Mental Health

Mental health problems are as common among students as they are in the general population.

But it's not just students who have a diagnosed mental health condition that can benefit from counselling.

Alan Percy, Head of Counselling at the University of Oxford, says: “The cause of a lot of difficulties are not directly because of medical problems, but by normal life problems, such as family or relationship issues, or anxiety about their work.  While these problems are distressing, through counselling we can help students to understand them, and then suggest strategies for dealing with their feelings."

When to get help

It's normal to feel down, anxious or stressed from time to time, but if these feelings affect your daily activities, including your studies, or don't go away after a couple  weeks, get help.

Signs of depression and anxiety include:

  • feeling low
  • feeling more anxious or agitated than usual
  • losing interest in life
  • losing motivation

Some people also:

  • put on or lose weight
  • stop caring about the way they look or about keeping clean
  • do too much work
  • stop attending lectures
  • become withdrawn
  • have sleep problems

Where to go for help

Talk to someone

We can resolve many mild mental health problems by telling someone how you feel, whether it’s a friend, counsellor or doctor, may bring an immediate sense of relief. It’s a good idea to talk to someone you trust first, such as a friend, a family member or a tutor. This is especially important if your studies are being affected. Speaking to someone can resolve many mild mental health problems

University counselling services

The three partner universities, UCL, UoA and Birkbeck all have a free and confidential in-house counselling service you can access, with professionally qualified Counsellors and Psychotherapists. 

University specific info here

UCL: Student Support and Wellbeing, including drop-in sessions or appointments with the Disability, Mental Health and Wellbeing team for non-therapeutic support (e.g. if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed), and the Student Psychological and Counselling Services team for counselling and other therapeutic support

University of the Arts London (ual): Counselling

Birkbeck University of London: Counselling Service  

SOAS University of London: Student Counselling Service

As well as counselling or therapy, you may also be entitled to "reasonable adjustments" such as extra time in exams, extensions on coursework, and specialist mental health mentor support.

Student-led services

Many student unions also offer student-led services. Although the students involved aren't qualified counsellors, you may prefer to talk about problems such as stress and depression with another student.

UCL has Student Residence Advisers in halls and Nightline can also help.

Online self-help

There are also online self-help services you may like to explore, such as NHS Choices' Moodzone and the Students Against Depression website.

When to see your GP

For more serious or longer-lasting mental health symptoms, see your GP as you may need prescribed treatment or referral to a specialist. If you have or develop a mental health condition that requires treatment, it's important to arrange continuity of care between your new university doctor and your family GP. Register at your local GP.

UCL: Ridgmount Practice (If you live in central or north London, you will likely fall within the catchment area for Ridgmount Practice, UCL’s partner health clinic, and should be able to register there)

University of the arts London (ual): Make sure to register your GP

Birkbeck University: The Gower Street Practice

SOAS University of London: Student Advice and Wellbeing

Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA)

At all UK universities, you have the opportunity to apply for a Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA).

Your mental health adviser can help you apply for a DSA, but you will need to provide evidence of a long-term mental health condition.

The DSA pays for:

  • specialist equipment, such as a computer, if you need it because of your mental health condition or another disability
  • non-medical helpers
  • extra travel as a result of your mental health condition or disability
  • other disability-related costs of studying

Even if you decide not to apply for a DSA, the mental health adviser will still be able to let you know what support is available.

Drugs, drink and mental health in students

If you are feeling low or stressed, you may be tempted to drink more alcohol or relax by smoking cannabis

However, you should consider how this will make you feel in the longer term. 

Consider how this may make you feel in the longer term though, as your mood could slip, making you feel a lot worse. Cannabis users can have unpleasant experiences, including confusion, hallucinationsanxiety and paranoia. There is also growing evidence that long-term cannabis can induce some negative side-effects that can, in some cases, exacerbate existing or predisposed conditions such as depression or anxiety.

Other substances such as Ecstasy and amphetamines can also bring on insomnia, hallucinations and anxiety as well inducing symptoms of dependency. 

Any underlying mental health condition could be adversely affected by self-medication with unknown drugs or alcohol use. Open dialogue, with friends, family and your GP (university or home practitioner) should be your first point of reference.