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Freshers: What if you need counselling at university?

23rd September 2013

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Starting at university is a time of transition in a person’s life and can be an exciting and challenging time.

Such an opportunity can pave the way for freedom, excitement, newfound independence from parents and guardians, the chance to meet new people from different backgrounds and a change in lifestyle. It’s a hopeful time that’s full of life-shaping new experiences which may take some adjusting to. For some students, getting used to being away from home can be an anxious time and for others the changes of life as a student can impact on their existing lives and relationships.

While feelings of uncertainty can becommon for many students, the stigma around people speaking about their personal issues prevents some students from seeking support.

In a survey conducted earlier this year, the National Union of Students (NUS) found that more than a quarter (26%) of students who say they experience mental health problems and difficulties do not seek support, with just one in 10 using counselling services.

Given this, it’s no surprise that there has been a great emphasis on universities ensuring support for those in need of help is as visible as possible among the student community.  As with any area of life, concerns and struggles can affect an individual’s emotional wellbeing and talking to a professional counsellor or just seeking some self-help guidance can be a lifeline.

Commonly, we find that concerns among students are more likely to be related to personal issues and experiences than their academic studies. Of course, these difficulties may impact on academic study, but are often not the cause of the distress.

In a recent survey carried out by our Counselling Team at Glyndwr University, the most common concern that students reported was anxiety. Other common concerns were depression (21%), troubled relationships (13%), self and identity issues (8%) with academic studies at the lower end (7%).

Sometimes there are difficult early or existing life experiences such as trauma or loss, for example, or difficulties in relationships, which are contributing to the experience of anxiety or depression. Counselling offers the opportunity for students to talk about these experiences and issues through with somebody completely separate from their day to day life, and who has the skills and training to offer appropriate support. Any student who is worried or distressed can approach our service and we hope to help them to feel OK again.

Preserving student wellbeing is an issue universities must take very seriously. At Glyndŵr, all new students are given an induction to the counselling services available to them as well as beingprovidedwith self-help tips and information on how to deal withmany issues including home sickness.

For students who may experience initial homesickness our team of counsellors are on hand to encourage simple measures suchas making a room in halls more comfortable and homely, or encouraging regular contact with friends and family. For a small number of students, homesickness can last beyond their first and second terms at university and sometimes it can bring other longer term personal or emotional issues to the surface.  In our experience, introducing ourselves to students at the start of the term is a comforting way to introduce our services. By integrating it into other freshers’welcoming activity, we ensure it’s a service that’s embedded and normalised within the wider university offering. This approach has assisted in ensuring students feel relaxed and comfortable entering our offices.

We also have a new Student Services film which will remind students throughout the year of the support we offer in Counselling and other Student Services areas.

Students who take the vital step of taking action to address how they’re feeling commonly report feeling glad they did so. At Glyndwr University more and more students have been able to access counselling confidently and there is an increase in openness that students have to receiving help within the university.  Often they will share with their peers how counselling and has helped them and recommend this support to friends who may be in difficulty. Many who have come to our counselling service feeling alone and on the verge of leaving university were able to recognise what their difficulties are and find ways to address these feelings and feel more positive about their future at university. Othershave learnt how to manage their symptoms effectively, learning how to apply strategies to address issues such as anxiety, panic and low mood.

While we hope that many students may never need our services, we offer something valuable to those who do. Counselling services at universities are there to support the community of students and to be there for them if, or when they need someone to talk to. University is fantastic time and ideally nothing should overshadow this experience, but if difficulties do occur, then as a team we are committed to ensuring that students receive the support they need to be able to thrive.

This guest post was written by Gail Ashton, Counselling Team, Student Services, Glyndŵr University. For more information on counselling services at Glyndŵr University, please email or call the Counselling team on 01978 293266.

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