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Going up, breaking down, stress and mental health

Whether you have been a boarder since the age of eight, a fearless and fragrant backpacker for the preceding year or about to experience your first time away from the home-cooked meals, free-flowing laundry services and the bill-less existence of home, making the transition from school to university will be one of the hardest things for a teenager to face. For many students, this is the first taste of independent, unfettered adult living, and with that comes the realisation that this is your life and you have to find the best way to live it.

If you need help, there are 30 Student Minds support groups based in universities across the UK.  

The Matthew Elvidge Trust also offer support and have a list of good and trustworthy organisations, all of whom offer 24-hour help. 

For those finding it harder than most, there can be some comfort from knowing that you are far from alone.A mental health survey by the NUS in 2015 showed that 78% of student respondents suffered from diagnosed or undiagnosed problems, including stress, anxiety and depression.At the very lowest ebb, 38 percent reported having suicidal thoughts more than double the figure for the national population.  The worries over cash, lack of future employment and peer and family pressure can add to coping with the transition from school to university to unbearable levels.

These findings together with the briefing prepared in late 2015 by and for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Students make for sober reading, but there is solace to be found in them because one of the factors in addressing mental health is first acknowledging that you are not the only person suffering and help is available. Most universities offer a support system with far-reaching branches, from personal tutors and departmental welfare officers through to student union support, faculty and pan-university welfare teams and both in-house and agency counsellors. 

It can, of course, be daunting to make the first move but always look for the easiest point of contact. This may be a support network you have built for yourself flatmates, course mates, new friends, old friends, a friendly face on the staff, or as is increasingly common an in-house support line, like a student version of the Samaritans run by students for students. Whether it be altering examination conditions or finding you some effective free counselling, student welfare and disabled students officers, don't be put off by the terminology, are dedicated to ensuring that you have the help you need, and you will never be pigeon-holed or stigmatised for accessing it.

Of course, university is not all work, but the pressure for these to be the best years of your life where every night is party central and everyone is on top of the world, high on life, idealism and whatever else is doing the rounds can also be a lot for people to take. Don't be fooled, the starry students around you probably feel just as uncertain as you do, they may just be better at hiding it.

Finally, if you are facing problems at university that will not go away it is perfectly ok to change direction. Find out the options from your director of studies, it can be very simple to tweak or change your course, or if you want to change your location there are people to help. Remember just over one in twenty students leave their original university within the first year so this is commonplace and not a disaster.

Seven Top Tips

  • Register with a GP as soon as you can once you go up to university they will be a source of independent, confidential advice and, in many university towns, a lot of practices will be very familiar with student issues.
  • Identify who in your college, department, faculty and student union is responsible for student welfare then, if you feel you're sinking, go to whoever you find the most sympathetic. They will always keep welfare matters confidential.
  • Make all the friends you can but be wise to those who will hurt more than help.
  • Keep in touch with home it will always be your base.
  • Asking for help is neither weak nor counterproductive it is the first step towards having the best time you possibly can.
  • Focus on the present panicking about job prospects and the next twenty years will not help you write your first-term essay on the Romantic Poets, or assemble your lab apparatus for an assessment.
  • If you are hit with sudden or chronic anxiety, remember to breathe (however daft that may sound) and remember that you need never be alone.

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