City student gives her top five tips for coping with mental health issues at university

“You would not ignore a broken arm or another physical injury, so it is important to not ignore your mental health.”

Further education can be hard and exams can be harder, with pressures to succeed and the dramatic change of lifestyle, large numbers of students across the country experience problems with their mental health while at university. According to research by UUK, approximately 1 in 4 people report a mental health problem each year. This may equate to 500,000 students per year. It is also reported that 50% of chronic adult mental illness begins in the teenage years and 75% before the age of 24.

Two and a half years on since she joined City, University of London, Arael, (BSc (Hons) Speech and Language Science), lifts the lid on her experiences with anxiety, and offers advice to other students on how they can seek help and overcome their battles with mental health at university.

“Mental health to me is anything to do with having a healthy mind. There is a lot of talk about physical health and mental health is no different to this – it is a measurement of how your everyday activity is impacting you not just physically but also emotionally.

“I think almost everyone who is at university has at some point experienced issues with their mental health. It may not always be big and sometimes you may not notice it, but the stress of being away from home and facing exams can add up and make you quite anxious and unsure of yourself. When I first moved to London, it was scary to be away from my home and my family. It was exciting, and university is exciting, but equally it has been a stressful step. It is easy for such a big change in your life to create negative thoughts in your head.”

“Having deadlines and exams can trigger nervousness and anxiety, and in the build up to these, I found myself feeling tired all the time and unable to revise or get any work done. This anxiety had an impact on my first year exams, where I did not revise as much as I should have done, as there were times where I could not find the energy to get out of bed. It got to the point where I would give myself an extra few hours in bed, but lying there and simply not doing anything made me feel more stressed. Luckily for me, it has not impacted me as drastically as it could have as I have achieved good grades, but I will always feel as if I could have done better.”

Arael highlights that the change of lifestyle and exams are a key factors in causing issues with mental health for students. Although she encourages everyone to seek help when things go wrong, has listed her top five pieces of advice for City students who are experiencing issues around their mental health.

1. Tell a friend or family member

“It is important to be open with your friends, as you’d be surprised to hear about how many other students are going through the same thing as you. It helps to know you are not alone, as half of the problem is feeling like you are stranded in these feelings, but seeking company when you are feeling overwhelmed is always a good idea. Telling someone is a starting point and if these feelings are lasting days then you need to do something about it – especially when it is in the early stages.

“It is fun, but it can be a pain living in shared accommodation because people are messy, but be mindful of yourself and make sure your environment is somewhere that you want to be.”

2. Set achievable goals

“It sounds simple, but I force myself out of bed and set a goal of doing something productive for two hours. Whether that be cleaning, eating healthily, revising or cooking a meal. Setting small goals is a great help, as you feel like you have achieved something, and that could be the thing that makes you feel better.  It is important not to set your goals too high, so don’t say that you won’t spend any money in a month on anything other than food, keep it manageable and achievable like saving £10 every week or eating a healthy meal every day. If you start with little goals you can then build on them as time goes on. 

“One thing that I do is getting up to have a shower and changing my clothes and bedsheets. It is amazing how small it may seem but just how much of a help it is. You feel like you have accomplished something and you feel clean.

3. Seek professional help

“If nothing has helped so far, then seek help from the counselling service at City, as it is so easy to get in contact with them. You can either do it online or go into their service and do it on their iPad. Their drop-in sessions are easy and they work out the best way they can help and what therapy to offer.

“We are really lucky that we get free counselling at university. City is really on it and every year that I have been here there has been more promotion of mental health awareness and the tutors are so good, they understand the issues that students face and want to help. The staff here are always willing to help and write you a referral if need be.

“City is very good at promoting mental wellbeing and the Student Union do some great work too. Seeing a councillor is not this big scary thing. It is available here at City which is there to help you get through times when you are unsure or anxious over something – so use it!”

4. Don’t be hard on yourself

“Another key thing is not to be hard on yourself, and if you are having a bad time, don’t try and suppress it. It is ok to not be ok, it is alright to feel sad and then find a way to cope with it. It is natural and normal, and everyone at university will feel like that at some point.

“There is no need to be embarrassed about it either, which is why I think the act of telling someone is so important. It makes me feel a million times better and that is why I am so open about my mental health.  
“I do not know anyone at university who has not felt stressed at some point, or had a horrible breakdown where they have had to call their parents. Don’t feel like a failure, because you are not.”

5. Remember, it will get better and you will get stronger

“It will pass, and even if it does not, you will find a way to cope with it. It will become easier, even if it never fully goes away. From my perspective, everything that happens with my mental health tends to be from circumstances rather than my own head.

“It can be painful, but seeing a councillor will be help, and it will get easier if not better. Do not let it dictate who you are. I know that is easier said than done but it is important for you to try and get better.”

City students who feel as if they are experiencing issues with their mental health are strongly encouraged to get in touch with the mental health services and can do so by registering on the student counselling service website.