at university

powered by

Your Guide

to Coping

on Campus


University: The

best Years of

your life?

The best years of your life. That’s

what everyone says about your time

at university, right? The freedom, the

independence, three years (or more)

of partying, occasionally fitting in

a bit of work for the degree you’ve

chosen in between nights out at the

students’ union… Jasmine speaks

about her experience

These are the years to really live it

up before you’re thrown into the “real

world”, before you’re burdened with bills

and mortgages, before you get stuck in

the rat race of work and responsibilities.

But what if university doesn’t give

you the best years of your life? What if

they’re stressful and daunting? What if

they’re some of the worst years?

Not Alone

If you’re not enjoying your time at

university, this can be quite an isolating

experience. If the prevailing narrative

suggests that everyone is having a

brilliant time while you’re having a

miserable one, it’s easy to get the

impression that you’re the only one who

feels like this.

So, I’d like to take the opportunity

now to say to anyone who isn’t enjoying

their time at university, to anyone

unhappy at university – you are not

alone. You are not the only one. I didn’t

enjoy my time at university either, and

there’s no shame in admitting this.

There are many reasons why

someone might not enjoy university.

The course may not be what you

expected, you may miss home, you

may struggle to find friends, or you

might not be getting the pastoral

support you need. These problems

are all bad enough in themselves,

but they can also be exacerbated by

poor mental and physical health. It’s

important to recognise that for many

students with mental health problems,

their time spent at university will be

very difficult indeed.


Breaking the Cycle

Bad experiences at university and poor

mental health continuously reinforce

each other in a vicious circle. If you

have poor mental health, it can affect

your attendance at lectures, your

ability to socialise, and your ability to

live independently. But struggling in all

these areas can worsen mental health

– and so, the cycle continues.

We need to break this cycle. The first

step is to acknowledge the problem.

We cannot help students who are

suffering if we don’t acknowledge

that they’re ill or unhappy. We must

recognise their experiences as real,

as true, without invalidating them by

constantly saying “but these are the

best years of your life!”

I want to tell you, if you’re a student

suffering from stress or from mental

health problems, you are not the

problem and you’re not alone.

We worked with YoungMinds to

create this zine because not everyone

enjoys their time at university. We

hope these articles and tips will help

you cope on campus - and we hope

they will inspire you to campaign for

better mental health services at your


Students have had

feelings of mental


What’s the


We all have mental health, just like we

all have physical health. Just as our

bodies can become unwell, our minds

can become unwell too. Some of the

most common mental health problems



Everyone feels ‘down’ or sad

sometimes, but if you find yourself

experiencing low mood for a significant

period of time, you may be suffering

from depression. If you’re experiencing

these symptoms, it may well be worth

seeking medical advice:

• Feeling low or sad for many days

or weeks in a row

• Feeling hopeless, guilty or tearful

• Not wanting to socialise and

avoiding friends or family

• Losing interest in things that

previously made you happy or


• Having trouble getting motivated or

making decisions

• Having thoughts of self-harm or


• Everyday tasks feeling like a


• Difficulty getting to sleep or staying


• Changes in appetite or weight

• Lacking in energy

• Losing interest in sex

• Unexplained aches and pains


Anxiety is a normal response to

stressful life experiences or big

challenges, such as moving away from

home or sitting an important exam.

However, anxiety becomes a mental

health issue if feelings of fear or panic

are very strong or last for a long time.

These are some of the symptoms:

• Feeling frightened or ‘on edge’


• Difficulty concentrating

• Feeling irritable and withdrawing

from social situations

• Feeling restless, dizzy, unusually

tired, or tense

• Experiencing a panic attack

• Muscle aches or tension

• Trembling or shaking

• Stomach aches and a feeling of


• Dry mouth

• Excessive sweating

• A strong, fast or irregular heartbeat

or shortness of breath

• Difficulty falling asleep or staying


Eating Disorders

The most common three eating

disorders are Anorexia, Bulimia and

Compulsive Eating Disorder. If you’re

experiencing some of these symptoms,

you may be suffering from an eating


• Skipping meals or eating very

small portions

• Obsessively counting calories or

avoiding eating any fatty foods

• Making yourself sick after eating

• Compulsively exercising

• Using laxatives, diuretics or diet

pills to control your weight

• Weighing yourself or checking your

body in the mirror compulsively

• Thinking about food constantly

• Losing your hair or having very dry


• Looking at ‘thinspiration’ or proanorexic


• Eating large amounts of food

until you feel sick or physically

uncomfortable (bingeing)

• Being consumed with guilt and

shame after eating

• Eating in secret because you’re

embarrassed about the amount of

food you’re eating

• Avoiding social situations where

there is food, such as meals out

with friends

For more information and advice about

mental health issues that may be

worrying you, go to


Where can I find

Support on Campus?

