In a survey carried out by NUS in 2014, 78% of students said that they had experienced mental health difficulties within the past year. It can be really hard to recognise or accept that you are experiencing difficulties with your mental health, let alone seek out the kind of support that suits you.
It can be hard to talk about matters relating to your mental wellbeing - but if something's affecting your studies then it’s important to let the University know. The extenuating circumstances procedure is there to enable you to confidentially report any issues that are affecting your studies.
If you have any questions or concerns about informing the University about mental health issues, you can discuss things confidentially with a Just Ask adviser. The Just Ask service is completely independent of the University.
All kinds of situations can affect your state of mental health. Here are a few fictional examples:
- Lin is a postgraduate student from China who is struggling to settle into Bristol. She misses her family, and recently has been feeling down and unable to study. She failed a piece of coursework and has lost her confidence. She doesn’t feel able to talk to anyone about how she’s feeling and she’s finding it very difficult to revise for her exams.
- Georgina is a postgraduate research student who is struggling financially as she has little funding and also needs to support her family. She’s feeling under a lot of pressure due to her workload and is starting to have trouble sleeping at night. Her relationship is suffering and she’s starting to lose motivation for her work.
- Ahmed has been diagnosed with anxiety but has been managing this with help from the Student Counselling Service and adjustments via a Disability Support Summary. However, he has recently broken up with his girlfriend and is also worried by family issues at home, so is finding it harder than usual to cope.
- James was caring for his mother before coming to University, and since he left home her health has taken a turn for the worse. He’s struggling to cope with his studies as he’s worried about her and is feeling bad about not being at home any more.
- Pam has struggled to settle into halls and feels like everyone else has found a friendship group but she hasn’t. She’s considering leaving and coming back next year as she’s feeling so miserable and lonely.
- Ellie has just started at University, but she’s still living with her parents outside of the city to save money. She is feeling a bit isolated and that she’s missing out socially.
- Work load
- Exam pressures
- Adjusting to living independently
- Adjusting to a different culture
If you’re experiencing a dip in your mental health, you might feel worried about discussing it with people. It might seem intimidating having to speak to University staff, and you might worry that you’ll be judged, or that they might think you’re not well enough to study. Often students fear that no-one wants to hear about their problems, and might decide to keep struggling on alone. It can also be difficult to even recognise that you’re struggling with your mental health, especially if it’s the first time you’ve experienced it.
The most important thing is to talk to someone. It doesn’t have to be the University (although there are channels of support available there - see below). A Just Ask adviser can talk through any concerns you might have. We are not trained counsellors, but we can signpost you to suitable support services. Just Ask is a completely confidential service and we are independent from the University.
The University provide support via the Personal Tutor system (supported by Senior Tutors). It can be really good to talk to someone who understands the demands of your course and can give you practical advice about dealing with workload, etc. However, there are also other sources of support available.
If your mental health is affecting your studies, you can tell the University about it using the Extenuating Circumstances procedure. Filling in an EC form means that the University can take your ECs into account when deciding what happens if your marks end up being affected. It’s important that you fill in an EC form before the deadline (usually a couple of days after the end of each assessment period). Talk to a Just Ask adviser if you have any questions about this process.
Support within the University
- If you’re living in halls there’s support available via Senior Residents and Hall Wardens.
- The Student Health Service can also help. All the doctors there have an interest in mental health issues and are experienced in supporting students through times of difficulty. They can refer to various free therapies, as well as write letters of support if required.
- The University also run the Student Counselling Service, who offer 1:1 sessions, group sessions, drop in sessions and lots of self-help information. They are completely confidential, and will not share information about you with anyone else without your permission.
- The Big White Wall is an online supportive community which is available to all University of Bristol students.
- Nightline is a telephone-based listening and information service run by students, for students. They are happy to listen to anything you want to talk about. Call 0117 9266266 8pm-8am during term time.
- The library has a great list of books on looking after your mental health.
Other support around Bristol
- Bristol Wellbeing Therapies Service – Provides access to NHS services including one-to-one counselling, workshops, courses and groups.
- Bristol MIND – Local charity offering information and signposting, advocacy and advice, self-help groups and an out of hours telephone line.
- Changes Bristol – Local groups providing a safe non-judgmental and empathetic place for people to talk about their lives and gain support.
- Off the Record Bristol – Support service for young people, offering counselling and group support.
- The Sanctuary - A safe place where people expericing severe distress can go for support out of hours.
If you’re worried about someone else’s mental wellbeing, try to talk to them about how they’re feeling. Tell them that you’re worried about them and encourage them to talk about things. You could suggest that they get in touch with whichever of the support services above seems most appropriate for them. If you don’t feel able to talk to them, a Just Ask adviser would be happy to talk the situation through with you. If it looks like an emergency, then check our Urgent Help page.
Small things that could help
There are lots of things you can do to look after your mental wellbeing. Here are a few suggestions:
- Get a good night’s sleep.
The amount and quality of your sleep has a great impact on your mental health. Equally, your state of mental health can also affect your ability to get a good night’s sleep. Try to stick to a regular sleep routine – get up at the same time each day, and go to bed when you start feeling tired. It can help to avoid looking at a screen, avoid drinking alcohol and caffeine before bed and spend some time winding down, maybe having a bath or doing breathing or relaxation exercises.
- Eat healthily and exercise regularly.
This may seem like common sense but your physical and mental health are closely linked. Exercising can do wonders to release stress.
- Connect with nature.
Environments affect our stress levels, and natural settings have been shown to be the least stressful. There are loads of green spaces both within and around Bristol, so go and explore!
- Try mindfulness techniques.
This can help you stay in the moment and disengage yourself from anxieties or worries. The NHS has some useful basic information on mindfulness. The Student Counselling Service runs a regular mindfulness group.
- Connect with other people.
Social connections can help people avoid isolation and can be a great distraction from negative thought patterns. Bristol SU has loads of societies, groups and sports teams you could join.