Students' mental health and wellbeing can be affected by many different factors, from the high pressure, high expectations and intense environment of university to issues that predate university or are connected to life outside higher education, such as relationship or family issues.
There is help at hand for any student who needs support, and we've compiled a list of organisations you can turn to below. We've also listed some of the symptoms of depression and anxiety, along with links to relevant information from the NHS.
Know the signs
The NHS provides some useful information about student mental health and on signs of depression and anxiety and when to get help.
Symptoms of depression are complex and can vary widely, but can include:
- Feeling low or sad for a continuous amount of time
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling helpless, tearful and irritable
- A loss of interest in life: neglecting hobbies, lack of motivation in studies or avoiding contact with friends
- Moving more slowly than usual
- Change in weight
- Disturbed sleep.
A fuller list of symptoms of depression can be found on the NHS website.
Symptoms of anxiety can vary, but may include:
- Restlessness and difficulty concentrating
- Feeling irritable and intolerant
- An ongoing sense of dread
- Dizziness, headaches and feeling sick
- Strong or irregular heartbeat
- Trembling or pins and needles.
A fuller list of symptoms of anxiety can be found on the NHS website.
Talking about problems
Students are expected to be having the time of their lives, which often means they feel they can’t talk about their struggles. If you're feeling stressed or anxious, talking to friends, family, lecturers, tutors or whoever you trust can help you to clarify what the problem is, explore your options and feel less alone with whatever is troubling you. It can also be helpful to try not to compare yourself to others. There are more practical self-help tips to support students who are experiencing stress on the NHS website.
The student listening service Nightline enables students to ring and chat about whatever is troubling them to other students. Each Nightline service offered at a university is confidential, non-judgmental and anonymous, so callers do not have to give identifying details. You can find out if your university has a Nightline service from the Nightline Association's want to talk? page, which also lists a number of other useful helplines.
Taking it further
If you are advised to talk to a professional, or you feel you should, here are some of your options.
GPs can be a good port of call to help you pinpoint what you’re feeling and also to put you in contact with the relevant services you need.
Universities in the UK typically offer a free counselling service. The process of booking a session does vary: some simply require you to fill out an online form and others will take you through a few stages to ensure you get the right support. However, counselling slots do fill up quickly, which can catch people out later in the term (ie when exam stress sets in).
GP practices often have drop-in clinics. These can be a good way to get a professional opinion without seeking out counselling. They can also be useful if you’d like to talk about someone you’re worried about.
Individual university websites usually have their own mental health and wellbeing sections with area-specific information on what is available.
If you want to be proactive about protecting your mental wellbeing, there is a lot of self-help literature available online and in your university library. There are also a number of apps, such as Headspace, that help with mental wellbeing and are often free if you have a student ID.
Your university may run wellbeing groups. These are particularly helpful if you are aware of what is causing your problems, for example, stress, insomnia or relationships.
Organisations that offer mental health support for students
These organisations offer mental health support specifically for students:
Supporting others, volunteering and campaigning
University involves intense and close living conditions and, although this might sometimes add to the stress students are under, it does mean you can keep an eye on the people around you. Students Against Depression has information about helping others and campaigning to raise awareness, as well as other resources.
You could consider volunteering for your university’s Nightline service. The Student Minds website has lots of information about different ways you can get involved in student volunteering to increase understanding of mental health issues and provide support.
Organisations that offer mental health support for everyone
The following charities offer support to everyone, whether you are a university student or not:
- Samaritans: you can call 116 123 for free and this helpline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Samaritans is a charity dedicated to reducing feelings of isolation and disconnection that can lead to suicide.
- MIND: the MIND Infoline 0300 123 3393 is open 9.00 am to 6.00 pm Monday to Friday, except for Bank Holidays. It provides information on a range of topics, including types of mental health problems and where to get help.