How to stay mentally healthy at university

Last reviewed 22 September 2021

COVID-19 has brought many challenges for students – online learning, social distancing, changes to assessments... With restrictions having been eased and the vaccine rollout progressing well, things are starting to get back to normal and many universities are offering more face-to-face teaching and social activities this year. But you might still have some concerns, whether you’re a fresher who has lost their confidence after the A Level disruption or a final year student who is worried about the job market.

With the Office for Students acknowledging that many students did not receive enough mental health support last year, around one in 10 students (9%) who took part in a recent recent survey by The Student Room (2 August - 1 September 2021) said they would like advice on managing their mental health at university. The Student Room survey also revealed that more than a fifth (21%) of students who are going to university this autumn said they need support for life skills (e.g. cooking and cleaning), 16% want advice on money management and 13% need academic support to prepare for classes.

The team at London’s digital mental wellbeing service, Good Thinking, has put together this toolkit for students. Originally created to mark #WorldMentalHealthDay (October 2020) and updated for the 2021/22 academic year, it contains recommendations for free NHS-approved mental wellbeing apps, including Student Health App, Clear Fear and Combined Minds, as well as links to our self-assessment tool and expert advice.

Our message for you is simple: It’s OK to not feel OK. You’re living through a global pandemic, which has disrupted every part of your life. But you also have the right to feel better. We know from our conversations with young people and with student organisations that there is a lot of uncertainty and that you might need some extra support at this time.

With record numbers of students heading to university in 2021/22, we hope you find this toolkit useful. Don’t forget, you can contact your university’s wellbeing, welfare and finance services to discuss any particular concerns. You can also get in touch with Shout (text STUDENT to 85258) or Samaritans (call 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org). If you need urgent help, you can find details of support organisations on Good Thinking’s Urgent Support page.

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  1. Stay connected – as COVID-19 restrictions have been eased and in-person lectures, seminars and social activities can take place, this academic year should feel more normal. Make the most of opportunities to meet new people (e.g. through clubs and societies) and have fun with your friends – just bear in mind that cases of COVID-19 remain high. Stay in touch with your family via phone calls, texts and video chat and be honest about how you’re feeling so that they can support you. You might also find it useful to join an online community, such as The Student Room, where you can share your experiences with other students.
  2. Be physically active – whether you walk, run, cycle, go to the gym or join a university sports club, being active is great for your mental wellbeing too. You might also like to try some workouts on YouTube or download a fitness app to keep you on track. If you’re doing any of your learning virtually or spending lots of time studying at a desk, make sure you schedule time for fresh air and exercise breaks.
  3. Learn something new each day – of course, you’ll be learning lots of new stuff on your course but why not see if there are any clubs or societies you could join? If they aren’t running events in person, they might have moved them online. You could also take this time to teach yourself something new, like how to cook a meal you’ve not tried before.
  4. Give to others – acts of kindness don’t only help other people, they can also give you a feeling of purpose. It can be as simple as asking a friend how they are and spending some time with them. If any of your friends are feeling anxious or stressed, you can use the free Combined Minds app to support them. You might also like to volunteer for a local charity or take part in a fundraising campaign that your university is running.
  5. Pay attention to the present moment – being aware of your thoughts and the world around you can help to improve your mental wellbeing. If you feel frustrated that your university experience is different to how you wanted it to be, you might like to download a mindfulness or meditation app.

For more information, read our five ways to good mental wellbeing article. We've also started producing wellbeing guides for different faith and belief communities – check them out here.

Going to university is very exciting but it can also be nerve-racking, especially if you’ve never lived away from home or if you have money worries. Indeed, a recent survey by The Student Room found that more than a fifth (21%) of university students say they need support for life skills (e.g. cooking, cleaning and laundry) and 16% want advice on money management.

To help you deal with the practicalities and worry less, the Good Thinking team has put together a list of links to useful websites and also created a checklist to help you decide what to pack for university. We'll be publishing other checklists soon (to help with e.g. living on a budget) so watch this space!

Your university's website should also contain lots of helpful information and, if you're feeling especially anxious or you have a specific support need, you can always talk to your university's wellbeing, welfare or finance service. The Student Space website contains a really useful ‘Find support at your university’ page – simply type in the name of your uni and it provides links to the services on offer.

If you're starting university for the first time, some universities are offering online chats with current students so that you can find out more about life on campus – or you might like to check out The Student Room forums.

You might be feeling anxious about starting at, or going back to, university. This might include how you'll keep up with your studies, manage your finances or meet new people during Freshers Week. You might also be worried about the risk of COVID-19 and the vaccine status of other students. Good Thinking has lots of tools to help you manage any feelings of anxiety (and to support your friends if they feel the same).

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If you’re struggling to get to sleep or waking in the night, you’re not alone – research shows that many people are experiencing sleep problems due to COVID-19. Rest and relaxation is really important for both your physical and mental health so Good Thinking provides a range of resources to support you in your quest for a good night’s sleep.

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  • Apps: Check out these NHS-approved apps that are free to anyone who lives, studies or works in London – Be Mindful, Meditainment, tomo and Twilight.
  • Self-assessment: Use Good Thinking’s sleep self-assessment. It only takes 20 minutes to complete and provides a guiding diagnosis, helpful resources and next steps.
  • Article: Discover Good Thinking’s tips about How to get enough sleep.
  • Podcast: Get advice from an NHS sleep expert in Good Thinking’s podcast about sleep.
  • Workbooks: Learn more about sleep and self-compassion in these Centre for Clinical Interventions workbooks.

Concerns about starting or being back at university might be affecting your mood. If so, there are lots of things you can do to build your resilience and help you to stay positive. The Good Thinking resources below are a good place to start.

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Stress is a perfectly normal reaction to a threat – it prepares you for ‘fight or flight’. But if it’s affecting your daily life, Good Thinking can recommend free NHS-approved apps to help lower your stress. On our website, you’ll also find advice about managing stress during the COVID-19 pandemic and you can use our self-assessment tool to get a better understanding of why you’re stressed.

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