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How to look after your mental health and get help this University Mental Health Day.


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Ruki Heritage, Assistant Director of Student Experience and Head of Student Services at the University of Bedfordshire, offers advice for students on how to thrive at university and be prepared for any pressure and challenges of a new environment on today’s University Mental Health Day.
University can be a very stressful place, especially during exam time or when you are new. Filled with people you don't know and lecturers whose expectations it can be hard to meet, you can often feel like you are out of depth and constantly about to fail. 
No wonder that mental health is becoming an increasing problem at universities, with 15,395 students disclosing mental health issues in their first year in 2017, and suicide rates almost doubling.
This increasing problem among students, which some even call a crisis, has led to the creation of University Mental Health Day. For those who do not know, University Mental Health Day is a national day for student mental health, which is run by Student Minds and UMHAN and seeks to encourage students, staff and others to raise awareness of the issue. 
Despite the growing issue of poor mental health among students, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, with universities seeking to improve their response to this need and provide better services and support for struggling students. Indeed, with increasing research and an improved understanding of the needs of students, universities are becoming places where students can trust their needs will be respected and met.
This University Mental Health Day, Ruki Heritage, Assistant Director of Student Experience and Head of Student Services at the University of Bedfordshire offered some advice to all students struggling to cope at university. 
According to Ruki Heritage: 
“Adapting to University life has a big impact on all students – even the ones who seem to take to it like a duck to water – but for some it can be a major challenge. A new environment, pressure to do well in studies, meeting lots of new people and being away from home can all play a significant part in the mental health and wellbeing of students. This will have a significant impact on not only their academic studies, but also their personal well-being. Raising awareness of the issues is essential and so is being prepared to transition and thrive at university. By looking after their mental health and developing robust coping strategies, students can put themselves in good stead for their studies, working life and career.
“If you are a student, there are a number of practical steps that you can take. For example, when first starting university, you should make an effort to get to know your flatmates and course mates, and not just sit in your room with the door closed. This physical barrier will stop your fellow students, and potential future friends, from visiting you to say ‘hello’.  Making friends who are in a similar situation as you will give you the opportunity to listen and talk to peers about concerns, positives and on-going support. This may reassure you that you are not the only one finding your new environment difficult to cope with, and feeling homesick.
“It is also really important to understand your feelings. If you notice that you are you are struggling to be happy for a few weeks, and cannot seem to get out of bed or attend lectures, it may be time to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to speak to your university or your GP. They are experts in this area and will be well used to supporting others who may have faced similar situations, so don’t suffer in silence. Most universities will have a Student Support or Student Services team with experts you can talk to about your concerns or fears, they are here to help so use the support available. 
“A strategy I encourage my students is to build a routine into their week. From a young age, most of us will attend school where we have a set routine, down to what time we have breaks and even eat. This then frequently continues at home, so it is something we are used to. Building a familiarity and regular timetable into your week will help you to feel settled. If you are setting time aside for study and further reading as part of your week, you will also find your grades get a boost, which may also help you feel better overall. Taking regular exercise can be good as well and can also give you a welcome break from studying and sitting in lectures. Going for a walk, meditating or doing yoga or similar stretches will help you relax both physically and mentally.
Another strategy I encourage that can have a big impact is to start building little goals into your day or week. These can be small tasks that help you achieve a bigger goal, or can simply be there for individual motivational targets. Also, let’s not forget to eat healthily and stay hydrated. Your body is a complex tool that requires a healthy mix of chemicals and nutrients from a variety of sources, so don’t underestimate the impact that an unhealthy diet will have on you."
The University of Bedfordshire, in partnership with Beds SU, is launching a number of initiatives as part of its Mental Health Week, centred around the five ways to Well Being: ‘connect, be active, be curious, challenge yourself and give to encourage positive mental health’.  These include a re-energise programme of free gym and mental wellness sessions, highlighting the strengths and benefits of an active mind and body; labyrinth walks; interactive activities to encourage students and staff to do something nice for others; and stalls and information on mental health across its campuses. For more information, follow the link here.
For more information on how mental health issues, as well as organisations that offer help and support, follow the links below:
Mind - call their infoline at 0300 123 3393 
Samaritans - Phone: 116 123 (24 hours a day and free to call) or email: 
NHS (non-emergency)- Phone: 111 or look at their information on mental health services here
Papyrus- Phone 0800 068 41 41. It is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal
Students Against Depression- Check out there website here, which is dedicated to students who are depressed, have a low mood, or are having suicidal thoughts.
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