How to look after your mental health at university

A young person is leaning against a kitchen surface. Her phone is next to her and two thought bubbles are above her head showing a squiggly line (representing student mental health) and a heart with a cross (representing self-care)

Hi! I’m Janet – a Student Mental Health Nurse and Mental Health Awareness Blogger. I’m passionate about mental health in the black community. I hope my writing is able to challenge stigma and discrimination, change the narrative surrounding mental health and recovery, and encourage others to live a happy and healthy life.

Tips on managing your mental health at university

The University Student Mental Health Survey (2020) showed that 1 in 5 students will suffer from mental health challenges while at university. This can include stress-induced anxiety, depression, substance misuse, self-harm and other complex diagnoses. Do you relate to any of these? You’re not alone; university can be an amazing and exciting experience, but it can sometimes be really tough, and many students experience mental health issues while they’re studying. 

This can be connected to many factors – most commonly – academic and financial pressures, isolation, loneliness and feelings of despair due to feeling homesick. When you move away from home you can be especially vulnerable to mental health challenges as you deal with the stresses of “adult life” for the first time. This can be difficult and lead to issues such as lack of self-care, poor money management and lack of energy and motivation.  

Having just completed university while having a long-standing mental illness, I have written a guide to maintaining and managing your mental health as a university student, to encourage you to look after your mental health and have a positive university experience.  

Health and wellbeing services 

Whether you have previous experience of mental health challenges, or find yourself struggling with your mental health for the first time at university, familiarising yourself with and getting the most out of your university’s health and well-being services is a good place to start. 

University well-being services can help in lots of ways: 

  • They can organise referrals to professional mental health advisors and specialists (for eating disorder support, self-harm support, etc). 
  • They can promote positive mental health practices on campus. 
  • Student wellbeing services can also provide you with counselling, mindfulness sessions and wellbeing drop-in sessions. 

Understandably, it might be nerve-wracking being honest about your mental health, but it’s important to note that student health and well-being services are strictly confidential and do not interfere with your course leaders or lecturers. It’s worth contacting your university’s student services to find out more about what support is available and which service will best suit you and your mental health needs.  

Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) 

If like me, you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness prior to starting university, you may be entitled to additional support as part of your student finance fees, which you do not need to pay back. When applying for your student finance, you can apply for DSA – where, following a needs assessment and providing evidence of your mental illness/mental health challenges from your GP, you could be eligible for specialist support. This can range from pre-paid taxi journeys to and from university, clinical placements and/or university-related trips, £25,000 a year for support, specialist equipment and other disability-related support.  

DSA for me has been a lifesaver! Having studied a Mental Health Nursing degree – I had to undergo clinical nursing placements; however, due to my social anxiety, I struggled to use public transport to get to and from my placements. Following my needs assessment, DSA were able to provide me with pre-paid taxi journeys throughout my degree. This eased my anxieties and provided me with safety and stability to ensure I attended my clinical placements, while my mental health was not affected. 

For further information on DSA – eligibility and how to apply, visit the government website. 

GP services  

For students away from home, I would suggest registering with your local GP in the first week of moving to university. This allows time for your home GP to transfer your files and for you to have access to a GP as soon as you need it. 

GP services are essential in referring you to mental health professionals (psychiatrist, psychologist, etc), as well as talking therapies (CBT, DBT, counselling, etc), diagnosing some* mental health disorders, and if needed, prescribing medication to manage your mental health symptoms. It’s important to note that you can also self-refer to talking therapies without a GP referral through your local NHS psychological therapies (IAPT) services. 

*some mental health disorders can only be diagnosed by a mental health professional (psychiatrist). 

Mental health and wellbeing impact our ability to engage with the world around us. It affects the way we think, feel and behave. So, looking after your mental health and wellbeing is extremely important! University presents with many of its own challenges – with assignment deadlines, exams, maintaining a social life and for many, balancing a part-time job. Good mental health practices are essential in adapting to everyday life changes and stresses and allowing you to make the most of your time at university. 

Useful resources  

Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health or support for a friend or loved one, help is available. 

  • The Mix offer free and confidential support on any issue. Get in touch with their team today. 
  • The Samaritans – if you feel you need immediate help, call 116 123, any time of day. 
  • Student Minds (Student Mental Health Charity) – Text ‘STUDENT’ to 85258 to start a conversation, 24 hours a day or visit their website. 

Next Steps

  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258
  • ADDstudy.org are a website which offer advice to people with ADHD and ADD who are studying. The have lots of tips and a community where people can chat about studying with ADHD.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Holly Turner

Updated on 24-Mar-2022

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