best Years of
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?
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
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
• 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
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
• 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
• 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
For more information and advice about
mental health issues that may be
worrying you, go to youngminds.org.uk/
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
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.
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 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: studentminds.org.uk
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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."
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
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 youngminds.org.uk/anxiety
of students do not
use any formal
for mental distress.
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.
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
of students consider
themselves to have a mental
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.
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 youngminds.org.uk/
Deborah talks about her own experience
with mental health issues and what
she’s doing at university to help her
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
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
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.”
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.
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
• What services are already
• Are any other forms of support
available at your uni (e.g. peer
• 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
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
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
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
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
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.org.uk
YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity
committed to improving the emotional
wellbeing & mental health of children and
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 - Studentminds.org.uk
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.ac.uk
Nightline is a student listening service
which is open at night & run by students
Get Connected - Getconnected.org.uk
/ 0808 808 4994
Free, confidential telephone & email
helpline finding young people the best
help whatever the problem.
HeadMeds - Headmeds.org.uk
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 - Samaritans.org / 116 123
Samaritans volunteers listen in confidence
to anyone in any type of emotional
distress, without judging or telling people
what to do.
FRANK - Talktofrank.com / 0800 77 66 00
Confidential information & advice for
anyone concerned about their own or
someone else’s drug or solvent misuse.
STONEWALL - Stonewall.org.uk
Use Stonewall’s area database to
find local lesbian, gay, and bisexual
community groups, other generic services,
& gay friendly solicitors.
B-EAT youth helpline -
Fyp@b-eat.co.uk / 0845 634 7650
Information, help and support for anyone
affected by eating disorders.
TheSite.org – Thesite.org.uk
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 - Youthaccess.org.uk
Youth Access is a national membership
organisation for youth information,
advice & counselling agencies. Provides
information on youth agencies to people
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 -