What is the one thing that all freshers have in common? Some aspect of starting university is making them anxious.
This will vary from the severe to the slight, but no one escapes some degree of anxiety. Similarly, depression is a natural reaction to stressful life events. Unfortunately, these normal reactions can become burdens, with 1 in 3 freshers experiencing a mental health problem each year in the UK.
My fresher-self was in the same position as many are this year – arriving with a case of depression and anxiety. Here are some reflections from my experience that current freshers may find helpful.
Get educated! Drug culture is incredibly normalised within university life, so you should make yourself aware of the effects substances can have on you – including coffee and alcohol. This is particularly important for those on medication for varying mental health conditions as interactions between different drugs can have some pretty nasty side effects.
Take care of yourself with good sleeping and eating habits as these can also affect your mental health. Distorted sleeping patterns starve the brain of recovery time, while living on a diet of junk food deprives you of the nutrients that contribute to maintaining a healthy mind.
Regularly partaking in simple physical exercise increases your resilience against mental illness and makes managing it easier. But, the key to managing your mental health comes from being self-aware and acknowledging your condition.
At such an early point in life, everyone is still finding their limits. I left a prior university after one semester in an aimless state battling depression and anxiety. Despite a healthy recovery and increased maturity, I failed to grasp the ability or importance of self-awareness and the need to respect my own limitations.
It is vital to overcome self-dismissal of suffering from any mental health issues, as the denial can often prevent you from managing them effectively. Upon arriving in Manchester, my self-denial allowed my illness to slowly creep back – a monumental act of self-harm that only made the inevitable recovery longer and harder. It takes bravery to speak frankly about your mental health but you should treat it like any other medical issue. People are becoming more educated about and understanding of mental health issues, so there will be help.
Unfortunately, not everyone is willing or able to support you emotionally or socially. Honest conversations with well-chosen friends will help you maintain self-awareness of both your mental and physical health. This takes practice, perseverance, and time but eventually becomes habit and a healthy part of your day-to-day life.
For me, this means taking my medication and meditating (there’s a prayer room in the SU), monitoring drug and alcohol intake (and acknowledging their negative effects), maintaining regular exercise, and finding my purpose at university.
Purpose is key to battling depression and can also help overcome anxieties if you are aware of specific triggers. It can be found in your education, societies, and pretty much anything that is done sober. While everyone enjoys a good night out, it is important to enjoy other activities and be mindful that binging can affect some people more than others.
Mental illness is difficult, it’s not always improving, and the effects can be devastating. Therefore, it is important to help ourselves with the resources at our disposal, help each other, and respect that our mental health is always a work in progress.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, then the University has plenty of resources. You can register with the university counselling service through their website. Alternatively, the Students’ Union Advice Service is located on the first floor of the SU with drop in sessions daily from 10am to 4pm.