troubling you; and what you hope to achieve from your sessions. From there you will be put on a waiting list for the opportunity to talk to a trained counsellor.
It is tough juggling mental health and university, however seeking help from tutors, counsellors, or even doctors can really help to balance out the struggle. By accessing your own universities help, you may be entitled to extensions for assignments and even extra time during exam periods!
Further, it’s not only mental health charities who offer support. Friends and families are often the best support we can receive, for they know us best. It’s important to not isolate yourself, you don’t have to go through this alone.
Setting goals for yourself can be a minefield when you are mid-slump. Remember to be flexible and patient, not everything always goes to plan. Mental health charity ‘Rethink’ have put together an easy way to remember to be flexible and patient when thinking of what you want to achieve: be Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Realistic. Time limited (SMART).
Remember that it gets better. It’s so cliché; three years ago, when people would tell me that I would be okay, I thought it was it was so far-fetched. It was embedded within me that it would not get better. This doesn’t mean that I don’t still have my days where the weight of the world gets too much, and days where I’ll have bags of anxiety which makes me not want to leave home, but I always think ‘this too shall pass’.
To all those who are about to start their University journey, good luck!