University is undoubtedly a stressful experience. Between meeting lots of new people and diving into an intense academic environment, it’s no wonder that students often experience feelings of panic, worry, or anxiety.
The events of the last two years have also contributed to increasing numbers of students reporting mental health issues. Isolation from friends and family and uncertainty about in-person programmes means that students need mental health services now more than ever.
In this article, we’ll tell you exactly what mental health support at university is like and how you can access it.
How Can University Affect Mental Health?
Experts say that it’s the swift change in lifestyle between living at home and becoming a student that can trigger mental health crises. Significantly, more than half of adults who have experienced a mental health issue say that it started before the age of 24.
There are plenty of experiences that can trigger these crises as a student. First and foremost, you’ll be spending a lot of time around new people, including in your student accommodation. But you’ll also be managing stressful work, including presentations, essays, and big exams.
Many students also find that they struggle with homesickness while at university. This may be more common for international students, who are also dealing with living in an unfamiliar country or speaking a second language.
In the end, 1 in 5 students reports experiencing a mental health issue while at university. This could include:
- Eating disorders
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal thoughts
An Increase In Student Mental Health Issues
Data from the EDUopinions site shows that students are also increasingly talking about their mental health in reviews of their university or courses. This includes mentions of university mental health support and how important that is to them.
We evaluated over 25,000 reviews for mentions of mental health support and found that between 2018 and 2020 there was a fourfold increase in mentions of mental health in student reviews (from 0.3% to 1.3%).
While mentions decreased between 2020 and 2021, in 2022 mentions of mental health in student reviews were on the rise again, reaching 1.1% in the first six months of this year.
There are plenty of reasons for this, not least the long-lasting effects of the Covid pandemic which is still affecting students who enrolled in courses in September 2019. Mental health awareness is also increasing, meaning people are more inclined to talk about their mental health publicly.
How do I know I have a mental health issue at university?
Stress isn’t always something to be concerned about. It’s a natural part of life, especially when you’re a student coping with lots of different assignments and extracurricular activities.
However, there are some signs to watch out for which could mean that it’s time to seek support. These include:
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Finding it difficult to concentrate
- Higher frequency of headaches or digestive troubles
- Feeling irritable or angry
- Avoiding certain places, people, or situations
- Lack of motivation
- Feeling on edge or tearful more often than not
If you relate to any of these symptoms, this could be a sign that you should seek support and talk to someone. For example, you could open up to friends or family about how you’re feeling. Or, you might seek professional support. Luckily, universities have a range of mental health support on hand for students who are struggling.
Mental Health Support at University
Mental health support at university can differ, but most universities will offer some assistance to students who are struggling with their mental health.
Firstly, many universities will have an in-house counselling service with professional psychologists. This is a free service – all you have to do is self-refer yourself to access help.
The counselling you receive will usually consist of 6-10 sessions (usually lasting an hour each) with a professional. During these sessions, you can talk about your problems in a non-judgemental and safe environment. Your counsellor might suggest things you can do to limit stress or reduce your anxiety, which could include mindfulness techniques.
If you don’t want to see a professional, your university may have a dedicated student advisor you can speak to about mental health issues. Though they won’t be medical professionals, they still may be able to help you with practical issues. For example, getting extended deadlines for assignments or formal time off from your course.
Universities will also have more general student support services to help you deal with the core issues that are affecting your mental health. This might include financial troubles, issues with other students, or problems with your course. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them if you need help with something.
Student reviews highlighting Mental Health
University of Bristol
The lecturers are always welcoming and friendly, and any issues are dealt with quickly to optimally help the students. Mental health support is taken very seriously and students are encouraged to come to seek aid if necessary. All staff is well equipped to help and support students in any way necessary.
University of Sheffield
The University of Sheffield is really good at supporting its students. Whether they need help with their mental health or their uni work or day to day life. They have a team of genuine people who actually care about their students.
University of Victoria
Uvic is big on mental health and provides students with many resources for their well-being. The Support Connect helpline is available 24/7 to support students in need. Someone will pick up your call and you can chat with them through call/zoom. Counselling services are available but it’s incredibly hard to get an appointment. Sometimes the waiting period can be as long as 2 months. I recommend looking for help off-campus if you’re looking for long-term therapy. Other than that most profs are understanding and are flexible with extensions if you need extra time. When times are too stressful, the Pet Café is a popular choice. You can chill with puppies and dogs and enjoy snacks to calm your mind.
Imperial College London
Imeprial College is a very famous university known for its great facilities, research and the quality of graduates they produce. How ever this university requires you to have amazing work ethic and will demand the best of you during the duration of your studies. In some cases the workload can be so heavy it leads some students to struggle with stress and other mental health issues. Although the university has councillors and advertises about mental health awareness, it doesn’t do much more than that to help its students so if you are already a person who struggles to deal with stress it has any sort of mental health issues I wouldn’t recommend imperial. On the other hand imperial does offer very good student life when you have free time. Between the great sports facilities it has and the broadness of its student-run societies.
University of Oxford
Oxford was three of the best and worst three years of my life. While it is fantastic to have the level of attention you get from tutors (I also had a great personal tutor!), it is a breeding ground for stress and exasperation of mental health issues. I would only advice someone to go there if they truly adored their subject – two essays a week is too much if you are not interested.
I had a good time because I made great friends, and enjoyed the work (just) enough. But I wouldn’t go there if I had my time again.
Rent is ludicrous – if you go, make sure you do something about this!
It’s natural to feel stressed or worried at university, but if this has a greater impact on your health it’s also okay to reach out for support. Your university is there to help you succeed. There are always mental health services available, whether this is professional counselling or just a safe space to talk about your troubles.
Remember, if your mental health continues to decline, don’t be afraid to seek help from a doctor. If you’re an international student, your university can also support you with signing up for a local health service.