Surviving freshers – coping with mental health problems at university

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Posted on 04/11/2014 by Emma Wilson |

Emma uses her own experiences to give tips about dealing with peer pressure and depression at uni.

I have, technically, been to two universities. Five years ago, I arrived at my first to study History at a campus uni, but barely lasted a term. But on my second attempt, studying Law in a large city, I managed to graduate! I’d like to share some of my experiences of uni to help others who might be finding things hard.

Life can become a bit of a whirlwind in the lead up to starting university. Nerves are natural, but it’s important to seek help if you begin to feel too overwhelmed.

In my case, I had spent the summer having doubts about my choice of course, social expectations (binge drinking and late nights) and, perhaps worst of all, the worry of being 2.5 hours away from home.

Nonetheless, I started my first term, and the homesickness was kept under control whilst I remained busy.  It was only after reading week that I realised how unhappy I had become. Although I met some really lovely people, my course wasn’t challenging me as much as I’d hoped and with so much independent study rather than many lectures, I spent much of my day without much structure. I also found the student lifestyle of binge drinking and clubbing quite overwhelming.  

Alcohol exacerbated my mental health problems in several ways. Whilst drinking, I was the life and soul of the party and would be up for anything. My lack of control with alcohol meant I found it difficult to “just have one drink” and could easily be peer pressured into having another. It was the day after the night out that I would feel mentally terrible. My depression would spiral, my self-esteem would falter from the things I said or did and I felt that I’d been let down by this false promise of life that I experienced during one wild night out.

I had started coming home every weekend and counting down the days until the end of term. I felt like I was the only one not enjoying myself and began to isolate myself from social situations. The GP knew about my depression and prescribed anti-depressants but it didn’t solve the situational difficulties. I didn’t know how to adapt to my new environment and deal with the social pressures that student life brought with it.

I was just too overwhelmed and dropped out of university after one term.

My second attempt at university was different for a few of reasons; the course kept me busier, the location more diverse and I spent the first term commuting from home. This really helped to ease me into the university course, without the accompanying anxieties of moving away from home. I decided to move into halls after Christmas and then lived with friends in private accommodation for the final two years.

Unfortunately, I soon slipped back into the trap of drinking too much on nights out and saying yes to things I didn’t really want to do. After a series of wild nights and the worsening of my mental health, I made an executive decision to say no and not get persuaded into doing things just to conform.

I won’t lie, this was difficult at first. I was frequently called “boring” when I refused a can of lager and even received patronising comments from bartenders when I ordered a soft drink.

Yet the decision to stay true to myself has carried me into my 20s. I’m now unashamed to admit that I’ve suffered (and suffer) from mental health problems. I’m equally unashamed to admit that I would take a green juice over a glass of wine any day; prefer having picnics in the park than shouting over the loud music at a club until my throat goes dry; and would prefer to spend a Friday night cuddled up in my PJs with a book than forcing myself to stay out until 3am simply because “it’s a Friday night”.

By sticking to my true self, I have made friends from the most unusual of places and do what I love: volunteering and working in the mental health sector. 

So if you’re just starting university, please enjoy yourself. But do remember that you’re not alone and it’s OK if you don’t enjoy being a typical Fresher. Chances are, there’s lots of people feeling the same.

Emma Wilson

@MindfulEm

Blog - MindfulEmma

We have more information about coping with student life here.

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