Health · Mental Health · Uncategorized · University

Surviving Freshers’ week (and beyond!) with a pre-existing mental health condition

So you’ve survived exam season, collected your results and you’ve been offered a place at your chosen University – Congratulations!. Once all of the Results Day celebrations die down and the time comes to start writing packing lists, filling in registration forms and getting your head around the idea of living in a new city with new people, it can feel pretty daunting.

Regardless of the initial excitement, every Fresher is likely to feel nervous at some point before or after they arrive at University (or both!). But alongside the typical concerns about whether you’ll enjoy your course, whether or not you can cook something edible and how you’re going to make the University dream a reality, if you’re facing a mental health condition, it can bring a whole host of additional worries.

The first thing is to know that you’re 100% not alone. You won’t be the only person heading to Uni with concerns about their mental health, in fact, University opened my eyes to the sheer number of students who struggle with their mental health at some point during their degree. For this reason, Universities are well-equipped for welcoming students who may need extra help and there are numerous support systems in place to make the transition to Uni easier.

My biggest piece of advice is not to worry about declaring any sort of pre-existing mental health condition or about being honest about the support you might need (even if you think it’s precautionary). Universities are very aware of the struggles among students and getting things in place before you actually need them can definitely reduce some of the worry. It’s also a good idea to make the right people aware of your mental health condition before you actually need their support (GP, pastoral staff, academic department, personal tutor etc.). Waiting lists and registration processes can take a long time and it’s much easier to get this out-of-the-way before you need the help so that if the time comes, you can walk straight in without having to focus on less important, admin-type things.

people-woman-coffee-meeting

Here are several places you can turn to for support:
** A few of these are Durham University-specific, but many can be found nationally across Higher Education institutions

  • Counselling services: 
    University counselling services are there specifically to support their students. Many students won’t be sure whether they need to see a counsellor or they may be nervous about approaching the service to ask for help. However, the trained professionals are there to support any student with whatever it is that’s troubling them. Whether it be a mental health condition, grief following a bereavement, difficulties at home, managing academic stress or a concern for the welfare of another student, the counselling service can offer support and signpost to other places where you can find the appropriate help.
  • Financial support: DSA (Disabled Students Allowance):
    If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition, you may be eligible to receive DSA. I wasn’t aware of this support until it was pointed out to me, but it has been really useful especially in terms of 1-1 mentoring which has helped me to balance my academic work with my health condition. Depending on your diagnosis, DSA can help you with things like extra printing allowances, support in the form of mentoring, access to recording devices to record lectures (super useful if, like me, you find your mind focussing on other things rather than the lecturer!) and support in managing your condition whilst keeping on top of your academic work.
    More info can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/disabled-students-allowances-dsas
  • GP and Local NHS CMHT:
    Make sure that you register with your GP when you arrive at University – it makes things SO much faster and easier down the line. If you can, ask your GP at home to send a copy of your notes to your new GP practice – this will save time and energy having to explain your whole background notes again! If you’re under a local Mental Health service at home, you can also ask your team to transfer your care to your new local team rather than getting a re-referral from the GP (anyone with experience will know that this can take an AGE!).
  • Pastoral/Welfare staff:
    As Durham is a collegiate University, there is an established network of staff that you can turn to for support – Senior Tutors, College Tutors and Welfare Teams are always around to speak to if you need. Other Universities will often have Personal Tutors or Pastoral Staff, outside of your academic department, to help with any personal issues that may arise.
  • Nightline:
    Nightlines are student-led support lines which offer anonymous, completely confidential support throughout the night. Students can contact Nightline about anything that is on their mind, safe in the knowledge that the conversation always remains between themselves and the volunteer. It’s a fantastic support service as it runs out of hours when other support may not be accessible. Even if you don’t have a Nightline based at your University, you will be paired with a neighbouring Uni that you can call.
    To find your local Nightline: https://www.nightline.ac.uk/want-to-talk/

The Samaritans offer a similar service, outside of term-time too, which can be contacted 24/7: https://www.samaritans.org

  • Your academic department 
    Whilst academic and pastoral teams tend to work separately, it’s good for your department to be aware of your health condition if it is likely to affect your attendance to lectures or performance in exams/coursework. If you’re unable to meet a submission deadline due to your mental health, or if you require extra time/specific arrangements during exam term, you can apply for concessions. Concessions can be really helpful during exam season – you may be given permission to take your paper in a smaller room, to take a break during the exam or, in the case of coursework, be given a deadline extension without being penalised.
  • Other students! 
    There will be lots of other students who are experiencing mental health problems at University and talking to someone who understands can really help – you’ll often find that it isn’t as uncommon as you think! Looking out for societies with a focus around Mental Health, or attending a local support group, can be a great way to meet people who share your experiences.

This list certainly isn’t exhaustive and each University will offer different support options to their students. I’d say the best thing is to be prepared and to make sure you know where to turn to in advance – even if you never end up needing the support! Don’t suffer in silence – if you’re having a bad day, or you feel like things are getting on top of you, make sure that you reach out and use the support around you. Unlike at school, it’s unlikely that people will chase you if you don’t attend a lecture or don’t go to a social event – this can make it more difficult and create more pressure to be self-motivated, but you certainly don’t have to do it alone.

If anyone from other UK Universities has any specific support systems that they recommend, please comment!

11 thoughts on “Surviving Freshers’ week (and beyond!) with a pre-existing mental health condition

  1. This is fab 🙌🏼 I suffer with PTSD and depression and the university’s counselling service helped me so much but I didn’t know it was there for a long time! Definitely worth contacting them when you get to uni if you have any MH problems. ❤

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  2. Excellent advice! My student experience was a little different, as I was at a small professional dance college. However, they were quite aware of mental health problems and still did 1 to 1 meetings at the start of each term. Starting afresh in a different NHS service is such a pain in the bum though, right?! I found an INCREDIBLE GP. I was in Cambridge, and couldn’t recommend my doctor more highly. She was so caring and immediately caught on to the fact that a new city and new people were all big triggers. Honesty will get you more than hiding behind the worries of not being worthy of help. Xx

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  3. This came out the right time for me! I’m going to university in September (ahhhh) and I’m really concerned about how my mental health will handle it. I’ve got my DSA sorted and I have an appointment with the mental health team at my university on Friday so fingers crossed I can some form of help whilst I’m there! xx

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    1. So glad this can help you! Ah congratulations!! You sound like you have all the right things in place – hopefully the meeting on Friday will ease your concern. It is really scary going to Uni with worries about your mental health but I’m sure you’ll have lots of support around you. What are you studying?

      Liked by 1 person

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