Your parents have driven off, you’ve unpacked and you’re free to do as you like. But what if student life turns out to be rather more challenging than you expected? Here we give you a guide to what mental health support is on offer at university.
The transition to university can be overwhelming and most undergraduates will at times find themselves feeling unsure of themselves. ‘The illusion of everyone having an awesome time is just that, a complete illusion,’ says Cat, a graduate of the University of Strathclyde.
Even the most confident school leaver, including those who have been to boarding school, can find their new life surprisingly daunting. As Claire Thompson, head of student welfare at the University of Nottingham, says, ‘You’ve been a big fish and suddenly you’re a little fish. Not everyone finds that easy’.
Freshers’ weeks are geared to settling in students and tackling problems before they arise. Far from the alcohol-fuelled week-long party their parents might remember, nowadays they involve imaginative orientation sessions alongside the socials. Many now organise events that don’t involve alcohol so that non-drinkers aren’t excluded.
What mental health support is on offer?
For those arriving at university with a history of mental health issues, or for those who develop one while at university, the university welfare system can be a lifeline.
1. Universities often run buddy or parent schemes for freshers, allocating them a ‘buddy’ or ‘family’ either within their academic department, college or the student union, to ease their passage into student life and keep an eye on their welfare.
2. Virtually every university now offers a counselling service, with trained counsellors providing confidential help to struggling undergraduates.
3. Students will find further help from personal tutors – usually members of the academic staff allocated to look after their welfare – and multi-faith student chaplains provide additional support.
4. A growing number of universities are training students to provide peer mentoring, since some students feel more comfortable talking to someone their own age. Peer supporters are student volunteers and receive both initial and ongoing training. Whilst it does not qualify them to provide counselling, it enables them to listen effectively to their peers and point them in the direction of more specialist support if needed.
5. Student unions offer a wealth of advice to undergraduates, with resources on common student problems. They typically produce well-informed leaflets on issues such as drugs, alcohol, stress, relationships and academic worries and their websites are packed with information.
What you can do before you arrive at uni
Claire Thompson, head of student welfare at the University of Nottingham says ‘If students declare they have mental health problems on their UCAS application, we will contact them and offer them the opportunity to come and meet with us before they come to university. At that meeting we’ll discuss the support that’s available and arrange for one of the mental health advisers to be at that meeting.’
For many undergraduates, their first contact with their new friends will be through Facebook groups. Simon Jenkins, acting schools and colleges liaison Officer at Nottingham, encourages prospective students to make the most of this opportunity. ‘Universities tend to offer groups that students can join once they have decided on a university as a firm choice,’ he says. ‘Groups of prospective students can start to talk to each other through the university intranet and through Facebook groups so that they feel as if they know a few people before they arrive.’
Do your homework while you’re still at school. Sixth-formers should make the most of open days, asking questions and ensuring they apply to universities that will suit them and their personality. This gives them the best chance of ensuring that their student experience is as rewarding as it can be.