Heading off to uni or 6th form college and have struggles with mental health? Here are some things to consider:
1. Do it because you want to. You don’t have to go at all and if you don’t fancy it, there are hundreds of other options.
2. Go at your own pace. This may mean that you take a few years out beforehand to deal with medical or personal issues. Think about how close you want to be to home. You might study part-time, or via distance/online learning, (helpful if you have days when you can’t get out of bed, and need the stability of friends/family/support groups). You might start study and find that you need to take a break – and that’s fine! Everyone has a different path, but you want to guard your mental health as well as stretching your brain.
3. Remember you’re not alone. 20 per cent of students experience mental health difficulties at uni, (NUS stat). And it is hard for everyone! So go easy on yourself.
4. Find a good church. You will need a family-away-from-family and a home-away-from-home. Church life is wonderful for many reasons but particularly when you’re in the student-bubble; and it keeps your feet on the ground as you meet together with real people from real walks of life! Christian Unions are brilliant too.
5. Keep praying. Perhaps even keep a prayer journal; this is also a good way of monitoring your moods so that you can ask for help if you find yourself going downhill.
6. Be open about your faith. You will meet hundreds of new people and it might be tempting to reinvent yourself – even spiritually. But if you’re Christian, be Christian. Trying to lead two separate lives is a mental health – not to mention spiritual – disaster.
7. Check out what MH facilities and support the college and tutors offer; including grants, counselling, student support etc. Most universities provide a free counselling service or mental health officer who can help you get support, as well as student-run facilities like Nightline.
8. Flag up any mental health issues as soon as possible, (even at application stage). It might feel daunting, but it’s not unusual and it will help you find somewhere that suits you; and access to support from the very beginning.
9. Check out the Disabled Students Allowance, a grant which can fund any additional support you need. Applications can take some time to process, so it’s worth doing it a couple of months before you go to university.
11. Register with a GP as soon as you arrive and talk to tutors so they know what you’re facing and can support you. They can also help you work out which classes/assignments are most important so you don’t frazzle. If things start getting too much, say so early – that way you can get help before it becomes a bigger issue. And if you need it you can ask for study breaks, extended deadlines, or support during exams.
12. Use a diary/calendar. Put in deadlines, dr appts, medication reminders and scheduled time off. Balance work and social time so you don’t work or party too hard.
13. Take (and make) friends who know what you’re facing. This doesn’t mean sharing everything with everyone. But it doesn’t mean pretending that everyone is totally fine all the time. Build a support network and be wise about who you spend time with; people who will help you go out, but also respect your decisions if you want to go to bed early or say ‘no’ to things that might make you overstressed. Know your triggers and warning signs if you’re feeling unwell – share these with trusted friends, so they can help.
14. Have a least one ‘study buddy’ who can take notes/fill you in/provide emergency cappuccino if you have to miss a class.
15. If you have large lectures and find groups intimidating, go early with a friend and sit near the exit so you know you can leave if you need to. Bring whatever helps to keep you calm if you tend to panic: colouring pens, a crossword book, bible verses that help to ground you.
16. Keep reading the Bible – to make it easier, pair up with someone else or listen to it on audio, (I’ve got Johnny Cash reading it, whilst a friend recommends David Suchet)…
17. Work out a crisis plan. Hopefully you won’t need it, but if you do who can you speak to, day or night? Is there a counselling centre or staff who are on call? What about hospital/GP support? Think about prevention and self-care; self-help; the things that you can do to make yourself feel better, such as calling a friend or going for a walk. This could also include daily or weekly calls with family and friends, prayer support or mood boards to encourage you when you feel low.
18. Take it a day at a time and take each day to the Lord. Remember, He is our helper, wherever we go.
Places that help:
Mind: a national charity for mental health issues.
Nightline: an anonymous service run by students, for students.
Student Minds: a national charity that helps students to talk about mental health and seek help.