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A Survival Guide: First Year with Mental Health

5 tips I wish someone had told me…

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The illusion of being on a school trip is beginning to wear off. Freshers is over, you’ve met your flat mates, and lectures are more than just going over the unit guide.

First year is underway, and you’re officially a student. For those struggling with mental health problems, this can be a difficult time. Here’s a guide to help you stay okay while starting this unfamiliar journey:

1. Open up to your flat mates
As you may have already realised, nothing is private in halls. No matter how many people you live with, it’s very rare you’re home alone.

I opened up to my flat mates about my depression early on in the year, it was the kind of flat that no one knocks on your door before entering. Although none of them suffered with mental health, they spent the year learning what it’s like through living with me and were very supportive.

All I would have to say is “I’m feeling down at the moment” and they knew that me flying off at them for using a mug of mine wasn’t about the mug or them. They became my support base, so when I hit a big time low and refused to get out of bed or wash for days, my flat mates would pick me out some clothes, jump on my bed to force me out even if it was just for a walk to Asda.

2. Communicate with your lecturers
They understand, really they do. If you tell them! And they do care! I missed a LOT of lectures in first year to the point where my small class of 18 students thought I was from the year above. It became a vicious cycle of not going in, then being too anxious to go in because I had missed so many lectures. I felt as though the class and lecturers were judging me for it. Eventually I emailed my lecturers to let them know that my mental health had been affecting my attendance and they were immensely understanding and helpful, even sharing their own experiences with me.

3. Emergency Plan
Create yourself an emergency plan of action in case of spiralling. Research the help that’s available, because it is there! Most universities have a student well-being centre, offering counselling for free. It may seem daunting, but sign yourself up and speak to them when you’re in a good place, because when you're in a bad one, this gets harder to do.

Learn the process for mitigating circumstances. Knowing that there are second chances is reassuring, and knowing how to apply for them will help you take them when you need to. This is where communicating with your lecturers comes into play again.

4. Get yourself into a routine
Getting yourself into a routine at uni is difficult, especially with different lecture times every day, but it's vital. Whether it is making sure you get dressed and showered, or making sure you’re staying on top of your workload, a routine will help you to look after yourself and make time for both uni work and relaxation.

5. Track your mood
When put into a different environment with different people, it’s harder to notice your mood and behaviour patterns and therefore predict or be aware of when your mental health is taking a turn for the worst. Try to remember that even though you may not believe it, excessive drinking really does effect your mood.

Using a daily mood tracking app will allow you to see these patterns visually and spot triggers. Then you can put into place damage limitation strategies for the storm that's about to hit. It will also show you what things in your new routine are bringing your mood up, so that you can try to incorporate this in your every day.