Mental health is a serious issue at the best of times but as a Fresher the risks posed by wavering mental health are undeniably heightened. You will go from being surrounded by familiar faces and home comforts to your entire world, for better or worse (hopefully better), being turned on its head.
Not only are you in an unfamiliar City, but you are away from the support of your family, faced with the momentous task of making as many allies as possible, while wearing clothes you have yet to wash and living off that chicken you may or may not have cooked through properly. Yes, Freshers’ is basically a bigger version of The Hunger Games, and we all know how sane Hunger Games survivors are likely to be by the end.
So how do you survive such a catastrophic combination of new and unsettling circumstances, without drowning in your own mounting anxiety? Well, the first and most important thing to remember is of course that everyone around you is on exactly the same emotional roller-coaster – high on adrenaline one minute, and painfully homesick the next. The biggest mistake made by Freshers’ is the assumption that they are the only ones feeling isolated, while the most dangerous reality is that however debilitating your anxiety might be, not one of those hundreds of people in your building know you well enough to realise how fast you’re going under. So what exactly is it about these first few weeks which causes anxiety?
- Unfamiliar Surroundings – this is a given, you’ve no idea where you are! What if you get lost? What if you lose everyone on a night out?
- No Personal Space – Bedrooms become communal hangouts during Fresher’s so be careful what you leave lying around!
- Too Much Space – Even if your bedroom door is always open, there will always be times when your flatmates are out or just keeping to themselves. These hours of being alone with nothing to do can drag on forever.
- Homesickness – Maybe you’ve missed your little brother’s first day at nursery, or that Aunt you haven’t seen for years finally paid a visit, or maybe you just miss sitting and complaining with your mum in the evening. Moving away from home is hard.
- Staying Alive – cook, clean, wake-up on time, do your homework… wait… without being told?
- Social Pressures – you’re just so desperate to have that friendship group!
These are six perfectly legitimate reasons for you to be freaking out right now! But guess what? Every person on the other side of each of those four walls around you has to overcome this list too! Enjoying Fresher’s is all about looking out for one another. Don’t push people away. The chances are, if there’s something you’re worried about, someone in your flat will be worrying about it too. It’s also important to remember that Fresher’s doesn’t all happen at night. Spend your days wisely and struggle together through the adventure that is living alone for the first time. Advice is easily given, but not always so readily taken. My one magical piece of advice requires you not only to stay way out of your comfort zone, but possibly to run as far as possible from the comforting coercion’s your anxiety might be tempting you with.
Never Be Alone and Always, Always, ALWAYS keep your door open.
You should never be on your own during Fresher’s, hiding yourself away, however tired you may be, will get you nowhere. Forming friendships is the most important thing you have to do in first year. Yes, even over the work. If you don’t build yourself a social support network you will not be happy, and if you’re not happy your work will suffer. Do not underestimate how much you need others.
And lastly, on a more serious note, I have listed a few things to look out for, because like I said earlier, it’s all about looking out for each other. Anxiety can manifest itself is many different ways, and these are just a few things to be aware of in yourself and others which if not taken seriously early on, could spiral into serious mental health conditions.
1. A Closed Door – okay so sometimes a closes door is just a sign that someone had a little too much the night before and needs a nap, but when that door is more closed than open there could be a more serious problem. Don’t give up on someone who seems a little more withdrawn, maybe they just need a little extra encouragement to come out of their shell.
2. That Unheard Voice in a Crowded Room – Some people aren’t as confident as others. Speaking out in big groups can be intimidating especially if you’ve got a lot of loud characters! But remember the longer you leave it, the harder it gets. You just have to grit your teeth and dive in there. Sorry.
3. Eating Patterns – This is a tricky one because ‘normal’ is very different for different people but, out of character eating patterns can be a tell-tale sign of many mental health issues. Eating patterns which may look like a rebellion from that healthy lifestyle forced by parents could just as easily indicate anxious eating, comfort eating, binge eating, secret eating or a means of feeding early onset depression. Equally, a lack in appetite, while a sign of never having cooked before, could quickly spiral into something more serious.
Lifestyle patterns made in Fresher’s can easily determine how your overall experience at university plays out, and crippling levels of anxiety can manifest themselves in many different ways, some of which I have highlighted above. So remember, look after yourselves!
Research conducted in 2013 found 20 percent of students to consider themselves to suffer from mental health problems, while 13 percent admitted to having suicidal thoughts. Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of and talking is always the best way forward.
So to summarise: don’t isolate yourself, don’t shut people out, and remember the number one rule of Freshers’ keep your door open to the world.