University is well-publicised to be the best years of your life, and in my experience, university was great. It opened so many opportunities for me that I would never have expected to be available and I loved the new level of independence that moving away from home brought. However, sometimes a student lifestyle can impact your mental health and, as someone who already had a history of some mental health struggles, that is definitely something I experienced so I’m writing to offer some of the ways I’ve made sure to look after my mental health at University…
A whole new world
Moving away from home (or even just moving on from Sixth Form/College) can mean that you’re thrown into a new environment and that brings so many exciting possibilities, but it also means a lot of opportunities to notice instability. Your support systems change: you’re away from home and family or those who have supported you before; maybe you need to find a new team of professionals to help support your mental wellbeing; your friends are probably spread a little bit more widely across the country; your academic work is at an intensity you’ve never experienced before; all of this and you might be the first year to try and do this during a global pandemic.
Knowing yourself is really important
One of the biggest things that have helped me is to know myself and what I need to function optimally. Here come all of the buzz words like staying active, ensuring you get enough quality sleep (and knowing what that looks like for you – I know 8-hours sleep after a night out never quite feels like 8-hours sleep for me), and eating well. Things like giving time to help others really helped me too (but also being aware of when this was just a distraction from anxiety I needed to address) and having something that I learned just for fun – from experience, rowing is a great option at Durham but I’m sure there’s plenty of others.
I also loved throwing myself into all aspects of college life and embracing the ready-formed community within Hatfield. From sports and societies to events like formals, balls and college day, there is always something going on and it’s great to feel that sense of belonging within a community. So I would definitely recommend trying things out and finding your place where you feel part of a community.
Keep on top of how you’re feeling
Sometimes you can really get carried away with term and lectures, and working too late, and socialising a little bit too much, and so on…and you don’t prioritise the little things that help you to feel 100%. I tried to schedule in a little bit of time each week that is “me time”, for me to check in with myself, notice how I’m feeling and come up with a bit of a plan if anything isn’t as I’d like. And I’d always have a list of things that take 5/10 minutes but will instantly make me feel less overwhelmed.
Another thing that really helped me was recognising that being honest with friends if I was struggling was a really positive thing. I’d often kept my mental health as something private before university, but I quickly learned that good friends really want to help and they can’t help without knowing how or that you’re struggling. Just make sure that you know that most effective management of mental wellbeing worries involves support from many areas and not just friends – have a joint plan if they don’t feel able to help you at a given time.
Get to know the support services on offer
Finally, my last piece of advice is to know and utilise the support services on offer. Durham as a university can be such a supportive place, probably down to its collegiate system, due to the sheer volume of different options you have for support. There’s support within colleges, both staff-led and student-led.
Embrace College life
Being involved with Hatfield Welfare throughout my degree was really important to me as it enabled me to convert my experiences of mental health and student support into something really positive. Working on awareness campaigns, holding drop-in sessions for students just like me to feel heard, and providing signposting to other services as appropriate really helped to contribute to a really accepting community and useful support system that operates within each college.
It’s also natural to have worries about reaching out, and different pathways are helpful for different people so there’s also support within your department too! And don’t forget your GP (and to register with one!), the university counselling service and disability support. Even though it’s hard and can take resilience, if you don’t feel like you’re getting the support you need then try to voice this even if it’s down a different support route.
University can be the best years of your life, but they can also be tough years, and everyone will face their own battles as they go through it. Make sure you look after yourself, put your wellbeing above your grades and any pressure to succeed, and seek help when you need it.
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