Hopefully, you’ll be able to find support from one of

the services below. However, not everyone can get the

support they need, when they need it, and if that’s the

case at your uni, see the campaigning section in this

zine to see what you can do to fight for better mental

health support on your campus

Your GP

If you’re struggling to cope, a good first step is to talk

to your GP - make sure you’re registered with one at

your uni. It can help to write down what you’ve been

going through before your visit.

University Counselling

Most universities have counselling services, which

will give you the chance to talk through your

experiences in a non-judgemental space. Find out

more on your uni’s website.

Student Minds

Student Minds run support groups, especially

focusing on depression and eating disorders, which

are led by other students. Find out if they have

groups at your university:

Tutors and student welfare officers

There may be a tutor assigned to give you pastoral

support, or a student welfare officer you can talk to.

In an emergency

If you’re about to harm yourself or have already done

so, phone 999 or go to A&E and explain that you’re

at risk.

There are tips for coping on campus throughout this

zine, and we’ve listed lots more organisations who

can help on the back page. You’re not alone.

Mental Health

Problems Can

Affect Anyone

Josh talks about his experience of

mental illness at university and the

steps he took to look after himself.

I definitely felt pressure to be having as

much fun as possible during my three

year stint at university. Unfortunately

though, however hard I tried, I just

couldn’t enjoy myself.

I was obeying all of the rules: be

part of a sports team, check; read lots

of politics, check; do a hell of a lot

of drinking, check; meet a lot of new

women, check. But despite all of this,

I still felt awful. No matter what I tried,

I couldn’t shake away the feeling of


Something Wasn’t Right

After being stoic for two years, I

finally decided I couldn’t bear the

pain anymore. On arriving home from

a summer internship placement in

London, I broke down in front of my

parents and told them that something

wasn’t right. I didn’t know what the

problem was, but I knew that I couldn’t

carry on. It wasn’t until I went to see a

counsellor that I found out that I was

actually suffering from a mental illness.

Fast forward a month, after a lot

of time spent in bed resting and with

some counselling sessions underneath

my belt, I was beginning to formulate

a decent understanding of my illness.

I was suffering from post-traumatic

stress disorder (PTSD) and I had

symptoms of depression and anxiety. I

was shocked, but more than anything

very confused about this diagnosis. I

hadn’t previously known much about

mental illnesses, and therefore hadn’t

had any idea that I could be suffering

from one.

Reach Out

The strangest aspect of suffering from a

mental illness was the fact that, despite

feeling awful for such an extended

period of my life, it took me a long time

to realise that I was ill. In my opinion

we need to abolish the ubiquitous ‘stiff

upper lip’ culture in Britain, because

it is potentially fatal to not reach out

for the help you need. If you feel like

something is not quite right - if you’re

drinking for the wrong reasons, if

seeing friends is becoming a chore

instead of a joy - then do not hesitate to

see a doctor at uni.

Mental health is becoming

increasingly high on the public

agenda, and your uni should have the

appropriate facilities and knowledge

to help you. If I had reached out for

support earlier than I did, who knows

how much more comfortable university

may have been for me? I would hate

for others to make the same mistake.

Self Care

After a pretty tough summer I decided to attempt

my final year of uni while still caring for my mental

health. Going back to university was difficult, but

there were things I could do to make my time easier.

These included:

1. Exercising.

Jogging, running, swimming, anything that helped

get my endorphins flowing.

2. Accepting that I was ill.

This was difficult because mental illness isn’t as

tangible as a physical condition. However, trying to

pretend I was fine only made things worse. I had to

be kind to myself and put in the correct self-care.

3. Maintaining relationships.

Socialising seemed like a pretty arduous task at

times, but it helped to stay connected with

the world.

4. Cutting down on alcohol.

Drinking might have made me feel better in the

short-term, but it only masked the problem rather

than solving it.

5. Looking after my body.

This meant improving my diet, sleeping well, and

drinking plenty of water.

6. Speaking to others about my illness.

This was the most important thing I did, and by

leaning on those close to me, I was able to get the

day-to-day support I needed.

"I was diagnosed with PTSD & anxiety

during my final year of undergraduate

studies. Without the help of student

services (particularly the mental health

and wellbeing team) I wouldn't have had

the confidence to complete my course,

then return & study my Masters."

