Ten tips for starting Bristol University whilst experiencing mental illness

A helpful guide for anyone looking at what support is on offer

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Starting a new university is both a terrifying and exciting experience. In the build-up, your inbox is filled with information about all the different events and socials taking place during Freshers' Week.

The information available for individuals who are starting their degrees with pre-existing mental health problems, or for those who suddenly find themselves unable to cope with the pressures of university life, is comparably scarce.

I am just about to begin a PhD at the University of Bristol. It is the first time that I have studied here, making me a fresher as well. Sadly, I am no stranger to mental health crises at university.

In the final year of my undergraduate degree I suffered a psychological breakdown, and I have been experiencing the repercussions of this ever since.

I have compiled a list of things that have helped me with my mental health at university, in the hope that they can be of some benefit to others who are struggling.

1. Always talk to someone about how you are feeling

This cannot be emphasised enough. Having a mental illness can be very isolating. But when I had my breakdown, talking to people saved me. It helped me to make sense of what was going on in my own head, and it kept me going until I could get the help that I needed. There is always someone who is prepared to listen be it family members, partners, friends, work colleagues, course mates or, people on the Big White Wall and Bristol Nightline. There are also hubs in Stoke Bishop, Clifton and City Centre which you can visit. Don’t suffer in silence.

Talking about how you feel can be a massive help

2. Utilise your support base from back home

When you move away from home, it is natural to want to protect the people you love from worrying. But in my experience, these are the people who want to know if you’re struggling, and they’ll want to try and help in any way possible. Without the continued support of my family and my boyfriend, I don’t think that I could have made it to where I am today.

3. Make sure that you register with a GP

This is particularly important if you are on medication, because you need to attend repeat appointments to feedback on how the medication is working. GPs are also an important source of advice if you are struggling. They can put you in touch with the mental health services, providing you with an additional layer of support.

4. Don’t be ashamed of asking for help

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it takes a tremendous amount of courage. If you are struggling with your mental health, Bristol Mental Health have a variety of services on offer. It is worth noting that you can you can book an assessment with Wellbeing Therapy Services if they are registered with a Bristol GP.

There are a variety of services in the city which can offer support

5. Don’t be afraid of telling your tutors if you are struggling

They have been students too and know how hard it is. They are also the best placed to offer you advice on how to move forward.

6. Don’t put yourself under pressure during Freshers' Week and beyond

It’s ok to not want to go out clubbing every night. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed by the buzz of everything going on. Make sure you take it at your own pace, and remember that there is no one way of doing Freshers' Week.

Freshers' Week isn't all about partying

7. Remember that you are not alone

There are other people struggling too, you can get through this.
Be proud of how far you have come. Doing a degree is no mean feat. You should be incredibly proud of getting here.

8. Celebrate personal achievements

It’s not just about getting the best grades or making a university sports team. Starting a conversation with a stranger, even though socialising frightens you, is a huge achievement. Leaving your room in the morning, even though you just want to stay in bed and hide from the world, is a huge achievement. Don’t measure your success by how it compares to the achievements of others, measure it by how it compares to your own personal goals.

9. Don’t be afraid of setting aside some time for yourself

Drawing, reading, listening to music, dancing, do whatever it is that helps you to relax. Getting involved with the university's Wellbeing Network can also be useful as they hold a variety of events throughout the year. If you're passionate about mental health and making sure that the university offer proactive support, following Support Our Services and getting involved with their events may also be something you enjoy.

10. Take note of useful contacts

Nightline: 01179 266 266

Student Counselling Service: 0117 394 0123

The Samaritans: 116 123