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Counselling for student mental health problems

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

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

Anyone who has new challenges as a student could benefit from talking to someone. This includes if you have family or relationship issues, stress or anxiety about your work.

Counselling can help you understand these issues and suggest strategies for dealing with your feelings.

When to get help

It's normal to feel down, anxious or stressed from time to time, but you might want to get help if:

  • these feelings affect your daily life, including your studies
  • these feelings do not go away after a couple of weeks

Signs of depression and anxiety include:

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

You may also:

  • put on or lose weight
  • stop caring about the way you look or about keeping clean
  • do too much work
  • stop attending lectures
  • become withdrawn
  • have sleep problems
  • have changes in your sex drive

Where to go for help

Talk to someone

It's important to tell someone how you feel, whether it's a friend, counsellor or doctor. It may bring an immediate sense of relief.

It may help to talk to someone you trust first, such as a friend, member of your family or a tutor.

This is especially important if your studies are being affected.

University counselling services

Many colleges and most universities have a free and confidential in-house counselling service you can access, with professionally qualified counsellors and psychotherapists. 

You can usually find out what they offer and how to make an appointment in the counselling service section of your university's website. This free service in universities is available to both undergraduates and postgraduates.

Many universities also have a mental health adviser who can help you access the support you need.

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 are not qualified counsellors, you may prefer to talk about problems such as stress and depression with another student.

Online self-help

There are also online self-help services you can explore, such as the NHS website's guide to mental health and wellbeing and the Students Against Depression website.

Therapy and counselling

Counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) offer an opportunity to explore your feelings in a safe environment and help you develop ways of coping with them.

As well as university or college counselling services, you might be able to refer yourself for NHS counselling. Search for psychological therapy services to find out what's available in your area.

The University Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN) represents the network of mental health advisers working in higher education dedicated to providing practical support to students experiencing mental health difficulties.

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 the 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, a mental health adviser will still be able to let you know what support is available.

Drugs, drink and mental health in students

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

Consider how this might make you feel in the longer term though, as your mood could slip, making you feel a lot worse.

Some cannabis users can have unpleasant experiences, including confusion, hallucinations, anxiety and paranoia.

There's also growing evidence that long-term cannabis use can increase your risk of developing a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia.

Ecstasy and amphetamines can also lead to depression and anxiety, and amphetamines can also cause psychosis.

Any underlying mental health disorder could be made worse by drug or alcohol use.

Read more articles about drugs.

Page last reviewed: 23 January 2020
Next review due: 23 January 2023