Anxiety at

University and

Learning to Cope

University is a daunting time for many

of us, but when do freshers’ nerves turn

into anxiety? Jasmine talks about her

experience of anxiety at uni and the

things that helped her cope.

It’s hard for me to determine the point

when shyness turned into pathological

social anxiety, but I’d say it was at

least a decade ago, if not before that

still. School was extremely difficult for

me because of it, but at least when

I was a child I had some hope that

when I reached adulthood and my

circumstances changed accordingly

(i.e. once I was no longer at school)

things might change. I fantasised that

I would one day become a confident,

popular, happy person – perhaps this

would happen at university?

That didn’t happen.

Trapped in a vicious circle of anxiety

and depression, both of which had

been present but untreated for many

years and continuously fed into each

other, the move to university only

exacerbated the problems. Although I

had been very unhappy for a long time,

it was clear that the familiarity of home

and my parents’ presence had, to a

small extent, previously been protective

factors. Now, in an unfamiliar place

surrounded by unfamiliar people, while

other students were enjoying what they

saw as their new-found freedom and

independence, I was panicking about

these new sources of fear.

Beyond Freshers’ Nerves

Of course, it’s normal to feel a little

nervous about starting university. But

I was definitely beyond a little nervous

– I was overwhelmed by anxiety. And

unfortunately, it became transparent

very quickly that I did not know how

to cope.

A lot of my earliest memories of my

time at university are of my experiences

suffering from anxiety. Feeling so

anxious at a night at the students’ union

that I had to leave after a few minutes

of just standing awkwardly at the side

of the room. Feeling left out of the

flatmate group within less than a week

because I was too anxious to go out

with them. Being too anxious to speak

to anyone at a party in my flat and

leaving after standing there awkwardly

alone for five minutes, feeling very


These experiences, as you would

expect, did not help my mood. To be

quite frank, my first year at university

was hellish. I was anxious, isolated,

lonely, depressed. I had few friends

and barely left my room unless I had

to. These anxious experiences were

intensely painful at the time.

Learning to Cope

I think it’s important to stress that

anxiety is not a choice, and people who

suffer from anxiety are not simply lazy

or failing to try hard enough. Anxiety

can be overwhelming and debilitating,

and uni life was particularly hard for

me. But there is hope. I found some

ways to help with my anxiety. Taking a

few simple actions can help to reduce

the sense of panic and its resulting


These are some of things that

helped me cope:

Listening to loud music

This is the singular most helpful thing

that I did to cope. Music is life.

Going for a walk

I often went for walks in the evening

as this was often the worst time, and I

found it quite peaceful.

Asking for Help

Finally, the best advice I can offer is to

ask for help. Anxiety is a very isolating

experience, but you really are not

alone. And as stressful and anxietyinducing

as seeking help can be in

itself, talking to someone and receiving

support is the only way to overcome it.

It will not magically disappear, as I once

naively hoped it would.

Just remember, seeking help is a

courageous act. And you are so, so

brave for doing it. And even if you don’t

feel able to seek help at this time, you

are so, so brave for existing while living

under the weight of anxiety. The world

can be a terrifying place, but when you

survive its harshest moments, you are

at your strongest.

For more info on coping with anxiety,

go to


of students do not

use any formal

support services

for mental distress.

Getting Help

with Depression

at University

At university, James struggled with

depression. James writes about his

experience of depression and how he

looked for help.

“Depression, what’s that?” I thought, as

I was looking down a list of symptoms,

ticking off more than half of them. It was

early 2014 and I had officially cracked.

High Expectations

University was the dream, ever since

I went to my interview and fell in love

with it. I am based in Carlisle but my

home town is Sunderland, so I was

plonked in a house with 11 different

people. With just a few familiar items

from home, I had to adjust. There is a

lot of pressure to succeed at university

in terms of grades and when you feel

that you’re not meeting your potential,

you do get down. But when you set the

bar so unreasonably high and have

done your entire educational career,

you are destined to be disappointed.

Everything I was doing was a perceived

failure because that bar was too high.

