It can be tough leaving for university and depression is experienced by a large number of undergraduates. While many students set off for university feeling enthusiastic and excited, it’s not so easy for everyone. Being away from home, being around new people and preparing to complete a large amount of work can all contribute to stress and anxiety. For those who are already living with mental health difficulties, the prospect of beginning an undergraduate degree may be quite daunting.
Why do students face depression at university?
For many, going away to university will mean leaving home for the first time. Having to fend for yourself for the first time can feel very daunting, especially if you struggle with self-confidence. Even just simple things like shopping and cooking meals can feel overwhelming. This is completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of – everyone feels a little out of their depth when they first leave home and it can take a while to get used to a new routine.
Getting used to the environment
Even for students who have not left home, the first few weeks of term might feel a bit strange and scary. There is an increased responsibility as an undergraduate which is different to the pressures faced at school. A degree is a first step towards a career, a significant amount of work and a change of pace to the routine of school classes. Students are expected to work hard under their own steam and accept the consequences of missed deadlines or tutorials.
It’s an unfortunate fact that students are under increasing financial pressures. As well as tuition fees going up, the cost of bills, food and other expenses can be very challenging. If this is the first time a student has managed their own finances, they may find it difficult to cope. Some students may have financial support from parents or university bursaries, however not everyone will have access to this.
While some students can’t wait to throw themselves into societies, groups and other social events, some may find it difficult to even step out of their room to talk with their flatmates. University is a time where students are thrown together with hundreds of new people and if the idea of making new friends feels daunting, it can be easy to become isolated.
What can be done to support students’ mental health?
Luckily, if you are a student facing depression, you are not alone. Plenty of people feel lonely and unsure during their time at university, despite the typical idea of what student life is all about. If you are finding university tough, try the following:
Look into Disabled Students Allowance
If you live with a long-term mental health problem, you could be entitled to Disabled Students Allowance. This can cover the cost of things which could make your life easier, such as a laptop to help you complete your work away from shared library spaces or money towards taxis if you find taking the bus a challenge. You could also be entitled to a support worker who can help you with practical tasks such as shopping or meetings with your tutors. It’s definitely worth finding out what help is available if you feel you need it.
Talk to someone
It’s important to reach out and let someone know how you are feeling so they can help. Most universities have a student welfare office which can provide listening support. Short-term counselling may be offered or help with practical issues (for example, if you have financial concerns, you may be able to receive help with funding applications). Student welfare officers can also liaise with course leaders to help get you the best all-round support.
If you need help out of office hours, Nightline is a dedicated telephone service for providing emotional support. It’s run by students for students and everything is completely anonymous. You can also call The Samaritans twenty-four hours a day on 08457 90 90 90.
Speak to your lecturers
If possible, a support worker or student welfare officer can help you do this but it’s worth speaking to your lecturers as soon as possible. Your health will possibly affect your work and it’s good to have as many people on your side as possible. If you have a personal tutor, make sure your first appointment is with them.
Take small steps
Even if the whole experience of being at university is feeling too much, there will be some small things worth staying on for. One good society, class or friend could be all it takes to turn everything around. Try and do one or two things every week which could help you to feel better, whether it’s getting some exercise, talking to a flatmate or going along to a society event.
Don’t feel ashamed
Many students facing depression feel that they are completely alone and that “proper students” are off having fun. This isn’t true and there is never just one way to experience being a student. You have has much right to be there as anyone else and there are plenty of ways to make the experience enjoyable.
Are you in this situation, or have you faced it and have insight that others can learn from? We’d like to hear your views!