Freshers & mental illness: a manageable mix

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When you have mental health problems, a week full of new people, different clubs and a lack of sleep can be overwhelming – especially when you are in a new city. But freshers – and university as a whole – can be whatever experience you want it to be. Here are some tips if you are worried about coping mentally during your first week here:

Keep a diary. Read any article about dealing with break-ups, stress, health, lack of sleep… and writing down all your worries and emotions will usually be on the list. Writing may sound like one of the oldest tricks in the book – but there’s a reason that jotting down all your worries is a classic technique. It doesn’t have to be mega detailed, like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, or the daily check in of Rae in My Mad Fat Diary. Jotting down your annoyance at a flat mate, or nervousness before a night out, or worries about your first lecture can help to release some of your frustration.

Don’t ever feel forced to go out. Clubbing isn’t for everyone – especially if it’s not your sort of music, or you’ve had a rough day. We’ve all been on the dance floor wishing we were in bed or eating chips and gravy (or both). A group film night or an evening alone watching Netflix can be just as good as going out. But equally, imagine how proud you would feel for getting through any worries and making it to the club: I am a great believer in faking it till you make it.

Spend time in your new flat. It may sound lame, but unpacking and organising your new room can be really relaxing – there’s something pleasing about creating a new space for yourself. I spent ages putting up posters and drawing up timetables (yes, I am sad) for the new term. Also, you can never go wrong with some colour coded gel pens and pretty notebooks.

Get your greens. You’d be surprised how much difference a few veggies and an apple make to your general mood. Unfortunately, when money is tight, cheap processed food seems like the only option, and then takeaways when essay deadlines hit. At first I struggled to feed myself properly, partly due to money and partially due to my rocky mental health, but eventually I found the balance of cheap, homemade meals and chocolate. Look out for cheap avocadoes and fruit in the Corn Exchange, and good deals in the Merrion Centre (Home Bargains is your new best friend).

Don’t be afraid to reach out. Many students suffer with mental health problems. Often it may be that another of your flat mates struggle with eating or worrying or anxiety – and are reluctant to talk about it in case you do not understand. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed about – it is simply our mind’s way of trying to deal with certain stresses. 9 times out of 10 your flat mates will feel relieved that you’ve reached out to them, and will have things to ask for advice about in return. As long as you have other people or services that also support you outside of your flat, there is nothing wrong with letting a flat mate know if you are not coping.

Lastly, seek support. The University of Leeds has some great facilities, such as the Student Counselling Centre, Mental Health Team, Leeds Student Medical Practice Mental Health Workers, and Leeds Nightline.

Over the next coming weeks, remember that you are much more than any label that a mental illness may give you. Do not feel as though you must restrain from talking to new people, or stop yourself from opening up about any problems you are having. But mental health is different for everyone, and equally you might not want to talk or go dancing and forget the things that worry you at home. Do whatever you feel is best on the day, and if things become overwhelming know that there are people and services here to help you have the best university experience possible.

Charlie Collett

Helpful info:

Student Counselling Centre: 01133434107
Leeds Student Medical Practice MHW: 01138434388
Mental Health Team: 01133433927,  Drop in 11-12 (Monday-Friday) at Chemistry West Block
Leeds Nightline: 01133801381 (listening), 01133801380 (information)

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