Looking after your Mental Health at university

Our mental health determines how we feel about ourselves, the way we interact with those around us and form relationships and how we overcome the challenges life throws at us. At every stage of life, we should be mindful of our mental health. It can affect our relationships, physical health, work and studies  both positively and negatively.

When mental health interferes with our everyday life and the ability of someone to function normally, it becomes a mental health problem.

While mental health problems can occur at any stage of life, the statistics for university students are particularly alarming. Research has shown that one in every four students experience mental health issues at some point during their time at university, with nearly half of those saying they struggle to complete daily tasks as a result. 71% said workload had the biggest impact on their mental health.

What causes mental health issues?

Mental health problems can be caused by a huge range of issues and will vary greatly from person to person. However, university places students under a unique set of circumstances that can be particularly damaging to mental health.

Things like living away from home for the first time, coping with exams and deadlines, the pressure to succeed, uncertainty about graduate employment prospects and financial hardship can all accumulate to affect your mental health in one way or another.

Some signs of mental health

It can be difficult to spot the signs of mental health, so here are some to look out for:

  • Lack of energy
  • Low motivation
  • Unable to concentrate or focus on work
  • Feeling more anxious or agitated than usual
  • Major changes to eating and sleeping habits

It’s normal to feel down, anxious or stressed from time to time, but if these feelings affect your daily activities, including your studies, or don’t go away after a couple of weeks, get help.

Do mental health problems class as extenuating circumstances?

If the state of your mental health has impacted your ability to complete your work on time, or to the same standard as usual, then you should be able to apply for  extenuating circumstances for any exams or coursework you think could be affected.

Each university has its own policy on what classes as ‘ extenuating circumstances’ and they usually assess applications on a case-by-case basis, so it’s difficult to know for certain whether your case will be accepted.

However, reports have shown that more students are applying for special circumstances because of mental health problems than ever before.

A note from your GP or counsellor explaining your mental health problems and the effect they have on your daily life should strengthen your case, but even if you haven’t sought professional advice yet, your claim is still valid.

Speak to someone from your subject department, or the student advice centre in your student union, for the best guidance on how to apply and what evidence you might need.

How to look after your mental health at university

Seek help early if you do experience a problem with your mental health at university. Waiting or trying to handle things alone can make things worse. Contact student services at your university or speak to a tutor that you get on with. You can also discuss with your GP, or a mental health mentor if you’ve been allocated one.

  • Talk about your feelings

Talking about your feelings can help your mental health be stable and deal with times when you feel troubled.

  • Keep active

Regular exercise boosts your self esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep and feel better.

Where to find support for mental health?

With one in five students now making use of their university mental health support service, it’s clear that if you’re struggling with your mental health at university, you’re certainly not alone.

Each university will have its own student mental health and counselling service, so we’d advise you to check your university website or ask at an information desk for exact details. Don’t forget that your personal tutor is often a good starting place if you want to discuss any issues you’re having and receive direction to the right support services.