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9 Things We Wish Somebody Had Told Us At University

It's OK not to be OK.

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1. "I wish someone had told me that it was OK to not be OK."

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"You're told all these amazing stories about being a fresher: partying, meeting new faces, starting a fresh chapter of life. What they forget to tell you is that beyond the cloud of being the social bee and party animal, it's a big transition, the move away from home and adjusting to a new lifestyle.

"I found myself struggling with this adjustment during university; the sudden realisation that I was in a new city away from home kicked in with generalised anxiety. Anxiety became a self-destructive kick up the backside. It created a drive within me to overcompensate, overachieve, overthink, and never appear weak or vulnerable. I put pressure upon myself to act and live just like any other average university student; it was like I couldn't come to terms with having a mental illness [anxiety] – I didn't want people to know I wasn't OK.

"I found help through my university's student service and they offered me talking therapy, where I was paired with a counsellor who I'd see for weekly sessions. All it took was one step, and it changed my university life for the better." – Ursula D

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2. "I wish I had figured out a better balance of saying yes and no."

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"When I went into undergrad, especially as an international student, I was worried about my mental health issues and really felt already at a disadvantage. I didn't feel like I could really socialise with anyone easily and I overfocused on the what-ifs, my sporadic mood, my eating behaviours, and all of it really.

"I said no or maybe a lot to going out for nights out or events in the first year and especially in the first few months, when everyone was really getting to know each other. Then when I did get settled I found I neglected my mental health because I was trying to make up for the times missed, and when I took a step back to address my problems I was suddenly in a very bad state.

"It was so typical to be OK and convince myself I suddenly wouldn't be if I did anything out of the ordinary, and then to not be OK but convince myself it was fine because at least I was having a proper uni experience. Finally figuring out a balance was so crucial to getting through the last bit of under and getting through postgrad life – I really wish I had known when to put my mental health first without making it take everything over, and when to put myself out there when I did start letting it rule my life." – Ariana Weldon

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3. "I wish I knew how to support a friend through grief."

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"While I was at university a number of my close friends' relatives passed away. It was a really difficult time for them, but I didn't expect the impact it would also have on me.

"I felt heartbroken on their behalf, but I also felt guilt that it affected me so much even though it wasn't happening to me. Now I forgive myself, and I have learned how to support someone suffering from grief.

"I remember being in the library and had just found out that my friend's brother had passed away. I was trying to find a way to give it a silver lining. 'It's just shit,' a friend I was with said. Obvious, perhaps, but it was an absolute game-changer. I couldn't fix the situation, but as with any difficulty someone is experiencing, I could listen, acknowledge their pain, and support them to the best of my ability." – Rachel Piper

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4. "I should have been more open."

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"I wish I had known that me and some of my friends could have disclosed their mental health difficulties to get more support while at university. People worry that if you tell the uni about your experiences of a mental health difficulty, it may reject your application.

"Actually, it's against the law (the Equality Act!) to discriminate due to mental health. Generally speaking, the information you provide will only be shared with people who need to be aware of it at the time you are disclosing. You can find out if disclosing is right for you here." – Rachel Piper

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5. "I wish I had known the extent to which I wasn't really alone."

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"When you get to uni, you think you're really clever or talented or determined, and of course there are thousands of other students just like you. But when my mental health really took a dive and I was relapsing in every direction, my mood and my eating dropped while my worries took over. I kept thinking I was the only one in the world and at my uni to feel that way. Eventually I dragged myself to a GP whose exact words to me were, 'You would not believe how many people come in for help. Staff and students.'

"I was referred to counselling and we set out to find a plan: what other students had found worked for them, what might work for me, and who I could get support from in the department. This was clearly a well-versed team.

"My tutor was just as reassuring. I know it sounds so obvious that in a uni with several thousands of students, you statistically couldn't be the only one struggling to get through. What I found was that not only was I completely and utterly surrounded by people who knew what they were doing, but I was also surrounded by people struggling to some extent and in a similar way to how I was." – Ariana Weldon

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6. "I wish I knew my mental illness was a disability and that I could have additional support through my course."

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"As a postgrad student I applied for disabled student's allowance, which I was eligible for through my eating disorder. Having a dictaphone and software to help with lectures was a great help and something that would have benefited me during my undergraduate course, as my concentration levels can waiver owing to my eating disorder, even though I'm in recovery.

"It is a lot easier to apply for extensions (which I have hardly used) instead of feeling embarrassed when stress has got the better of you. I have also had a mentor, and that has been particularly useful when I haven't had any other professional support or treatment has just finished." – Kat Pugh

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7. "I wish I had a plan for dealing with nights out and coping with peer pressure."

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"I'm lucky my friends found out early on about my eating disorder, and that I did have a close friendship group to help support me. That said, when it came to nights out, I wanted to fit in, even to the extent of trying to keep up with everyone. A number of times I ended up very ill, and other times I found myself not enjoying nights out because I'd compromised on eating to make up for the alcohol, meaning my energy was extremely low and my anxiety heightened.

"Furthermore, it would also lead to binges, which resulted in me feeling vulnerable the following day, with other behaviours creeping in. Again, coping strategies, planning, and the self-confidence not to need to do everything that other people did would have really helped." – Kat Pugh

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8. "I wish someone had reminded me to be brave."

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"As a home student, my first day at university was very daunting for me as everyone seemed to know each other from where they lived at student halls. I was very nervous when I decided to go to my subject school’s welcome evening where everyone on the course could go along and get to know each other.

"I remember overcoming my anxiety to enter the event after recognising a girl I had recently spoken to on Facebook who was doing the same course modules as me. After being brave and leaving my shy self behind, I plucked up the courage to go over and say hey. I left the event with four new friends and began university life with a smile." – Sophie Rees

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9. "I wish people had told me your mental health can improve once you reach university."

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"I quit my social work course at university back in May 2015 due to my mental health problems becoming all too much. Having health anxiety, social anxiety, and OCD wasn't easy on an intensive course such as social work.

"Fast-forward to 2016 and I'm now on a journalism course that has improved my mental health greatly. I still have my off days – it's normal. But I'm much better now. I can keep myself busy doing what I love. I'm far from where I was when I was studying social work. I thought my mental health would get worse. Moving course is the best decision I've ever made." – Sophie Dishman (follow her on Twitter here)

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Thanks to Student Minds, the UK's student mental health charity, for its help with this feature. Learn more about Student Minds' work here.