Written by Special Guest - Carla
In 2014 the National Union of Students (NUS) completed a survey of 1,093 men and women in higher or further education. This survey asked students about their personal mental health in terms of their education. NUS, on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), found that 78% of the participants in the survey had experienced some kind of mental health issue in the past year. That equates to eight out of ten students in higher education suffering from issues such as depression, anxiety, and stress. It is somewhat hard to believe that in the three years that have passed since this NUS survey was completed, things have far from gotten better. In a report by the BBC last year, rates of suicide in universities have increased to the highest they have been since 2007. So, the real question is, what is being done to combat this?
Personally, I myself have now completed my first year of university. And while people are not wrong when they tell you it will be the best time of your life as with anything else, it’s not always an easy ride. Over the past 10 months myself and the other 2.5 million odd students in the UK have faced some of the most challenging changes imaginable to any 18-year-old; finding yourself in a foreign part of the country, sharing a corridor with six people you’ve most likely never met before all while learning a completely new way of learning itself. Not a piece of cake. Yes, the change is stressful. Yes, by the end of freshers you will be a bit homesick, and yes inevitably you will fall out with one of the new friends you have made (probably over them stealing your tea bags). While for some people, like me, dealing with these huge changes was easy, for others it’s not. The idea of having to make a whole new set of friends can be daunting to some and completely terrifying for others. And if you feel like the latter is you, then it is important to know that there are means of help readily available to you; Because it’s knowing what help there is that will help lower the statistics listed above. Its knowing that the places you can get help will pass no judgment on you. Because no person should have to become just another NUS statistic.
Each university has different approaches to what help is on offer, but many are very similar. The university I am currently studying at has many different outlets for its student’s mental wellbeing. Using the university I attend as an example there are what we call ‘residential advisers’ who are there to help anyone in Halls with issues to do with accommodation and living, such as the aforementioned ‘making friends’ element that is vital to university life, yet stressful for some. During our January and summer exam period the university provides quite spaces in which we can rest if needed, as well as fun (what I like to call ‘ignore the exam stress for five minutes, you’ll be fine’) activities such as dog petting, head massages, and even bouncy castle obstacle courses. And what is possibly the most important place for any student to know, the welfare office. Nearly every university will provide a welfare office or equivalent to its students. It is here that universities will provide students help with anything that might be causing stress; from counselling services, to financial help. it is important to highlight that no matter the stigma around mental health, no one should feel ashamed for seeking help at university from the services available to them. If you are struggling with stress, be it academic or something else, use what is there to be used.
While it is important to know what help there is once you get to university, there are also ways you might be able to help yourself before you go, if you know your prone to stress. If you know you are going to be in self-catered accommodation and are worried about having to cook for yourself, learn a couple of simple meals over your summer. If you know there are a few dinners you have down to a tee, there’s less learning to do when you get there. On top of this, stock your freezer with some quick and easy ready meals (think pizza and chicken nuggets) on moving in day so you don’t even need to worry about cooking properly during freshers when all you really want to do is settle in.
If your worried about making friends at university, and moreover about having to live with complete strangers, then my advice is take to social media. Almost all universities set up a yearly fresher’s page around the end of applications; you can get to know people in your accommodation, your course, and even sometimes the few people you will be sharing a corridor with. As well as this there is also often information on what kinds of events will be happening when you arrive, so you can know the best places to meet new people.
There is one last crucial piece of advice I can give you as a now ex-fresher; have fun, because it will fly by and be done before you know it.