Big Issues

How To Take Care Of Your Mental Health As A Brand New Uni Student

From completing assignments to making friends.

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The National Tertiary Student Wellbeing Survey 2016 found that a third of students perceived their mental health at university as poor. If you’re about to start uni for the first time, or return for another year, it’s important to think about how you’ll keep your mental health in check.

We took the time to ask Professor Debra Rickwood from the School of Psychology at the University of Canberra about how you can balance your uni work with good mental health. Here’s what she said.

Make Your Degree Flexible

Prof Rickwood says you need to plan your course so the units you take are transferable between different degrees.

“Many people change course after first year,” she says. “So try to do units that you might be able to use in a number of different courses so that if you do change course they do still count towards your degree.”

She says it’s also a good idea to consider not taking on a full study load if you don’t cope well with stress. “It’s better off to start off just doing a couple of units getting them under your belt figuring out what you have to do to get your confidence and then building up.”

Only Socialise When You Can 

Withdrawing from others can be a common side effect of poor mental health. Prof Rickwood says this makes social interaction difficult, so the best thing you can do is take advantage of good days.

“On the days that you’re feeling well and on top of things really try to make an effort to try to engage with someone sitting next to you in a lecture or a tute,” she suggests. “Do some group work try to take some small steps in terms of meeting other people.”

She says peer support groups are another good method. “This is where young people who have mental health problems work together to support each other. Peers can be more accepting and more understanding of the challenges of having a mental illness and that breaks down the stigma and is a way of coping better.”

Try To Go Easy 

Many students go from doing extremely well in high school to not maintaining the same results at uni. Prof Rickwood says it’s important to find ways to reduce pressure on yourself.

be prepared for “near enough is good is enough”

“You know there’s a funny saying, ‘P’s get degrees’. Get through your work and take a little bit of pressure off yourself,” she says.

Rickwood adds that it’s important to look at what you need to achieve for your discipline and work towards an achievable goal. “You need to figure out what you need to get through your course, set what the minimum is and sometimes be prepared for “near enough is good is enough”.”

“Be more accepting that you can’t be perfect, you won’t be perfect and getting through your course is more important.”

Plan Your Workload

Mental illnesses such as depression largely impact that person’s motivation. Prof Rickwood says organisation is key.

“Set up a plan in little bite size chunks so that you can take small steps and you don’t suddenly have a monumental task that you can’t motivate yourself to do,” she says. “Set yourself small steps and you’ll be surprised what you can achieve.” She also suggests working with a buddy so you can motivate each other.

Of course, speeches and exams are common assessments that increase anxiety levels. Rickwood says getting professional help to learn techniques to manage this anxiety is the best option.

“With public speaking, like so many things, the more you do it the easier it gets,” she says. “You need to set up ways to learn – you could go into a course for public speaking to learn some techniques.”

“You have to put some effort into it, you’re not going to suddenly be able to do it if you don’t learn the techniques.”

Studying Can Actually Work In Your Favour

Becoming immersed in study and focusing entirely on work is one to help take your mind off other issues. Prof Rickwood says this is a good technique to give yourself respite at uni. “If you can channel yourself into your work and get focused on your work, that’s really two birds with one stone,” she says. “One, you get your work done and two, you get some time out from the negative chatter that can be buzzing around in your head.”

The Desk is a website for students to learn ways to help balance with uni and mental health. Prof Rickwood says it is vital to always look after yourself first.

“It’s really important that you persevere and work on your mental health and wellbeing and don’t think you’re going to be like that forever,” she says. “Because that’s not the case. So take it easy on yourself and get through your uni degree.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, you can find help by seeking advice from a counsellor or calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.