There is also a big, big pressure

to socialize and go out (clubbing/

pub crawling). This was the second

problem: I could get on with people but

felt the opposite of comfortable about

the idea of going out, so when I didn’t,

I apologised for my “failing” to do so. I

didn’t want to go into a place where I

would be uncomfortable but staying in

the halls just made things worse and

occasionally drove me to self-harm

because of the anger I had against


There is not a pressure as such at

university for relationships but I was

driven to think there was. All of my

actual friends (half of the 11 I was put

in a house with) were in long-term

relationships which gave me a feeling

of inadequacy as I had no one. They

were my friends and they were happy

and I should have been happy for them

- not jealous of what they had. I was

driven down, thinking that I needed

to get a girlfriend and only then will I

be happy.


of students consider

themselves to have a mental

health problem

Getting Help

These are the things that brought

me down at university and led to

depression taking over my life. My

mother helped me find the local NHSrun

mental health service after a close

university friend said that the mental

health service at our uni hadn’t been

helpful for her friend. So, I enrolled in

classes, 30 minutes a week or two at

the local medical practice. After a few

months, I was prepared to give up, just

stop CBT therapy and put up with it.

Nothing was working in these classes.

The next session I went to call the

whole thing off. I addressed the fact

that it wasn’t working and they said

“you can move up to the next level if

you want?” ”Try that”. These sessions

were an hour long and more intensive.

The next week came. Sceptical but

open-minded, I went in and after a few

months it still felt like it wasn’t working

but persistence paid off. Every week

I was talking about problems, then

tracking my mood and the problems

linked to its decline. We worked out

a plan and I was discharged with a

weight off my shoulders. I still get the

occasional day or few days of low

mood but that’s normal.

Moving Forward

It is hard, really hard, when you are

stuck in the low mood rut. It is hard

to get up in the morning, concentrate

on your work and even get to sleep at

night because you are afraid bad things

are going to happen. But if you are

reading this, you are not alone, there is

help out there.

For more info on coping with

depression, go to





Deborah talks about her own experience

with mental health issues and what

she’s doing at university to help her

fellow students.

I have lived with anxiety & depression

since I was 16, although I wasn’t

diagnosed until I was 20, after a

suicide attempt. During this time I

excelled academically but increasingly

felt like a hopeless failure, that all my

successes were undeserved and that

I would never feel happy again. My

descent into depression and failure felt

inevitable, and living, let alone finishing

a degree, felt impossible. However,

after several months away from

university, medication, lots of therapy

and a lot of support from family, friends

and my university I am much better and

about to resume my studies.

Looking back, I am able to recognise

that my ‘descent into failure’ wasn’t

inevitable and that it shouldn’t have

taken a suicide attempt before I

received the necessary support from

my university. Students at university

are expected to be proactive in their

academic and personal lives and

ask for help when they need it. This

makes sense in theory but to work in

practice, universities must make their

support services visible and staff must

be approachable.

Project Wellness

I, along with two other students,

have recently created an initiative to

improve student wellbeing within our


Many of my peers have also faced

mental health issues while studying but

none of us spoke out. As a result we

felt isolated and unable to ask for help.

I hope that our drop-in will create a

safe and non-judgemental environment

where students can discuss their

wellbeing with their peers and find out

about the support available to them.

Most students running the drop-in have

also dealt with mental health issues so,

through the sharing of experiences, we

hope to create an open dialogue within

the department about mental health,

stress, and staying healthy.

We hope that surveying student

wellbeing will create a more positive

learning environment for students.

Our survey asks students about their

mood, workload, module difficulty,

staff approachability and experiences

of support services. Students don’t

always feel able to raise concerns

with staff, especially if those staff will

be assessing them, so we hope that

surveys will allow students to express

their opinions confidentially.

The main aims of Project Wellness are to:

1.Create a student-run drop-in.

2. Regularly survey student wellbeing.

3. Improve staff awareness of the wellbeing issues

faced by students and how to support them.

4. Promote the fact that everyone’s in the same boat.

Each and every student has the same (&

different) fears. You are not alone. It’s okay to

be worried.

5. Liaise with staff to reduce unnecessary stresses

faced by students.

6. Distribute a guide to support services to

students and staff.

For advice on setting up a mental health support

group, or to see if one exists already, go to

“I hope that our drop-in will create a

safe & non-judgemental environment

where students can discuss their

wellbeing & find out about the support

available to them.”

Reducing Stress

With 20% of students considering

themselves to have a mental health

problem it’s vital to reduce unnecessary

stress on students. We currently work

with staff to make minor changes such

as making assessment criteria more

explicit to improve wellbeing because

minor stresses can combine to place

significant stress on students.

Our final aim is to distribute a guide

to the support services within, and

without, our university to allow students

to be more proactive in finding support.

