Caring for mental health at university

College News and Communications
Wednesday, 27 February 2019 10:03

Speaking up about mental health issues and the best coping mechanisms, has received more recognition over the past few years, as people realise the importance of sharing their stories. In a recent article published on 22 February from The Times, figures report a 73% rise between 2014-15 and 2017-18 in freshers stating they had a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression. A Level alumnus, Tom Jeffery, shares his story on feelings he had when starting university and the importance of getting support when you need it:

University. The best days of your life, many will say. After all, your parents will recount the chunder boards and the out-of-this-world events that took place in the 1980s. Every time they tell a story from their distant past, you’ll either sigh or laugh along, figuring out which bits are true and which bits are exaggerated for effect. Ultimately though, it’s your experience to be had, and everyone strives to make it as positive as they can.

So, there you are, you’ve picked up your results and you’re going to a university. Firm, insurance, it doesn’t matter at this point! You might feel a bit disappointed if you didn’t get your first choice, but this is why it’s essential to have a standout insurance option. Now, you have to begin the long haul of preparation. Buying copious amounts of kitchen equipment, wondering what every tool could possibly do because you haven’t been exposed to life without a dishwasher before. Trust me, it gets easier. Fairy Liquid in massive bottles, £2 in Asda, and cloths for £1. This is where your parents may start to nag, making their checklists and ensuring that everything is pitch-perfect for their child’s trip to university. It can be overwhelming, but they’re doing it for a simple reason: They’re just as hyped as you for this, but they want to know that you’re both secure and safe. It’s natural, as much as it might bother you. If you’re living at home, however, everything will blossom seamlessly and hopefully, nothing changes!

Driving up to university will be your first taste of reality. Most people recall this stage as the: ‘Flooding my mind with so many thoughts and just needing a break at a service station’ part of your experience. Fortunately, the M42, the M6, and the M1 have many of those, so you’re bound to come across something that fits your needs. Arriving at university, you’ll feel an immediate buzz. Finally, you’re an adult, you’ll have some degree of anxiety about the set-up and that’s completely normal. Everything gets unpacked, and your parents drag out every single trip back to the car to spend more time with you before they leave. I still don’t understand how my Dad could truly spend 30 minutes lifting a suitcase up the stairs, but that’s parental care for you. And then, after all of that...

They leave for home. Your first instinct is always to settle in, but this is where you need to be careful. This is a case of fight or flight, and we all know how easy it is to fly away with no intention of interacting with the hundreds of new faces around us. I can speak from experience, so please don’t make my mistake. Freshers’ Week is essential for making connections, and trying to look for people outside of your course. There will be times when your course friends are in a lecture or a seminar and you aren’t, and there’s nothing worse than having nothing to do whilst at university. The downside to Freshers’ Week is the plague that crawls on everyone’s shoulder after three pints in the local: Freshers’ Flu. It sounds worse than it is. Essentially, everyone on the campus gets a cold, a headache and the typical symptoms of needing a rest from the amount of stuff that you’ve done. And even if you’ve done nothing all week, you’ll still get it. So, there’s more incentive for you to get involved in stuff, because you don’t exactly want to waste a week just to get ill with no reward. The only pot of gold at the end of this is a pack of Strepsils, unless you make your long-lasting connections.

Finally, you start to take part in your lectures and seminars. You learn a fair number of things, you start to realise that some of your lecturers are almost deranged but they’re a great laugh. By Day 30, everything begins to normalise...

But what if it doesn’t?
For all of university’s highlights, you’ll often have statistics thrown at you regarding drop-out rates and mental health studies in universities across the UK. What could possibly be causing this if university’s the best time of your life? Whether it’s caused by deadlines, homesickness, family issues, or anything else, your mental health is vital in this. Many of us suffer with such things as anxiety and depression, and these should inform your choice of university. As much as we’re told not to let our mental health drive our lives, sometimes, we need to be realistic about how much we over-do it. For instance, I suffer badly with anxiety, and I thought that the best idea was to force myself to be completely independent for 2 months whilst living 200 miles away. I rarely contacted home and tried to live my own life. I think we can all guess how that worked out.

There are support networks in your universities if you encounter massive bouts of mental health. Use them, don’t just sit on your issues because they’ll pile up and become overwhelming. If you think the initial sting is a drain to handle, I truly beg you to find support to get over it because the lumbering feeling of what comes next isn’t great. You’re there to enjoy yourself, your parents are a phone-call away, and the university’s there to guide you through the next three years. But they can only help if you let them know. That’s the hardest part, admitting that you need help. And by the end of the support, you’ll realise that you were just being a bit difficult to yourself.

The first 30 days of university will be the foundation for your entire experience. So, you have to find comforts somewhere and ease yourself into university life. You shouldn’t aim to rush it or blow all of your money away on alcohol, because that’s not responsible. Responsibility has to become your greatest trait at university, because your parents won’t be physically there to help you out. My parents have been amazing cheerleaders but university has been a bit of a wake-up call as to how much they’ve done for me over the years. Yes, go there to enjoy yourself and get a degree, I know that you can do it because you’ve managed to get through all of this without falling asleep.

However, look after yourself, your state of being is more important than anything and your parents will want to know that you’re safe. Keep them updated.

After all, they’ll know if university’s worked for you, if you value the benefits of a dishwasher and a washing machine.

Submitted by Tom Jeffery, A Level alumnus

Tom Jeff