Harriet shares personal experience and tips for applying to University with a pre-existing mental health condition.
Among the inevitable worry about remembering to pack the right things, successfully finding your lecture rooms without getting lost (I am genuinely yet to master this well into my second year), and making long-lasting and genuine friends, starting university can raise a whole other number of concerns for applicants with pre-existing mental health conditions.
It is fair to say that mental health issues among university students are fast reaching crisis point; The Guardian’s annual Student Experience Survey demonstrates that almost nine in ten (87%) of students find it difficult to cope with social or academic aspects of student life. However, as I will demonstrate throughout this article, most universities, alongside services most students are familiar with such as visiting a GP or local counselling schemes, can offer fantastic support for those struggling with mental health issues.
Personally, I knew well before applying to university that I would struggle with living away from home and keeping up with the pressures of University life due to my long-term anxiety disorder. My advice to those in a similar predicament would be to make the university well aware of your needs as soon as possible, so that adjustments may be made to help you from the outset.
The counselling service provided at most universities generally offers a high standard service for those who are finding that their difficulties are hard to manage and are affecting their studies. The aim is to aid you in developing skills or allowances so you can experience university life to its full potential. After a discussion with a counsellor about your needs, the service can provide sessions where you are able to choose the focus. Examples of problems people seek help with through the counselling service include anxiety and depression, eating disorders, issues with self-esteem, and homesickness. However, this list is certainly not exhaustive - the counsellors are happy to hear about anything that may be troubling you. I have also found that the Counselling Service at my university provides excellent signposting to external support networks for mental illness, such as self-help podcasts created by The Mental Health Foundation, support publications at Mind, and various helplines.
Equally, the support provided by the Disability Service at university cannot be overstated. I spent the whole of my first year completely unaware that this service supports mental health conditions (which legally classify as disabilities), and have since received so much support with my coping methods at University. For example, if the assessors deem it beneficial to you and your needs, provisions can be made to inform both your pastoral support team and academic tutors of your difficulties so that they may better support you, as well as the possibility of equipment to facilitate note-taking and time management, and the provision of mental health mentors to assist your personal needs.
It is also worth noting that many student accommodation facilities have a dedicated welfare team, intended to provide support and be a friendly face to any student that needs it. There is also Nightline, a widespread service, which provides a student-run listening service every night of term between 9pm and 7am.
As I am well aware from experience, this may seem intimidating at first, but it is honestly not worth struggling unnecessarily when there is so much support available. Living away from home for the first time can be challenging at first, so be sure to make the most of the support available to you.