Stepping into your university in the UK for the first time, learning new methods and making new friends are all part of your exciting journey as an international student. At the same time, this whole experience can be daunting, particularly if you feel like you’re out of your comfort zone while learning how to live and study in a new climate.
Your university chapter is a big change, and regardless if you are an international or local student, know that transitioning to university is a huge step for all students. Remember that you are not alone in this experience.
Yes, you may feel anxious, distressed or sometimes isolated, as you are now away from home for the first time. The Covid-19 pandemic adds to the uncertainty along with having to cope with challenges such as cultural references or language issues plus financial concerns. For most international students, you may feel the pressure to meet the family expectation while studying abroad.
But, be assured that universities all around the UK are prioritising good mental health on their campuses. So we’ve put together a guide to help you, if you ever feel the need to reach out for support.
Counselling services at your university
Take the first steps by investigating if your campus has a free counselling service for students. Many do, with professionally qualified counsellors and psychotherapists, catering to undergraduates and postgraduates. These services are confidential and are located within the campus area for easy access. Make appointments with these professionals through the university’s website.
You may also benefit from services of a mental health adviser. Most UK universities have connections to the University Mental Health Advisers Network, which is a national UK charity. This organisation has nearly 20 years of experience and has one of the largest networks of mental health professionals working in the education sector.
At times speaking to an adult professional about mental health may leave you feeling uncomfortable, what more when you’re feeling anxious while coping with being away from home. You may prefer to speak to a peer or another student about your experience. Reach out to Student Minds, a UK mental health charity where professionals are trained to work with young people and equipped with student advisors. Added to that, you may benefit from student night line services, offered by most UK universities. These are channels operated by trained professionals and volunteers who offer non-judgemental, anonymous and importantly confidential support services for students.
If you are feeling the pressure from assignment or exam deadlines and feel helpless, don’t worry. Aside from counselling or therapy, you may also be entitled to “reasonable adjustments” such as extra time in exams, extensions on coursework, and specialist mental health mentor support. Speak to your school or student services to find out how you can access these considerations to help you manage your workload.
If you prefer, you may reach out to your friends or tutors to talk about your feelings and experiences instead. Mental health professionals suggest you go outside, or to common halls or cafeteria to meet your friends, while keeping a safe physical distance in the era of Covid-19. If that is unfeasible, reach out to a trusted friend on the phone or video call.
Mental health experts often suggest that having a routine is one approach to manage your anxiety. A schedule or routine can include keeping to regular mealtimes and eating balanced meals, while sticking to a regular sleeping time. If you’re able to go outside and head to public places, go for a walk at the local park or surround yourself with nature, or take up a physical activity such as sports, dancing or swimming. Even setting a weekly date to walk to the supermarkets helps you keep to a pattern that will be good for your mental wellbeing.
Disabled students’ allowance
There are options to help with your financial situation if you are facing long-term mental health conditions. The UK government offers the opportunity for students to apply for the Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA) to cover some of the extra costs because of a mental health problem, long term illness or any other disability. Conditions that are considered for the DSA include dyslexia or ADHD, anxiety or depression or physical disability, say if you have to use crutches, a wheelchair or a special keyboard. Other illnesses or disabilities include if you have sensory disability, for example if you’re visually impaired or have a hearing impairment or have cancer, chronic heart disease or HIV. Find out from your counsellor or student services if you qualify.