University and mental health in the time of Covid-19

As exciting as university is, it can also be quite a lonely and alienating experience at first, a fact that is often forgotten in the anticipation and preparation for this new exciting next step in life. For the intake of 2020, it is unlikely they have overlooked these concerns – with very few social events able to take place and the normal bout of flat parties banned, making finding new friends and settling into their new environments a difficult task.

When I first joined university, I had always been quite an independent person and it didn’t even occur to me I might find university lonely, but after my dad said goodbye and I found myself alone in my uni bedroom, I suddenly felt this profound sense of abandonment, I couldn’t believe he had just left me there, with a bunch of strangers! I can’t imagine how I would have felt, with the stress of a pandemic and potential lockdown or quarantines looming over me.

Freshers and the beginning weeks of university are often trivialised; mainly characterised by stories of parties and drinking. When in fact these are vital weeks, where close friendships are formed and students have the all-important opportunity to form connections with a network of people who they will likely rely on throughout the year for social, academic and moral support.

With the current restrictions in place this becomes almost impossible. Of course, social distancing is vital for public health, but this fact doesn’t make the experience any easier. So, what can students do to make sure this doesn’t get too much? There’s no perfect, or one size fits all answer, but there are things you can do to make sure you are looking after yourself…

Firstly, make a note of the mental health provisions your university offers. It is of course a concern that many universities have already made provision for, with mental health offerings ramped up across universities in the UK. These will range from therapy provisions, to student union advice lines, welfare drop-in sessions, even podcasts, there should be a number of different options open to you. Many of us don’t like admitting when we need help, despite the fact we all need it at multiple points throughout our life, but this avoidance can get even worse if our mental health deteriorates. I would recommend, even if you feel fine, noting down all the provisions available to you as soon as you can, if you don’t end up using them, that’s great – but if you need them, you know they are there.

Secondly, try to build relationships with the people in your halls, just because you aren’t able to have house parties, doesn’t mean you can’t spend quality time with the people you are living with. Of course, this isn’t always an option, and sometimes flatmates can be a source of tension but this doesn’t have to be an ongoing problem. If that’s the case, make sure you flag it with your university, these things can often be resolved and there should be residential advisors who can help you.

Thirdly, and this might sound a bit geeky, but get a study group going with people from your course. Then, even if you are having to learn remotely, you are still making connections and forming relationships – these people will also be going through many of the same things you are experiencing and can provide some much needed solidarity.

Finally, it is vital you go easy on yourself. The beginning of university is such a hard time even when there isn’t a global pandemic. So, make sure you are checking in with yourself, not putting yourself under too much pressure, staying in regular contact with the people you love, and getting some much need TLC – and remember there will always be someone around to talk to, even if that does have to be virtually.

If you are really struggling remember there are organisations out there that can help including Mind and the Samaritans.

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