University is a uniquely transformative time – a magical place where you can encounter your first K-hole, explore casual sex and learn the hard way that you can’t just live off pesto pasta, K cider and rollies.
This year’s students are having a very different experience.
Encouraged to head to campus for the start of the academic year, they were told only later that they now can’t leave their halls or return home. A time that should be reserved for learning and self-discovery has been replaced by anxiety and feelings of loneliness, angst, and despair as a result of COVID-19. All this for the sum of £9,000 a year – more if you’re an international student – just to attend remote lectures on your halls’ dodgy wifi.
The Centre for Mental Health predicts that around 10 million people – almost a fifth of the UK’s population – will develop long-lasting mental health problems as a result of the pandemic. Youth suicide prevention charity Papyrus has already warned that student life under lockdown is a threat to the fragile mental health of thousands of young people.
These statistics may seem pretty bleak, but there’s still plenty you can do if you’re at uni now and struggling yourself or if you’re worried about a friend or housemate.
CONTACT YOUR UNIVERSITY’S STUDENT WELLBEING SERVICE
Many universities are adapting to make sure their students can access their wellbeing services remotely. Sam Gamblin, charity manager at Birmingham-based charity United Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN), says that many mental health professionals in her network have reported a positive impact since services have been moved online.
“General feedback from them has been that attendance from students has been really good: there’s been far less cancellation of appointments,” Gamblin tells VICE. “Even if students haven’t liked the idea of remote support at first, they’ve come to realise it’s actually okay and they really like it.”
CONTACT YOUR STUDENT UNION
Student unions can also be useful sources of support. Nancy Collinge, the student union president at the Cortauld Institute of Art student union president, says they’ve been working around the clock alongside accommodation managers and front-line university staff to ensure mental health support is a priority. “I’ve been working with our wellbeing team on a new project called Silver Cloud, which is a remote online wellbeing service that people can access remotely, so hopefully that will be implemented soon.”
“I know that loads of students’ unions have put new support in place as a result of the pandemic,” Collinge adds. “This could mean lobbying for counselling services that go beyond term times, or advocating for the rights of students in halls. Sometimes it’s hard for students’ unions to get the backing from their institutions, but most should be able to provide support based on their past experience as students.”
USE ONLINE MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES AND APPS
There’s a wide range of online resources, services and apps available to young people in the UK struggling with their mental health. Liverpool John Moores University is just one of many unis to have partnered with digital services as a result of the crisis, encouraging students who are struggling with anxiety, depression, or low moods to access them.
Each university may have different third-party services available, but online services such as Student Minds are free and accessible to all students across the UK. Student Minds recently launched Student Space, a new feature that can be accessed remotely and provides information and advice from experts on navigating everything from studying to your social life, as well as 24/7 phone, webchat or text support from trained volunteers.
“I think we’ll see a real surge in online services and apps because they make it way more accessible to ask for help, which is such a big problem when people are struggling,” says Collinge.
REACH OUT TO OUT OF HOURS SUPPORT
A number of UK-based charities are dedicated to providing support to young people in crisis. There are often waiting lists for student wellbeing services or referrals to health services, so crisis lines are a good way to get direct help and have a chat with a trained professional. They’re also free to dial, so don’t worry about getting charged.
CALM: 0800 58 58 58
Samaritans: 116 123
The Mix: 0808 808 4994 / Text “THEMIX” to 85258
Papyrus HOPELINE: 0800 068 4141 / Text 0786 0039 967
Switchboard (LGBTQ+): 0300 330 0630
LOOK OUT FOR ONE ANOTHER
It can often be difficult to reach out for help, so if you notice that one of your coursemates has been a bit quieter or hasn’t turned up to a Zoom lecture, or your flatmate hasn’t really left their room all day, a simple “You alright mate? I’m here if you want to chat” goes a long way. Samaritans have a useful guide on how to check in with people and you can also call or text the Papyrus HOPELINE (contact deets above) if you’re concerned about someone you know.