When I think back to receiving my offer for the University of York, and how I was feeling at the time, I remember a blur of emotions. Mainly it was happiness and relief at the fact that my hard work had paid off and been recognised (it’s always important to remember that getting into uni isn’t easy and you should be insanely proud of yourself for coming this far!). But I also remember this uncertain feeling. A nervousness about stepping into an unknown world that I had never even come close to experiencing before.
Moving away from home
I am originally from Bournemouth which is about 5 hours away from York. The main fear I was experiencing was moving away from home comforts – my family and friends, a school I was comfortable at, and a location that I knew like the back of my hand. I’m gonna be honest with you and say that I have always struggled with my mental health. I had worked really hard to find coping mechanisms at home and this shift in location had me feeling uneasy.
If you are feeling this way, it is completely normal and understandable. Life throws you around a bit when you grow up and fresh starts feel like they happen all-too-often: just as you’re finding your feet with GCSEs, you then start sixth form/college; just as sixth form/college seems to be going well, you then start university. It sometimes feels like we’re expected to know how to do something that we have never trained for; like we’ve been taught how to drive a car and then someone changes every component within it and still expects us to drive perfectly. That sounds exhausting and impossible, right? Well yes, it would be, if it wasn’t for how good the user manual at university is.
Universities are old and well-funded institutions that, on the most part, really listen to the students within them and cater to their needs. Over the years, the University of York has developed a bunch of support systems that aim to care for student mental health. I’m going to speak through a few examples that I have found particularly useful since studying here:
A loss/change in support network goes hand-in-hand with moving away from home, but the University of York has a nifty solution to help aid this transition: a college system.
I think one of the main anxieties associated with university is the size of it – 16,000 people study at York! 16,000 people is a lot and it’s hard to imagine how you could make an impact in such a large group. However, by splitting the university up into smaller groups (colleges), the whole thing feels a lot less daunting. For example, I am in Derwent college, and when I joined there were 600 Derwent college residents. 600 people is a lot easier to process than 16,000! What the college system does is so clever because it makes you feel more valued than you may feel in that large pool of people and it gives you, and all of the people you live with, something in common.
No matter where you all come from or what you want to do in the future, as soon as you start at the Uni of York, you, and everyone you live with, are part of the same college. That uniting and valuing feeling is so important for mental health. The colleges are a brilliant support system if you get involved with what they have to offer.
Another important support system is your department. For me, that is the Department of Biology and there are 2 parts to it that make me feel valued: the building and the people.
Let’s start with the building
You might be thinking: how is a building going to influence my mental health? Well having a location where I can work, day or night, is pretty special. It means that I am surrounded by like-minded people and if I want to do some intense essay writing, some more laidback lecture work, or just grab a coffee, I have somewhere I can go to do that. As well as this, which I guess bridges the gap between the place and the people, there are offices all around the department for different lecturers. This means that if I need support in general, or from a particular person, they are always there and easy to find.
The people in my department are what makes the experience for me
One person in particular that has seriously aided my development and growth is my supervisor. Every student is allocated a supervisor that stays the same throughout your whole degree. They play a really important role in helping you through your studies. They talk through your assessment results with you but they also have a keen interest in you as an individual too. They’ll ask you about your accommodation and your social life and basically are a good point of contact when you need someone to chat to.
This means that not only have you got a college system looking out for you but you’ve also got a dedicated individual who will have regular meetings with you to check-in and support your growth. Not many unis have colleges or supervisors. I see the presence of these systems as a clear indication that they do care about my mental health and how I’m getting on.
Looking after yourself
The final thing I’m going to discuss is how important it is to look after yourself. Yes, there are people out there who can help you if you need support but there are also a lot of things that you can personally do to improve day-to-day mental well being. In this scenario, I’m not talking about long-term mental health struggles but more about the ups and downs that can change each day depending on lots of different factors.
I could go through a list of strategies but everyone works in different ways. Plus, I’m pretty sure by this point in your life you have discovered a little bit about what makes you feel better on a bad day (whether that’s doing exercise, having a long shower, drawing, listening to music, etc). What I will say is that it’s a good idea to have a little list of these things on your phone or in a notepad that you can access when you need it. Sometimes, in a crisis, you don’t think quite as clearly as you might the rest of the time. So, a few trusty strategies that you can read and carry out may be the difference between needing to seek help or getting to a solution on your own.
Mental wellbeing is so malleable. Some days I feel like I can do anything whereas other days, I feel like getting out of bed is the main goal of the day. That’s completely okay as long as you can recognise those feelings and adapt to help you get through that day successfully.
Anxiety around starting university is insanely understandable. It’s such a big change and that shift can be overwhelming. However, there are lots of systems in place to help aid this transition and lots of people who are there to support you through whatever you are experiencing. This could be through your college or your course. And it may change depending on what you require.
A few things to remember:
- Take each day at a time.
- You are a valued member of the university community.
- Be proud of yourself for what you have accomplished.
- Things will become easier the more you experience and grow.
Good luck with the rest of your studies and moving on into university, I know you’ll do great! 🙂