My experience of getting mental health support at uni
Tandy, 21, shares her experience of getting help from her university support services when she was struggling with her mental health at uni.
I had struggled with my mental health before starting university, but by the time I was packing my stuff ready to move a few hours away from my hometown, I felt the most stable I had in a long time. I’m really grateful that for a lot of first year, my mental health difficulties didn’t disrupt my day-to-day life in a significant way – I was having a really good time.
Towards the end of that year, however, things started to unravel in a really significant way, and I became the most unwell I had ever been.
This period was made a lot easier by the university support I received. I had actually been in contact with the Student Support Unit (SSU) since I started at uni and even before I relapsed. This was really helpful for me as I had been allocated a Mental Health Advisor who I had already built up a relationship with. The advantage to this was that by the time I started to get unwell, it was easier to go and speak to someone I already knew rather than having to explain my whole story to a stranger.
If you haven’t been in contact with the SSU at your university, it’s never too late! You can get in touch with someone at any point in the year and you don’t have to be at a crisis point either.
Reaching out for help can be scary, especially if you’re a first-year student and have never accessed that type of support before. However, there are lots of things your university can help you with.
- Deadlines and exams
Work-related stress can be a trigger if you have mental health difficulties; sometimes when the work starts to pile up towards the end of term, things can feel awful. To help with this, universities often have a more relaxed deadline policy for people experiencing difficulties, which may include penalty waivers or deadline extensions. There may also be the opportunity to sit your exams in a smaller room, with extra time or rest breaks (or both).
- Signposting to further support
Your SSU will be able to help you access further support, particularly around university counselling services and mentoring which is funded by the Disabled Students Allowance. Having a mentor has been really helpful for me - someone I can speak to every week about university or life stresses has been really important in keeping me safe and stable.
- Taking time out
There have been a couple of times where I have had to take time out of university because of my mental health. This is something that has always been really upsetting for me; I feel like I’ve lost big chunks of my life to being unwell and so taking more time out makes me feel frustrated to say the least. But my university have always been so understanding; the option to take a leave of absence, sit my exams later in the year or defer the year altogether has always been there for me in case I need it. I was never made to feel like a failure for ever having to take a step back. Taking this break often gave me the space and time I needed to recover a bit more before coming back.
There are a lot of other things universities can help with when it comes to your mental health. The most important thing you can do is take the first step and reach out to them.
Don’t be afraid to be honest with them - your university wants you to feel supported in your time there. If you aren’t sure where to start, you can maybe try just emailing the university saying you would like to discuss your mental health. As I said before, you don’t have to be in crisis, and you don’t even need a diagnosis. You are always worthy of help!
Author: Tandy, 21
Where to get help
We have lots of information, tips and and advice on looking after your mental health at uni - during the COVID-19 pandemic or anytime - on our looking after yourself at uni page.