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Catharine Hammond gives her advice to freshers who might be worried about how starting university will affect their mental health. 

So you’re starting university: you know which vaccinations you need, but do you know the mental advice you need too?

Following the suicides of six university students, Bristol has expanded its student-counselling and wellbeing services to accommodate more students struggling with mental health issues. These services are equipped to deal with a variety of mental health issues: including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating-disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality disorders and depression.

Not a lot of people will discuss this side of university, but it isn’t all sunshine, nights out and rainbows, it is tough.

This offers great hope to students who are receptive to professional help and support, but for others this news changes nothing. These students are the ones who will end up suffering in silence because they find it physically and mentally impossible – for whatever reason – to speak out.

This article is for those who might come to university and struggle in silence. I am here to tell you that you can turn your life around, even when you feel completely hopeless. However, before I explain how, I am going to talk about core-belief systems – this is something I learnt in therapy, and I’m letting you in on it for FREE, so pay attention!

Your core-belief system is your internal compass which informs how you think and identify yourself every day. Whatever they might be, you hold numerous core-beliefs about yourself. These are formed and cultivated during your childhood, and your thoughts, behaviours and feelings maintain them into adulthood.

Here is the downside to our core-beliefs: they can be good or bad, and true or false. So, if you are the sort of person who holds false and/or negative core-beliefs about yourself, you may find that you are more susceptible to mental health problems because they are a response to internal trauma.

Whilst your bad and false core-beliefs are hard to transform overnight, you can change the thoughts, behaviours and feelings which maintain them.


Here are some pointers on looking after your mental health, from the privacy and comfort of your own home:

  1. Make your room a safe, homely and positive place. This can be on a budget – I know friends who have cut out jazzy magazine backgrounds and backed them onto coloured paper – and their rooms look
  2. Of course, there is a drinking culture at university. Whilst you don’t have to drink, you may choose to. If you do, make sure you are also participating in activities where alcohol isn’t present. Trust me, you don’t need a bottle of wine in you to be liked and it’s an expensive thing to do all the time – especially if it becomes a coping mechanism!
  3. More people than not will struggle at some point during their time at university. Degrees are marathons not sprints. Not a lot of people will discuss this side of university, but it isn’t all sunshine, nights out and rainbows, it is tough.
  4. You don’t have to voice your mental health issues to a bunch of people you have just met. However, it might be a nice idea to invite your new flatmates to try out a society or mental health workshop, such as the mindfulness programme run by the university. This is a subtle way to indicate that you are struggling, while also strengthening connections and doing something which will do you and your new flatmates good.
  5. You wouldn’t think that a friend who is feeling down is pathetic or a burden, so why would it make sense to think that about yourself?

You don’t have to personally suffer from a mental health problem to help others. It doesn’t make your advice any less credible. If someone turns to you for help, don’t think you have to turn into Bruce Almighty and respond with pearls of wisdom. If someone feels comfortable enough to open up to you, celebrate that. You don’t have to relate, but you can be there – even if just physically – for them.

You are capable of getting through university with a mental health problem, and you are capable of over-coming it. You can make the choice to change and you are worthy of help. You know how to turn your life around. You have all the tools that you need; stop fighting your own intuition – it is usually right!


You have no idea the worth of your life and how many people you can touch, inspire and help through the struggles that you are feeling right now – struggles that will soon become a distant memory. Please try and talk to others, and if you physically can’t please follow the advice above and your gut feelings. Finally, if you are reading this and know someone who is struggling, promise them every chance you get that they will eventually be okay.


Did you know how best to look after your mental health when you first came to university? Comment below and let us know!

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