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Mental health problems at University and College

May 12, 2023
Mental health problems at University and College
May 12, 2023

Uni days should be the best days of our lives, right? Not according to recent research, which suggests growing numbers of students are really struggling with their mental health. At the end of 2022, Nightline reported a significant increase in calls to its student-run helpline, particularly about stress, anxiety and finances.

Discussing it at the time, policy manager of the charity Student Minds, Jennifer Smith blamed the pandemic for leaving young people lacking in confidence and ‘underprepared for university life’.


And ZoomDoc GP, Dr Jenny Ellenbogen agrees. ‘University life can be isolating enough, if you’ve moved to a new city or country, away from your support networks. And of course, with the pandemic still so recent, many students may not have the tools or social skills to find that network in a new setting, such as university,’ she says.


It’s a problem, which ZoomDoc wants to raise awareness of, particularly during Mental Health Awareness Week (15-22 May), an event that also ties in with the start of university exams – a time of immense stress and pressure for so many students.


‘One of our services is providing GP-certified medical letters for different reasons and purposes, from providing evidence you’re ‘fit to fly’ for airlines, or ‘fit to work’ to employers, or need proof of injury for insurance purposes. However, recently we’ve noticed a real increase in requests from university students needing to prove they’ve been off or are off with mental health-related problems, such as depression and severe anxiety,’ says Dr Jenny.


What’s key to know is that help is at hand. If you’re struggling with your mental health, or have a child at uni, or about to start, find out what to do and where to get help, support and advice.


What signs should parents be looking out for?


Mental health issues can affect any of us at any time. Do you know how to spot the signs if you, or someone you love, is struggling?


‘Parents can play an important role in supporting their children’s mental health, especially if they are attending university’, says Dr Jenny.


Here are some signs that parents can look out for that may indicate your child is struggling with their mental health:

  • Sudden or significant changes in behaviour, such as increased irritability or anger, withdrawal from social activities, or changes in sleeping or eating habits.
  • Sudden drop in academic performance, or suddenly missing classes or deadlines.
  • Physical symptoms can be caused by stress and mental health issues, too so don’t brush off unexplained or persistent headaches, stomach aches, or fatigue. 
  • Drinking more (or suddenly starting drinking or taking drugs).
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or talking about feeling like a burden to others.


However, Dr Jenny adds that ‘these signs are not definitive indicators of mental health problems, and unfortunately, some students may not exhibit any obvious signs at all.’


What help is available for students?


Students’ mental health and wellbeing should be properly supported during their time at university.


There is lots of help out there, specifically designed for university students who are struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental health problems. Try:


  • Contacting your GP

They can offer community mental health resources you may not be aware of. They can also prescribe and monitor medication, if required, and offer further specialised advice depending on how severe symptoms are.


  • Using on-site counselling 

These are often on campus and are free or subsidised for students.  Services are either provided in person, by phone, or online, and can help students manage a wide range of mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. 


  • Finding student specific help

Student Minds is a charity designed for students needing support, advice and help. You can call them FREE on 0808 189 5260, ​7 days a week from 3pm to 12am.

Mind also has a student hub with help and support available.

UMHAN, which stands for the University Mental Health Advisers Network also has lots of info and relevant resources.


‘It’s important for students to know that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing mental health issues,’ says Dr Jenny. ‘What works for one person may not work for another, so it’s important to explore different options and find the support that works best for them,’ she says.


What should students do if they are struggling?


If you’re struggling with your mental health at university learn more about what help is available


If you’re a student struggling with your mental health at university, first of all you’re not alone.


‘Students are under huge pressure these days, not just to manage workload and meet deadlines as well as socialising, but also to manage finances along the way. In a cost of living crisis, that’s even tougher than it was,’ says Dr Jenny.


Not dealing with pressure can quickly spiral into mental and physical health issues though, so if you are feeling like you’re struggling, talking to someone – a friend, family member, counsellor, doctor – can really help unburden you.


‘Prioritising self-care is hugely important’ says Dr Jenny, who also recommends getting enough sleep, trying meditation apps, eating well and exercising to help.


Lastly, remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Mental health issues are common and manageable.

If you have had time off university or need time off to get better, ZoomDoc can help relieve the added stress of getting a ‘sick note’ sorted. Simply select ‘university & college sickness’. For just £40 we’ll supply your medical letter the same day, without having to make an in-person GP appointment so you can focus on with your recovery.

Want to know more?

Our team of Doctors are available via the ZoomDoc App for any medical questions or queries.