Six week blues

Six weeks into term and the new academic year … have you got the blues? Everything not all it was cracked up to be? Struggling or disappointed with your course? Not made as many friends as you’d hoped? Fed up with other people’s washing-up in the sink? Feeling lonely or missing home? You are not alone. It’s normal to experience difficulties with major transitions in life, and this is especially true for new students at university.

lone person near mountains and sea

A recent press report, ‘Student life – an easy life?’ (1), concerned a conference which addressed the belief that “university life is a whirlwind of fun, friends, parties and studying, yet for a significant number of students the experience of shared houses and group work on courses can cause old issues such as bullying and abuse to resurface, creating emotional distress and preventing them from enjoying the student lifestyle”.

The report mentions “other common problems experienced by students, such as feeling emotionally lost, being thrown into independence, living up to expectations and procrastination, a particular problem amongst young men”. Also mentioned are those students who experience difficulties particular to living at home while studying.

“There are also many issues which can affect those who do not fit the typical student profile, mature students can find it extremely difficult to be surrounded by young people, and often struggle to balance family, work and study. Students from different cultures can also suffer, for example the dominance of alcohol within the student population can be difficult if alcohol is not acceptable in your culture.”

Student depression has even been talked about on Radio 4 recently. On 15th September 2009, Woman’s Hour addressed ‘The stress of leaving home and going to university’ (2), and acknowledged that for many of the hundreds of thousands of young people starting University, “it’s the first time they have ever been away from home – and for some the pressure will prove overwhelming”. The programme featured the Students Against Depression website, which is “aimed at helping students who develop depression and has recruited 12 young people to share their stories on a Blog Ring so others can read it and see they are not on their own”.

“Everyone said university would be great, but for me it was torture. I felt miserably shy and alone, as if I was on one side of a glass wall and everyone else was on the other.” (3)

So what can you do?

Talking: talk to strangers

“Talk to strangers. Your mum may well have told you to stay away from them as a kid, but parties are for meeting people. By making the first move you have taken the pressure off the other person and they will probably be relieved to have someone to talk to” (4). If you haven’t yet made friends at Glamorgan, then try talking to a tutor, chaplain, resident tutor, mental wellbeing advisor or counsellor, or contact the Students’ Union (SU) Student Support Officer.

Homesickness: establish a routine

“The fuller your days are, the less time you will have to feel homesick or lonely” (5). Join a Students’ Union club or society – there is usually a range on offer so you are very likely to find something that suits your particular interests, and this is a good way to make friends and contacts who share your interests. Find out about Societies & Supported Activities on the Students’ Union website.

Food: eat stuff that helps

“Food can have an immediate and lasting effect on your mental health and well-being. Certain foods have been found to help people manage their moods and feelings.” (6)

Exercise: go for a walk/use the gym/join a dance class

There is evidence that “a programme of exercise … can be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild or moderate depression – and unlike drugs carries no risk of side effects” (7). Visit the Glamorgan Sport website for the Sports Centre Activity Programme.

Sleep: get enough shut-eye

“Sleeping on a problem really can help solve it, say scientists who found a dreamy nap boosts creative powers” (8).

Drinking: debunk the alcohol myths

Alcohol is a depressant so it’s not the best way to relax – it will lower your mood and affect the quality of your sleep. Things never look good the morning after! Read the NHS Choices web page on alcohol myths: Myths debunked

Support yourself: explore self-help useful links

Visit the Counselling and Mental Wellbeing web pages.

Be realistic: give yourself time to adjust

“Give yourself time to adjust: you don’t have to get everything right straight away. Nor do you have to rush into making major decisions about staying or leaving.” (9)

Look out for each other: help yourself by helping others

Feeling useful and helping others can help us feel more positive about ourselves too. On helping others who you can see struggling, ‘The Sprout’ features an article about living with a parent who has depression – much of what this article says about helping others also applies to looking out for your fellow students/housemates/friends.

Useful links / references

(1) Student life – an easy life?BACP Media Centre
(2) The stress of leaving home and going to university – Women’s Hour, Radio 4
(3) How to … cope with loneliness – Mind website
(4) Making friends at freshers’ week –
(5) and (9) Homesickness –
(6) Feeding Minds (the Nutrition Table is particularly helpful) – Mental Health Foundation
(7) Depressed denied exercise helpBBC News website
(8) Problems are solved by sleepingBBC News website