If you’re struggling with your mental health as a student, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that a quarter of students are affected by mental health issues, including almost half of LGBT students. That’s an increase of 28% since tuition fees in England and Wales tripled to £9,000.
However, there are plenty of ways you can take care of your mental health while at university or college. You don’t need to suffer in silence (unless it’s the silence of a peaceful bath and a well-deserved nap.)
Talk to someone
Whether it’s your doctor, your university’s mental health support staff, or a mental health charity, speaking to someone is the first step to getting the help you need.
Speaking up about the issue can be daunting, particularly if, like so many others, you fall into the common trap of believing your problems aren’t important enough to deserve help. They are. It doesn’t matter if there’s nothing external in your life to ‘justify’ how you’re feeling - the fact that you’re feeling low is enough.
Doctors and services like Nightline aren’t there to judge you – they speak to hundreds of people like you every year. They’ll get you the help you need, whether it’s counselling, medication, a friendly ear, or even a note for your university explaining the situation.
Tell your tutors
Your professors are there to help you, so if you’re struggling to keep on top of your work, tell them. They might be able to give you extra guidance, an extension on a deadline, or some leeway if you’ve been missing classes, but they can’t help you if they don’t know you need it.
And remember, they’re not going to shout at you – you’re not in high school!
Don’t exclude your friends
It can be easy to think that your friends won’t understand the issues that you’re facing, but you’d be amazed at how many people are likely going through the same thing.
Even if you don’t open up to them about how you’re feeling, grabbing a coffee with a friend or setting a study date with a classmate can cheer you up and make you feel less alone.
Assess your course and situation
If you’re not happy with your course, where you live or the people that surround you, that can play a major part in causing or exacerbating mental health issues. Consider whether the subject or the place is right for you.
Some useful questions to ask: Do you want to live closer to home? Are you happy with your friends? Does the university style of learning suit you? Would you prefer something more practical or flexible, like an apprenticeship or an online course? Would you rather move straight into the workforce? Given the chance, would you make the same choices again?
It’s fine if you’re not sure about the answers to these questions. Give yourself some time to think it over – it could be that your mental health issues are causing you to feel unhappy with your surroundings, not the other way around.
Take care of yourself
If you’re under pressure and overloaded with tasks, it can feel self-defeating to schedule time out. However, making time to take care of yourself is one of the best things you can do for yourself, both mental and physical.
And it won’t only benefit your health, it’ll benefit your work too. No one does their best when they’re strung out on coffee after 3 hours of sleep.
Make time to cook a meal from scratch, sleep for a full 8 hours (or 9 or 10), Netflix your favourite show, make hot chocolate, read a book, go to the gym, take a bath. Give yourself time to breathe and unwind and do something that makes you happy.
Learn to say ‘no’
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities, it’s ok to prioritise yourself for a while. Don’t cut your friends or family off completely, but feel free to say no to obligations that are going to leave you stressed or stretched for time. Your cousin’s birthday will happen again next year.
Make a schedule
If you’ve got a million tasks on your to-do list and no idea how you’re going to fit them all in, it can be helpful to make a physical timetable. Block in everything, from classes and work to relaxation time before bed. You’ll likely find that your workload is more do-able than you think, and sticking to a plan is a great way to bring peace-giving structure into your life.
Give yourself a break
Sometimes articles like these can make you feel even more overloaded. What if you’re not a perfect self-care angel, or you try taking care of yourself and it doesn’t make you feel better? What if you don’t have a schedule and never get enough sleep? What if you can’t bring yourself to speak to a therapist? What if it’s all your fault that you feel bad?
Stop. Give yourself a break. These are just suggestions, and they won’t work for everyone in every situation. Whether you follow all of them or none of them, you’re still allowed to feel exactly how you feel. It’s not your fault.
Ultimately, there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you’re one of the millions of people who struggle with mental health issues. You’re far from being alone, even if it can feel that way sometimes.
All you need to do is reach out for help and you’ll be amazed how many people are willing to go the extra mile for you – and how many of them have mental health stories of their own.