At our university it is possible to

renegotiate deadlines, take time out,

and receive mentoring, counselling,

and special exam arrangements.


on Campus

Some universities have great mental

health support services, meaning that

the students at those universities are

able to get the help that they need. But

unfortunately, the national picture is

very inconsistent, with other universities

lacking good mental health support.

Many students across the country

are unable to get help, because the

services they need aren’t there, or the

waiting lists are too long, or because

there simply isn’t sufficient awareness

of the reality of living with mental health


Every university should be providing

good-quality mental healthcare to its

students, and we hope that this zine will

inspire you to act if the services at your

uni aren’t good enough. If you’d like to

campaign for better mental healthcare

at your uni, here are some things to

take into consideration:

• What makes a good mental

healthcare service?

• What services are already


• Are any other forms of support

available at your uni (e.g. peer

support group)?

• How should you raise awareness

of the issue on campus?

• How should you get other

students / the students’ union /

the college on board?

Here are 5 suggestions to make your

campaign successful:

1. Set up a mental health society: if there isn’t one

already! If you don’t want, or can’t get, official

union ratification as a society, don’t worry - you

can still have a dedicated working group.

2. Contact student media to spread the word: write

articles for the student newspaper, write a blog

for the union website, speak about the campaign

on the student radio station - publicity is key in

raising awareness.

3. Get an expert in to talk to students: this could be

a mental health professional, an academic from

the Psychology department, or someone from a

mental health charity - or all three!

4. Make it fun: hold enjoyable events to raise

awareness, such as a comedy night or a live

music night, and allow people to get creative

making posters to put up around campus.

5. Make use of social media: sounds obvious, but

it is worth emphasising how useful it can be to

help amass a following. Running a concerted

campaign across multiple platforms will reach

out to the most people - people who can then be

mobilised to come and vote for your motion!

For more ideas for campaigning on campus, check



Here’s a draft motion which you can adapt for your

students’ union.

Motion to campaign for better mental

healthcare services at our university

This Union notes:

1.That, according to NUS research, 20% of

students consider themselves to have a mental

health problem;

2.That 13% of students have suicidal thoughts;

3.That 64% of students do not use any formal

support services for their mental distress.

This Union believes:

1.That good mental healthcare services are a right;

2.That poor mental health negatively impacts on

many aspects of student life, including academic


This Union resolves:

1.To run a campaign to raise awareness of mental

health and the insufficient services on campus;

2.To lobby the college to provide better mental


This Union mandates:

1.The President, Campaigns Officer and Welfare

Officer to organise an awareness campaign with

interested students;

2.The President, Campaigns Officer and Welfare

Officer to work with interested students to take this

issue to the relevant college officials.

Where to find help

Don’t suffer in silence. If you’re struggling with

how you feel, these organisations can help.

Young Minds -

YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity

committed to improving the emotional

wellbeing & mental health of children and

young people.

YoungMinds Vs is a mass movement of

young people campaigning about bullying,

access to counselling, early sexualisation

and school & university stress. This zine

was inspired by YoungMinds Vs Stress at


Student Minds -

Student Minds is the UK’s student mental

health charity, giving students the skills,

knowledge and confidence to talk about

their mental health & look out for their


Nightline –

Nightline is a student listening service

which is open at night & run by students

for students.

Get Connected -

/ 0808 808 4994

Free, confidential telephone & email

helpline finding young people the best

help whatever the problem.

HeadMeds -

Straight talk on mental health medication.

Look up your medication to find out about

side effects & things you might not feel

comfortable asking your GP about.

Samaritans - / 116 123

Samaritans volunteers listen in confidence

to anyone in any type of emotional

distress, without judging or telling people

what to do.

FRANK - / 0800 77 66 00

Confidential information & advice for

anyone concerned about their own or

someone else’s drug or solvent misuse.


Use Stonewall’s area database to

find local lesbian, gay, and bisexual

community groups, other generic services,

& gay friendly solicitors.

B-EAT youth helpline - / 0845 634 7650

Information, help and support for anyone

affected by eating disorders. –

A online guide to life for 16 to 25 yearolds.

It provides non-judgmental support

& information on everything from sex &

exam stress to debt and drugs.

Youth Access -

Youth Access is a national membership

organisation for youth information,

advice & counselling agencies. Provides

information on youth agencies to people

aged 11-25.

Edited by Jasmine Wyeth, Grace

Veenman, James Reay, Harrie

Williamson and YoungMinds

Photographs by Francisco Osorio

are from University Life, licensed

under CC BY 2.0

Statistics Source: NUS, 2013”

Designed by James Reay -

Similar magazines