Mental health at university is something of a minefield. With rates of mood and personality disorders on the rise in the general population, it is no wonder that over 1 in 4 students report experiencing symptoms of mental illness while at university. The first term and even the first year of university is often described as being ‘the best year of your life.’ In reality though, it is an inherently turbulent period of any student’s life – moving away from the support network you have known for years, having to integrate into a new environment, and trying to adjust to the rigour of tertiary education can be incredibly difficult if you do not spend the necessary time on self-care. Here is some practical advice for maintaining your mental health while settling into your new life at university which doesn’t include yoga, mindfulness or ‘thinking positively’.
One of the most important things you can do during the settling-in period in first year is to keep in touch with people you love and trust, whether that be family members or friends. Making new friends can be hard, and if you find that you do not immediately gel with people you meet, it can feel even more isolating. Keeping an open dialogue with people who support you about how you are feeling is essential. Contrary to what some will tell you, you also should not be afraid to go home sometimes. Obviously, this will be difficult if your home is far away, but occasionally all we need to feel better is our home comforts. If you can’t make it home, a Facetime call with people back at home is better than nothing!
Try to keep on top of your responsibilities. This can be hard if you suffer from depression and find your growing to-do list overwhelming, but even doing one productive thing in a day can make a world of difference. Try giving your room a clean, doing your laundry or doing a little bit of uni work that isn’t too taxing. Even the smallest of baby steps are an achievement.
Keeping an open dialogue with people who support you about how you are feeling is essential
It sounds like trite and obvious advice that you’ve probably heard before, but getting the nutrients you need is vital. Eat plenty of fruit and veg (which you can get cheap from Aldi near Cannon Park), do not resort to ready meals or meals from frozen unless you’re strapped for time or money, and don’t eat too late at night. Equally, although university culture tends to normalise heavy drinking, going out five nights a week is neither healthy nor conducive to good mental health.
Unless you are a complete extrovert, the expectation that you should be socialising every night during fresher’s week and beyond can be extremely draining. A year into your degree, nobody is going to remember or hold it against you for bailing on a trip to Smack or going home after pre-drinks, and the likelihood is the people you spend time with in the first term will not always be your close friends later down the line. Take a night every so often to watch Netflix and sleep early.
Whether you had a pre-existing condition before you arrived at university or you’re suddenly not quite feeling yourself, opening up a dialogue with the mental health team is vital if you feel you need help and support. They can provide you with resources to help you get back on your feet, or redirect you to therapy services provided by the NHS. If I had not accessed the mental health services at Warwick in my first year after having a depressive breakdown over Christmas, I would have dropped out and would not be about to start my second year, let alone be excited for all the opportunities my remaining time at Warwick will bring.
You can access wellbeing resources and request an appointment with the Mental Health and Wellbeing team at https://warwick.ac.uk/services/mentalhealth/.