A student blogs about realising university was not what they thought it was going to be, and how they adapted and accessed support to improve their mental health.
University is not what I thought it would be. When I thought about university in sixth form, I imagined how happy I would feel to be independent, to live away from home and to make new friends that knew nothing about me. I would be able to start again, away from all judgement or preconceptions, and create a new image. I did not dislike my life at home, or my friends or family, but I was just excited to have a fresh start and study what I loved, Psychology.
However, from the first night at university, I knew that it was not what I anticipated. This is because I was trying to immediately fit into a lifestyle that I had not experienced before. I was expecting myself to go to parties every night, to stay up until late in the morning, to spend every moment with my housemates, all because I was scared that I would not make friends, or be seen as boring. After the first couple of nights of this in fresher’s week I realised that my mental health was being affected in a way that it hadn’t been before.
I felt like everyone else was happy and enjoying their time at university, and no one felt like I did, which made me feel even more isolated.
For the first few months of university, I would cry almost every day, phone my parents or my boyfriend back home, and feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness that I did not know how to stop. Everything was new to me: the environment, the people, the living situation. I felt I did not have a familiar place to go and talk to someone and sort out these feelings. On top of this, I was living in an environment that was noisy and didn’t feel like home. I would feel pressured to go to the club or pub and when I didn’t, I felt like I was being judged. I felt like everyone else was happy and enjoying their time at university, and no one felt like I did, which made me feel even more isolated.
With the advice and support from my family and my boyfriend, I realised that I couldn’t continue feeling like this every day. So, just before the Christmas break, I decided to do something about it and attempt to improve my mental health. My university was fairly good at supporting people that were struggling at university. I attended a ‘crisis drop in session’ offered by the University’s wellbeing team and I found it moderately helpful. I was given advice and different ways I could try and improve my mental health. I did attempt some of these and it helped somewhat. I also attended the support services for my course and left that definitely feeling more supported, and that I had somewhere to go if I needed to. During the Christmas break I went to visit my GP to discuss how I was feeling, and I was told that this happens a lot to students when they first move away to university and was again given ways that I could improve my mental health.
I think experiences like mine are fuelled by the fact that University is largely advertised as being ‘the best time of your life’, but for many people it is challenging and upsetting and lonely.
I would say that none of the places I went to, whether that was the wellbeing team, the support service for Psychology, or my GP, immediately changed my mental health as soon as I left the building. But they did make me feel as if I was no longer alone, that there were other people who were feeling the same way as me, and that I had options to slowly improve my mental health. I think that there are definitely ways that universities can make mental health a larger priority and less taboo. I think that it should be talked about more that university can be extremely hard and that this is common for a lot of people. I think experiences like mine are fuelled by the fact that University is largely advertised as being ‘the best time of your life’, but for many people it is challenging and upsetting and lonely.
Towards the end of the year, I did start to feel better. My mental health improved significantly, and I felt as if I could continue my four years at university. So, my advice to manage student life and look after your wellbeing at university would be first and foremost to get help. I was lucky enough to have a solid support system at home who would always be ready to cheer me up or listen to my worries. However, if that is not an option, find the services at university, talk to your doctor, talk to your friends. Talking is always better than keeping it to yourself, and I definitely learnt that. I would also advise to enter university being yourself, not trying to create a new image that you can’t live up to. Join clubs or go to events that interest you - even if it is by yourself, you will find someone to talk to and hopefully make friends with. Finally, take time for yourself: watch movies, go for walks, take a trip home, and remember that student life at university is whatever you want it to be, not what is expected of you. Doing this, I truly think that someone who is going to university will be able to look after their wellbeing more effectively, and take more time for themselves.
Should you need support after reading this blog, you can find support from your university on our student resource hub.