If, right now, you are one of those people who is struggling to throw themselves into university life like the rest of your peers seem to be doing, missing home and finding it generally hard to integrate yourself with everyone…you’re not alone. You may feel desperately alone, I know. But trust me, there are people right now who are feeling exactly the same way you are. I want to say first of all that this is okay. Being unsure and scared of a new experience is not only normal, but extremely common – around 1/3 of students experience feelings of depression and homesickness at some point in their university careers. But this may not make you feel much better. If you’re struggling to hold back tears, feeling isolated yet not wanting to leave your room and having the desperate urge to run back home and never experience this feeling again – I’ve been there, and it will get better.
Many student support sites suggest integration activities for homesickness and anxiety at university, such as joining sports teams or getting involved in the Students Union. This may work for some people, but not everyone can pluck up the courage to even leave their room to work out where the SU is. If this is you, I only have one piece of advice – do what you want to do. If you want to sit in your room of an evening and watch rubbish films, do it. If you want to sit on the phone to your mum for hours telling her about how horrible you’re feeling, do it. If you feel like crying yourself to sleep because of how much you’re struggling, that’s okay. These feelings do not make you a failure or less of a person compared to your peers. But, I would also suggest you try and get a small amount of help, if you can. This link will take you to the University of Sussex Student Life Centre page, which provides some really good information on how to get help.If you’re not one of these people and are loving life at university, you’re not off the hook. One of the best ways for people to overcome mental health issues such as anxiety is to gain support from others. If you’re in student residences or a student house and you notice one of your housemates doesn’t seem themselves, please, please try to help.
Many people may find it difficult to know what to say in these situations, which is where I come in. As someone who’s suffered from anxiety for the majority of my life, I know which kinds of things are helpful and which are really not. For example, if you notice someone is struggling with integrating themselves into the house environment or holding back tears, DO NOT brush over the issue. If your housemate is isolating themselves in their room and seeming down, then the best advice I can give is to simply let them know you’ve noticed. Don’t ask them if they’re okay – because they’re not. Tell them softly that you can see they’re struggling and you’re there to help in any way you can. That way, they don’t have to go through getting upset and telling you they’re not okay, but they also know they’ve got some support just up the hallway. Make them a cup of tea and knock on the door. If they want to offload how they’re feeling, then simply listen. If they don’t want to tell you what’s going on, but fancy some company, then talk about anything you can think of – your favourite films, bands etc. DON’T talk about university life and how much you’re loving it, although this may seem obvious.
On the other hand, they may not want any company and turn your offer of a cup of tea down. This is okay too. Pop a note with your number on under their door, in case they feel more comfortable talking over text, and try again the next day. Just having someone show some care can give someone who is struggling with anxiety the courage to strike up a life changing conversation.
University can be one of the most fulfilling experiences of your life, if you find the right people to share it with. But if the right people aren’t here and this university isn’t for you, that’s okay. It doesn’t make you a failure or mean you’re giving in if it’s just not for you – whatever decision you make will be the right one in the end. But the main message of this post is to look after each other, regardless of whether you’re struggling or not. Be aware of other people and you’ll become more aware of yourself. As Gandalf once said: “I find it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay – small acts of kindness and love”.
Melissa Kirwan is a full-time postgraduate student currently studying for a MSc in Clinical Psychology and Mental Health.