How to Survive University with Your Mental Health Intact
If you're just starting university, you'll probably know that it is an unprecedented opportunity to enjoy yourself, think, meet new people, learn new things, mess around with ideas and fully embrace your independence.
Universities are awesome places, in the full, religious sense of 'awesome', and the ideals they purport to stand for are often under threat. So, If I were you, I would try to celebrate this time. I met wonderful friends, studied something I loved, and started to become the person I wanted to be.
However, looking back, I didn't settle in quickly. Others took longer. Others still claimed to hate every minute, but now lead happy and fulfilled lives. If you aren't finding your first days of freedom the best you've ever had, don't worry. This is the advice I'd pass on to anyone in their first term of university:
1) Try not to fear your peers, or judge them too quickly. While you should avoid anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, generally speaking there is more to everyone than the first days and weeks of university might indicate. Looking back, I mostly just wish I'd had proper conversations with more people.
2) Freshers Week suits extroverts. If you are not one, you will find socialising in massive groups stressful. If your comfort zone is smaller and quieter, that's ok. Find your happy medium.
3) Being open about your feelings helps. A sense of humour helps.
4) Be kind, to yourself and others. Some of my greatest friends are simply those who were kind to me in my first days away from home.
5) No matter how fascinating you are, if you keep leaving leaning towers of plates in the sink, you will annoy everyone who has to live with you. Don't wait for your housemates to leave passive-aggressive (or just plain aggressive) notes around the kitchen. Don't wait for them to put the plates in a wheelbarrow and dump them on your bed. Clean up.
1) In seminars, your teacher probably does not want to be talking to themselves for an hour. If they're any kind of teacher, they are interested in your thoughts, no matter how stupid those thoughts might seem to you. So share them.
2) If you can manage to both talk and listen, that's truly amazing. Hardly anyone does both of those things well. Try not to be The One who never lets anyone else get a word in.
3) Relax and enjoy. Be interested in everyone and everything.
If you are lucky, university will be one of the best times of your life. However, if the going gets tough, the following things may help:
1) Talk to someone. Please. Your university should have a counselling service, and clear sources of help, including advice on: sexual health, trauma, bereavement, depression, anxiety, mental health, and exam stress, among others. They should also have support for students with disabilties.
2) If you don't like the idea of counselling services, still, talk to someone. Preferably someone you trust. With kind eyes.
3) “I feel more like sitting alone in my room, drinking" – alcohol is a depressant. So is isolation. Return to 1) and 2).
4) On that point: if you're feeling severely depressed, stressed or anxious, neither alcohol, nor any other drug, is likely to solve the problem, unless it's been prescribed by a doctor.
5) Everyone will struggle at some point, even if they sail through university on clouds of joy. If you're living it right, life will probably, eventually, hurt you. So if you're suffering, do not feel ashamed. Speak to yourself much as if you are a tiny, wounded bird that you are nursing back to health. Your vulnerability is your strength. This is actually true.
6) Look out for your friends. Be the person they can trust, with the kind eyes.
Finally: nobody is perfect. If you don't manage to follow this advice, at least don't beat yourself up about it. This is a beginning: embrace it.
Have you ever wondered what therapy could do for you?