University and mental health: advice for first year students

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University and mental health: advice for first year students

For many, the prospect of going to uni for the first time is an exciting one; a new adventure. For others, the idea of leaving home, family and friends is daunting, and university pressures or lifestyle changes can cause stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health problems for new (and returning) students.  

A recent YouGov survey found one in four undergraduates reported having a mental health problem, so its worth being aware of the signs and symptoms; both for yourself, and your friends and peers. If you or anyone you know is struggling with any aspect of university life, there’s lots of advice and support out there that can help. Here are a few ways to ease the transition in to life as a university student.

How to cope with…

…leaving home for the first time.

It can be hard to adjust to moving away from home for the first time and living independently. The task of having to do all your own washing, cooking and cleaning alone can be a stressful venture! To avoid homesickness, there are a few easy things you can do:

  • Bring your favourite personal belongings and possessions that remind you of home to have in your new uni bedroom or flat.
  • Learn to cook, and ask family members for recipes of your favourite home-cooked meals.
  • Take photographs of your friends and family to stick up on your wall.
  • Remember that home is only a phone call away. Stay in touch with your family and friends back home so you don’t feel isolated.

…making new friends.

The great thing about going off to uni for the first time is that everyone else is in the same boat. Your first couple of days and weeks are the perfect time to get stuck in, meet new people and make life-long friends. Make sure to go along to the freshers' fair and sign up to a club or society. You will be amazed how easy it is to meet like-minded people with similar hobbies and interests.

…moving to a new city.

It is completely normal to feel nervous or disorientated when you move to a new city, so don’t worry if it is taking a while to get used to your new surroundings – give yourself time to adjust. Make time to explore the sights: the university campus, local parks and gardens, pubs, shops, even your new local supermarket. Once you get your bearings you will feel much more at ease, and enjoy getting to know an exciting new city and gaining your independence!

…academic pressures.

The jump up from college or A-Levels to university can be a big one, and many people find the academic pressures difficult to deal with (especially in your first few months of uni). Try setting up study schedules so you give yourself a good amount of time to study and read up on your lecture notes each week. You can also make friends with people on your course, and get together in the library or at each other’s houses to study and discuss your modules and syllabus all together.

There will be lots of social activities and nights out going on, so try not to get too distracted and forget about your studies. There’s lots of useful advice online on how to manage your time and your workload. If you are struggling with the requirements of your course, have a chat with your tutor, course leader, or a lecturer that you trust. They can help you to put together a plan for managing your studies and workload effectively.

…managing your finances.

Student life can carry a big price tag, so it’s important to set yourself budgets (for textbooks, food, bills, rent, nights out etc.). If you haven’t drawn up a budget before, try using this handy student budget calculator to work it all out for you. Easy!

When you’re a student you can also get lots of stuff for free or at a big discount. Make sure you register for an NUS card, and use discount sites like UNiDAYS and StudentBeans to get all the best deals and save some extra pennies. Take a look at the UCAS guides on managing your money as an undergraduate for more information and advice on all things money-related.

If you are worried about your money situation, or have got in to debt at university, seek help as soon as possible. Speak to your parents, go in to your university student advice centre, or get in touch with experts at independent services such as the Money Advice Service.

Additional support

If you are experiencing issues of any kind whilst at university, there are many places you can reach out to for support.

  • University counsellors. If you want to speak to someone in person, your local university counselling service is a confidential, free service open to all students.
  • Your GP. You can also go and chat to your GP if you are worried about any aspect of your health. The Mental Health Foundation has some useful advice on how to talk to your GP about your mental health.
  • Student Minds. This student mental health charity provides lots of support for students across the UK. Have a read of their wellbeing guide to starting university.
  • Your family and friends. Talking to someone you trust can make you feel instantly better, so make sure you reach out to your loved ones for support.