Mental health at university: wellbeing tips for students

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

There’s so much to be enjoyed at university, but for some people, it can be a time of loneliness, of feeling anxious about examinations, or of being weighed down by worries about finances.

“The first six weeks are the most difficult,” says Ruki Heritage, assistant director of student experience and head of student services at the University of Bedfordshire. She suggests talking to other people who have been to university so that you and your child know what to expect. Think about the kinds of problems your child might face; do they have difficulties with essay deadlines or managing their money? “A lot of students come in [to the wellbeing service] with financial issues that cause distress, when a lot of it could be avoided by learning simple budgeting techniques,” she says.

Heritage also advocates doing some preparation before starting – visiting the campus together, for example, so that you remove the anxiety of not being able to find a lecture hall or having no idea where the supermarket is. Most universities now ease the transition by using a buddying system where second- and third-year students show new students around, attend freshers’ events with them and answer questions about university life.

It’s a good idea to be aware beforehand of exactly what support is available, so that students can access it without delay should they need it, Heritage says. “It’s all about preparation – students shouldn’t wait until they get to that slump where they think: ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know what to do.’ As soon as they notice signs, if they’re feeling anxious, they should seek help from fellow students, as well as from staff and parents.”

If you worry that your son or daughter might have difficulties coping at university, then talk them through the options that are there to help them. Most universities now have a dedicated mental health and wellbeing service with a team of counsellors. Such services also typically run workshops to teach coping strategies for common problems such as exam stress or a lack of confidence. All students should register with a GP, who can either prescribe medication or refer them to therapy for mental health problems. Anyone who has a pre-existing mental health problem should notify the university before they arrive, so that support can be put in place.

Mental health and wellbeing services are not the only source of help. For problems relating to the course, such as difficulties with assignments, students can contact their departmental adviser. If your child is uncomfortable talking face-to-face, then online support may be an option. Many unis offer this via Big White Wall, a forum where people can find self-help resources, chat with peers and talk to counsellors on a one-to-one basis. Peer support is also available at most universities through Nightline, a phone, email and online chat service staffed by student volunteers. Student Minds, a mental health charity, runs face-to-face peer support groups at some universities, described by policy manager Rachel Piper as “a safe, confidential place that allows students to talk and listen without judgement”.

University can be a time when many students end up neglecting their wellbeing – drinking too much, eating junk food, or staying up late. But self-care is important, Heritage says. “Lack of sleep can cause all sorts of mental health problems. Also think about joining sports teams or going for walks, because exercise can help your mental health.” And if your child does have problems, encourage them to seek help as soon as they can – the earlier they find support, the more likely they are to resolve their problems and enjoy university life.

Source: The Guardian