It’s often described as the best time of one’s life, but for many students the reality is very different.
Mental health problems are as common among students as they are in the general population.
But it’s not just students who have a diagnosed mental health condition that can benefit from counselling. A lot of the difficulties that students face are caused by normal life issues such as family or relationship problems, financial problems, self-esteem, anxiety about their studies, problems with alcohol or drugs, sexuality and generally being away from home for possibly the first time in their lives.
Where to get help
It’s normal to feel down, anxious or stressed from time to time, but if these feelings affect your daily activities, including your studies, or don’t go away after a couple of weeks, you may need to seek help.
Signs of depression and anxiety include:
- feeling low
- feeling more anxious or agitated than usual
- losing interest in life
- losing motivation
Some people also:
- put on or lose weight
- stop caring about the way they look or about keeping clean
- do too much work
- stop attending lectures
- become withdrawn
- have sleep problems
Drugs, drink and mental health in students
This may be the first time that you have experimented with alcohol or drugs and you may start to self-medicate on these substances If you’re feeling low or stressed, you may be tempted to drink more alcohol or relax by smoking cannabis.
Consider how this may make you feel in the longer term though, as your mood could slip, making you feel a lot worse.
Some cannabis users can have unpleasant experiences, including confusion, hallucinations, anxiety and paranoia.
Any underlying mental disorder could be worsened by drug and alcohol use.
Where to go for help
Talk to someone
The first thing to do is to talk to someone. This could be a friend or relative to begin with and this may bring some immediate relief. If your studies are being affected then it may be a good idea to talk to your tutor as well so that they understand how you are feeling and may be able to offer some advice.
You may decide that you need more support and then it is advisable to talk to a professional.
University counselling services
Many colleges and most universities have a free and confidential in-house counselling service you can access, with professionally qualified counsellors and psychotherapists.
You can usually find out what they offer and how to make an appointment in the counselling service section of your university’s website. This free service in universities is available to both undergraduates and postgraduates.
As well as counselling or therapy, you may also be entitled to “reasonable adjustments” such as extra time in exams, extensions on coursework, and specialist mental health mentor support.
Many student unions also offer student-led services. Although the students involved aren’t qualified counsellors, you may prefer to talk about problems, such as stress and depression, with another student.
When to see your GP
For more serious or longer-lasting mental health symptoms, see your GP, as you may need prescribed treatment or referral to a specialist.
If you have or develop a mental health condition that requires treatment, it’s important to arrange continuity of care between your college doctor and your family GP.
A mental health adviser can support this communication. Your condition may worsen if moving between university and home results in a gap in treatment.
Therapy and counselling
Counselling offers an opportunity to explore the underlying issues of your unhappiness or any worries you have in a safe environment, including helping you develop ways of coping.
The thing to remember is that you are not alone. Many students suffer from some form of mental illness during their time at university. There is so much pressure on young people to achieve good results that sometimes the fact that they are living away from home for the first time gets missed. This may be first time that you have had to cook for yourself, wash your clothes, go food shopping, take responsibility for bills etc. You have to make new friends and fit in with a whole new way of life. For some this freedom is amazing and they thrive in this new environment but most students will suffer some degree of anxiety and others will suffer from a more debilitating mental illness. Universities are more aware of this and there is now more provision to help with difficulties.
Please ask for help if you need it – do not suffer in silence.