Students have had their schedules turned upside down over the past few years. Whether it's been dealing with online classes, studying from home, dealing with the after-effects of covid, isolation or the worry of it all, it's changed what it's like to be a student. As things change, looking after your mental and emotional health is super important, especially during times of uncertainty.
Here's how to cope when events trigger feelings of anxiety and isolation
Global events aside, student mental health and anxiety are big issues nationwide. Research has found that almost half of students need support to manage their wellbeing, and 64% felt they were struggling with their mental health post-pandemic.
Some studies suggest that mental health difficulties impact as many as 4 in 5 students. Student mental health statistics also indicate that:
● 52% of students often felt lonely or isolated
● 16% of students were worried about their long-term prospects
● 45% of students took mental health support into account when choosing their uni
The study also found that a third of students feel lonely at least once a week. Building connections and feeling supported by others is an important part of university life. It can significantly help you feel happier at university, especially if it's your first time away from home, and friends and family that usually make up your support network.
How to recognise that you might need help with your mental health
While everyone deals with things differently and has different behaviours and triggers, it's worth being aware of some common symptoms of struggling with your mental health. This could help you get support earlier or recognise the signs in friends or classmates if you're worried about them.
Not everyone will show these signs, and some people might experience more than one of them, but if you're noticing changes to how you feel and behave, then the first step is to recognise you might need to find some help.
Here are the signs to look out for:
- Disengaging, withdrawing socially and avoiding situations – if you're struggling to engage with your coursework, skipping classes or hiding out from friends, family and tutors, this can be a sign. In turn, it can make you feel isolated and lonely, which can further impact your mental health.
- Finding it difficult to concentrate and stay motivated – we all get distracted from time to time, but if you're finding it difficult to get things done and stay on track, you might just want to check in on how you're feeling. Especially if you feel like you're seriously lacking in energy.
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns – your sleep pattern and eating habits can be affected if you're feeling low, worried or anxious. Other factors can affect both of these issues, but often it's because there's something on your mind.
- Addictive behaviours or taking lots of risks – if you're using drugs, alcohol or putting yourself in unsafe situations as a coping mechanism, this isn't safe or good for your wellbeing. Speak to someone about this before it impacts your life.
- Physical symptoms – your mind and body are connected, and sometimes what we feel inside can also show outside. This can mean showing physical signs that result from how we feel mentally.
- Low mood or feeling irritable, angry, tearful or on edge – if you know what feeling ok looks like for you, that's good; you're on the right track. But if you're experiencing moods that don't feel like you or don't know how to explain your reactions, it might be down to your mental health not being in a very good place.
University Students and Mental Health: Main Sources of Stress
Stress and needing support with mental health can seem to come out of nowhere, or you might feel it building up. Recognising the signs and the triggers is important to get the support you need to manage your mental health and ask for help.
Some of the main factors that impact student mental health include:
Isolation and loneliness
Making new friends can be a struggle, and student mental health can be impacted as new students can often feel isolated and left out when starting their university years. Joining local student societies, sports and cultural activities can help students connect with others and feel less isolated. Studies found that around 37% of students don't take part in any extracurricular activities outside of their studies. While this may be for financial reasons, time constraints or mental health, building a support network can help with feeling lonely, anxious or depressed.
Read more here about coping with loneliness at university.
Academic pressure and uncertainty about the future
Seven in ten 18-24-year-olds feel anxious about employment and their ability to earn money in the near future.
With the job market becoming ever more competitive, students are under increased pressure to maintain good grades and excel in their chosen field of study. Today's students spend more time studying than previous generations, face more competition in their career, and find it more challenging to achieve job satisfaction.
The impact of covid has understandably caused students to become more anxious about their physical health, and the health of their families. This can impact mental health too, so it's important to speak to someone if you're feeling the strain of worrying about your health and need some help.
Stress-Busting Things You Can Do Right Now
Here are some things you can do today to help manage stress and boost your mental and emotional wellbeing.
- Plan: It might feel overwhelming, but making plans can help you with your studies, finances and even your wellbeing as you'll feel less stressed and have something to look forward to in the future.
- Socialise: When you're feeling mentally low, it's understandable that you're not in the mood to socialise. However, meeting your closest friends and changing scenery can help boost your mood. Depending on your interests, there are plenty of university societies to help you make new friends and have new experiences.
- Exercise: Get the blood pumping and endorphins flowing where you can – walk a dog, ride a bike, get outdoors with friends, and play sports.
- Listen to music: Live events are back up and running, so look at the lineups at your favourite events and venues to see what you fancy. Even if you're not feeling like heading to a gig or a festival, you can listen to music wherever and whenever you want.
- Read: Put down the textbooks, step away from the screens and read a book or magazine you enjoy. It doesn't matter what it's about or how often you read it, just the act of sitting down and enjoying it can help you to feel more mindful.
- Volunteer: Doing good feels good! Look out for opportunities to help elderly and vulnerable people in your area, help at an animal shelter, or get involved in a social justice issue.
- Me-time: Make sure you take some time every day to allow yourself to recharge. Whether taking a hot shower or cooking a healthy meal, make time to look after yourself daily. This is also a great time to upskill through online seminars and classes or enjoy self-care that makes you feel good.
- Talk it out: Reach out to your uni to find out what support is in place. Student support is a big part of what your university can offer you and you shouldn't feel like it's something you need to deal with on your own.
Of course, these tips can be helpful, but sometimes they are not enough. For those struggling with mental health issues, it's essential to talk to someone about it and get professional help if needed.
Remember to be kind to yourself and each other. If you feel up to it, reach out and make (safe) connections whenever possible, and make your wellbeing a priority. Don't be scared to ask for help, everyone has found things difficult at some point in their life.
Looking for Support?
If you're struggling with feelings of depression, anxiety or isolation at uni, speak to your campus counsellor or reach out to a student support group. If you'd prefer to keep things anonymous, here are some useful resources for you.
Anxiety UK – Support for those diagnosed with anxiety
Helpline: 03444 775 774
Text service: 07537 416 905
Mental Health Foundation – Support and info on mental health problems
No Panic – Support for those affected by panic attacks and OCD
General helpline: 0844 967 4848
Youth Helpline: 0330 606 1174
Papyrus – Young suicide prevention society
Helpline: 0800 068 4141
Samaritans – Support for those experiencing feelings of despair or depression
Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
YoungMinds – Information on child and adolescent mental health
Phone: Parent's helpline – 0808 802 5544
Young adults: Text YM to 85258
Student Accommodation Advice
For those with accommodation through Fresh, please reach out to our Resident Teams, who have an open-door policy for students who need to talk. You can also discover answers to your coronavirus-related accommodation questions.
- Cibyl Student Mental Health Study 2022 – https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/63c144322b5c78711d187975/63de243b01f0365b9aba9334_Cibyl-Student-MH-Study-2022_compressed.pdf
- Prospects.ac.uk Looking after your mental health at University- https://www.prospects.ac.uk/applying-for-university/university-life/looking-after-your-mental-health-at-university#:~:text=University%20students%20are%20at%20a,are%20impacted%20by%20mental%20health.
- Student Minds Mental Health in a Pandemic – https://www.studentminds.org.uk/student-mental-health-in-a-pandemic.html