How to cope with student life

Explains how you can look after your mental health as a student, giving practical suggestions for what you can do and where you can go for support.

Your stories

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What support could I get?

There are many different individuals and organisations who can offer you support. If possible, it is helpful to put this support in place when things are going well, so that it is easy for you to ask for help if you start to find things more difficult. Try thinking about who you feel comfortable talking to. You might want support from:

Whether you have an existing mental health condition or are starting to find things difficult to manage, considering your options for support can be really helpful.

Support can vary in terms of how easy it is to access and the quality, so it can be useful to consider a variety of places and people that you can seek support from, as well as using self-help techniques such as mindfulness or physical activity, as part of keeping yourself well.

However difficult it may feel, it is important to be open with your university if you are suffering with mental health problems. You will be unable to receive the support you need and that is available without doing so.

Support from your place of study

The college or university disability service

Your university or college may have a disability support service who can support you to manage any health problem that affects your studies. This includes both physical and mental health problems.

You can arrange a meeting with this service to discuss any challenges that you might have with your studies, and look at what support the service can provide. The service may be able to arrange:

  • mentoring – this might be with another student or a disability specialist    
  • study skills training – such as courses in coping with stress or planning work    
  • specific arrangements – for your assessments or exams    
  • you may also be eligible for financial support through the Disabled Students Allowance.

The University Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN) is a good source of information about the support you could be entitled to.

Your college or university counselling service

Most universities and colleges have a counselling service providing support to students for free. They can offer advice about your circumstances independently of your academic tutors or your GP.

You can usually self-refer to a university or college counselling service, so you don't need to see your GP first or have a medical diagnosis.

Student led support

Your place of study may have a Students' Union with a welfare officer or a Student Advice Service offering free and independent advice or support. They can also refer you to external support.

Student Advice Services are staffed by elected student representatives who have received additional training, or Students' Union staff members who may have experience or training in specific areas such as law or mental health. Students' Unions and the staff they employ are independent of the university or college, although usually based in the same buildings.

An academic contact

Your university or college should assign you an academic supervisor or tutor to provide support and advice about your studies. If your tutor knows about your mental health, they may be able to support you in your studies, and help you access further academic support.

  • Some tutors will be pro-active about meeting their students but with others, you may have to contact them to arrange a meeting. Remember, they are there to support you, so don't feel shy about taking the first step.
  • Talking to your tutor early can help ensure that the right support is in place so that if things do get tricky, they understand how they can support you.
  • Your department may have a welfare or disability liaison who you can talk to about your mental health, if you don't feel comfortable talking to your tutor.

Each place of study will offer slightly different support so it is always worth taking a look at their website to see what is available to you.

If you find yourself having to choose between university and mental health treatment, my advice would be to choose mental health treatment. It's more important. You can always pick up where you left off with studying, but you can't really do that with your health, as the longer you leave it the harder it becomes to treat.

Support outside your place of study

Your GP

Your GP can support you by:

  • referring you to local services
  • prescribing medication where necessary
  • helping you access treatment for your mental health.

If you don't have a diagnosis but are concerned about your mental health, you can always speak to your GP about this. See our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem for more information on support from your GP.

You can also find more advice from the NHS on student health on NHS Choices Live Well.

For international students who are unfamiliar with the National Health Service (NHS) and how to access support, the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) has some useful information on looking after yourself and how to get medical treatment should you need it.

I found having someone in healthcare validate how I was feeling extremely positive. Knowing that what I was experiencing wasn't just normal sadness, but that it also had a name, helped me understand myself and support myself better for the rest of the term.

Organisations and charities

There are some charities and organisations who specifically work with students, and could offer you support:

  • Student Minds offer support for students and run peer support groups across the country.
  • Students against depression offer information and advice for students experiencing depression.
  • Nightline confidential telephone support offered overnight at universities across the country.
  • Young Minds offer information and support to young people experiencing mental health problems.
  • Propel provide support, help and advice to young care leavers around moving into higher education.

Voluntary organisations and charities also provide support to students and specific groups, as well as members of public. For example, you might want support from:

  • Citizens Advice – gives support on practical issues like housing, debt and benefits.
  • The Samaritans – available 24 hours a day by telephone or email, to talk about anything that's upsetting you.
  • Local Mind – local Minds offer a range of support services in local areas. Get in touch with one to find out more.

Many charities also run telephone or online support services. See our pages on telephone support and online support for more information.

Peer support

When you experience a mental health problem it can feel as if no-one understands. Peer support brings together people who’ve had similar experiences to support each other. Many students find that meeting others with experience of mental health difficulties helps them feel less alone and makes it easier to talk about their own mental health.

  • Your place of study might run peer support groups on campus, in your halls or on your course.
  • You can usually self-refer to peer support programmes, so you don't need to see a GP first or have a diagnosis.
  • You can also access online peer support through communities like Elefriends (see our pages on staying safe online for more information).

Check out your college or university's counselling service, Students' Union or Student Minds peer support programmes for more information about peer support near you.

Friends and family

University friends and housemates

If your friends or housemates have been worried about how you are doing, talking to them might be a relief for all of you. If you are worried about how they will react, talk to them about this – they may appreciate your advice on how they can help and what they can to do to be supportive.

Student Minds provides advice and support for students supporting friends.

Telling people around me that I'm struggling will help, as they can help me feel happy.

Friends or family back home

If you have moved away from home, it can be difficult to keep in contact with friends and family, particularly if you are an international student. Even if you have not moved, you may not spend as much time with your family and friends as you used to – you may just have less time than before, are discovering new friends, or may just want to be more independent while studying.

However it can be useful, especially if you're feeling low or experiencing poor mental health, to get support from old friends and your family.

Some ways to ensure you can keep in contact while also having an independent or new lifestyle are:

  • using email or social media – even quick forms of contact, like forwarding jokes, allow you to keep in touch
  • writing a letter or card – these can feel more personal and be nice to receive
  • taking time to talk – set aside a time each week to chat to a close friend or family
  • inviting friends to stay so you can show them around - they may then do the same for you
  • keeping people up to date with what you are doing – so they feel they are still part of your life – you don't have to tell them everything, just let them know what's going on.

 


This information was published in September 2018. We will revise it in 2021.


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