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Student mental health

There's a range of help available for students with mental health problems, including the university counselling service.

Mental health problems are as common among students as they are in the general population.

But it's not just students who have a diagnosed mental health condition that can benefit from counselling.

Alan Percy, head of counselling at the University of Oxford, says: "A lot of difficulties are not caused by medical problems, but by normal life problems, such as family or relationship issues, or anxiety about their work.

"While these problems are distressing, through counselling we can help students to understand them, and then suggest strategies for dealing with their feelings."

When to get help

It's normal to feel down, anxious or stressed from time to time, but if these feelings affect your daily activities, including your studies, or don't go away after a couple of weeks, get help.

Signs of depression and anxiety include:

  • feeling low
  • feeling more anxious or agitated than usual
  • losing interest in life
  • losing motivation

Some people also:

  • put on or lose weight
  • stop caring about the way they look or about keeping clean
  • do too much work
  • stop attending lectures
  • become withdrawn
  • have sleep problems

Where to go for help

Talk to someone

Telling someone how you feel, whether it's a friend, counsellor or doctor, may bring an immediate sense of relief.

It's a good idea to talk to someone you trust first, such as a friend, member of your family or a tutor.

This is especially important if your studies are being affected. Many mild mental health problems can be resolved this way.

University counselling services

Many colleges and most universities have a free and confidential in-house counselling service you can access, with professionally qualified counsellors and psychotherapists. 

You can usually find out what they offer and how to make an appointment in the counselling service section of your university's website. This free service in universities is available to both undergraduates and postgraduates.

Many universities also have a mental health adviser who can help you access the support you need.

As well as counselling or therapy, you may also be entitled to "reasonable adjustments" such as extra time in exams, extensions on coursework, and specialist mental health mentor support.

Student-led services

Many student unions also offer student-led services. Although the students involved aren't qualified counsellors, you may prefer to talk about problems such as stress and depression with another student.

Online self-help

There are also online self-help services you may like to explore, such as NHS Choices' Moodzone and the Students Against Depression website.

When to see your GP

For more serious or longer-lasting mental health symptoms, see your GP as you may need prescribed treatment or referral to a specialist.

If you have or develop a mental health condition that requires treatment, it's important to arrange continuity of care between your college doctor and your family GP.

A mental health adviser can support this communication. Your condition may worsen if moving between university and home results in a gap in treatment.

Therapy and counselling

Counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) offers an opportunity to explore the underlying issues of your unhappiness or any worries you have in a safe environment, including helping you develop ways of coping.

As well as university or college counselling services, you might be able to refer yourself for NHS counselling. Search for psychological therapy services to find out what's available in your area.  

The University Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN) represents the network of mental health advisers working in higher education dedicated to providing practical support to students experiencing mental health difficulties.

Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA)

At all UK universities, you have the opportunity to apply for a Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA).

Your mental health adviser can help you apply for a DSA, but you will need to provide evidence of a long-term mental health condition.

The DSA pays for:

  • specialist equipment, such as a computer, if you need it because of your mental health condition or another disability
  • non-medical helpers
  • extra travel as a result of your mental health condition or disability
  • other disability-related costs of studying

Even if you decide not to apply for a DSA, the mental health adviser will still be able to let you know what support is available.

Drugs, drink and mental health in students

If you're feeling low or stressed, you may be tempted to drink more alcohol or relax by smoking cannabis.

Consider how this may make you feel in the longer term though, as your mood could slip, making you feel a lot worse.

Some cannabis users can have unpleasant experiences, including confusion, hallucinations, anxiety and paranoia.

There's also growing evidence that long-term cannabis use can double your risk of developing a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

Ecstasy and amphetamines can also bring on schizophrenia, and amphetamines can induce other forms of psychosis.

Any underlying mental disorder could be worsened by drug and alcohol use.

Read more articles about drugs.

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