Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
The university experience was sold to me through a glossy, and somewhat misleading, prospectus: abundant smiles, sunshine and (probably stock images of) people having fun. Crazy stories and clichés of how much my older friends loved university affirmed the message: uni was the fresh, exciting start I craved. There were no footnotes in the prospectus about loneliness, stress or frustration, despite increasing rates of students reporting mental health issues during university.
Uni undoubtedly has amazing opportunities: a new course, social life, friends, and travel, amongst other things. However, if like me, you’re not only dragging way too much stuff when you move to Southampton, you’re also bringing a long-term mental health illness, here are a few tips to make the transition easier during Freshers’ Week.
DRINKING: Freshers’ Week has a reputation for being a boozy week, although there are plenty of alcohol-free events to attend! Drinking can be fun but is also the actual devil and can make your symptoms worse. This is particularly important to consider if you’re taking medication. You don’t have to stay sober, but be mindful. If you’re drinking: make sure you catch up on sleep and drink lots of water. Maybe take some vitamins (if you’re feeling really fancy).
GP: Get registered! There are two NHS practices on Highfield Campus. Alternatively, find a local GP close to your accommodation. Like at home, they will be your first point of contact for any issues. You’ll have plenty of time to procrastinate about uni work, don’t procrastinate about this.
MEDICATION: Another reason to register with your GP – prescriptions. Don’t repeat my first-year (and second year) mistakes and forget to get a prescription and end up with no meds. Also, if you’re coming to uni straight from college at eighteen and you previously had free prescriptions, consider applying for The NHS Low Income Scheme. You can apply for a HC2 certificate to cover the prescription costs.
DISABILITY STUDENT ALLOWANCE: Likewise, it’s worth considering DSA to support you at the university. It may take the pressure off financially and potentially mean you don’t need to work part-time. Enabling Services, the university support for mental health, has more information on their website.
MOVE MORE AND EAT WELL: The advice I’ve ignored for years: exercise and a healthy diet. Uni is a good time to shift from exercise as
something you ‘have to do’ to something you love. There are so many different sports clubs, a gym and a pool. Don’t forget laughing is basically an ab workout. For food – frozen veg is cheap, look for reduced prices and plan your meals.
FRESHERS’ FLU: Stock up on some tissues. Trust me when I say you will need them.
YOUR TUTORS: Another tip I did not take. This amassed to an embarrassing, and snotty, breakdown to my tutor a year in. I recommend finding a tutor you are comfortable with: a trusted lecturer or Personal Academic Tutor can guide you with any academic support, including any Special Considerations if you’re struggling with the assessments.
SUPPORT: Adult mental health services are stretched. Take advantage of the resources you have as a student. Enabling Services offer First Contact for a crisis situation, drop-in sessions, a range of therapies and academic support. Check out their website. If you’d prefer support outside of uni, Steps 2 Wellbeing offers different therapies and there are charities offering support, like Solent Mind and No Limits. There are a lot of options and this is not an exhaustive list. Your wellbeing is important, so find the support that suits you.
MANAGING TRIGGERS: As you likely know, it’s not plausible to completely avoid triggers. Re-address any existing triggers and ensure you have helpful coping strategies in place. Adapting is hard, but you can do it if you address triggers in the new context. Relax, self-care, meditation and whatever works for you should come with you to uni.
IT’S OKAY IF IT’S HARD: If you are finding that any aspect of university is triggering (accommodation, flatmates or course) you can change. Even if you’re halfway through the year, you can move accommodation or change course. Uni may not live up to your expectations and that’s okay. Don’t do something that makes you unwell.
PEERS: Often, people only talk about how Freshers is an incredible experience. This isn’t the case for everyone, and rarely the case all the time. Starting uni is challenging and that’s fine. Talking to your peers can have a huge part in your wellbeing.
ONLINE: There are apps and support online that I am so grateful for (mindfulness apps, supportive forums, all dog memes), but don’t get hung up on social media and how other people’s experiences look. Find a balance and know what’s good for you.
CELEBRATE SMALL ACHIEVEMENTS: Celebrate what you did do. Bad days happen; but celebrate small achievements. Showering, making a good cup of tea, finishing a series on Netflix (it’s a commitment).
THE GOOD DAYS: For the better days, make a routine. With a routine, your to-do list will be easier. But mostly, enjoy the good days.
BE PROUD AND HAVE FUN: Be proud of yourself and enjoy the process. You’re here, and you’re doing it.