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Mental and emotional health

Mental and emotional healthUnderstanding your needs and knowing where to get support can help you to get through, even when times get tough.

Recognising your mental and emotional health needs

Problems with mental and emotional help are very common, but they can be difficult to identify at first.

These problems can affect everyone. However, big new experiences like going to university or starting a new job can lead to problems or make them worse.

For example:

  • If you move away to study or work, you may feel isolated or worry that you won't be able to make more friends.
  • If the course or job is not quite what you expected, you might worry that you aren't good enough to succeed.

These are all problems that other people will be experiencing too, and they can all be solved.

Remember that:

  • Everybody is unique and has their own individual worth - your value isn't decided by how you compare with other people.
  • People often try to hide their worries and problems, which can leave you thinking everyone else is doing better than you. In truth, those people might feel the same as you - and they might be looking at you thinking you're doing much better than them.
  • Making a big change like starting university is a huge achievement in itself, and proves that you can get by.
  • Building your self-worth and confidence can be difficult and take time, so it's not your fault if you can't just 'pull yourself together'.

If you are having problems

If these things are having a big impact on your life, you should seek professional support. You might do this because your problems are affecting your studies or your relationships with other people, but you don't have to wait for something like this to happen: you can ask for help at any time, and the earlier you do so, the easier it will be.

When you are dealing with these problems, it can feel like you are on your own - but there is lots of support available in different places if you look for it.

Getting support in person

Most universities offer free counselling to their students. Although these services are confidential, it may be possible for the counsellor to intervene with the university if you ask them to - for example, by helping you to arrange extensions on work. You should be able to find out more about this by looking on the university's website, or by contacting the student services department.

You can also talk to your doctor – your GP is there to help you with your mental health as well as your physical health. You may be offered help like counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Getting support online or on the phone

You don't have to talk to someone face-to-face to get support. You can also find support online or over the phone. This can be especially useful if you don't feel comfortable talking to someone in person yet, or need support while you are waiting for an appointment.

Many universities have a Nightline. This is a phone number you can call at night if you need somebody to talk to, when other services may be closed and friends or family may be asleep. Nightlines are confidential and anonymous, so you don't even have to give your name.

If you're under 18, ChildLine can offer confidential advice about mental health, as well as wider issues like bullying. Other organizations, such as Mind, offer mental health support to people of all ages. You can also talk to your doctor - your GP is there to help you with your mental health as well as your physical health.

Strategies for improving self-esteem and confidence

Choose to believe compliments

Self-confidence and self-worth are affective by experiences we have had in our life, whether positive or negative – but you can take some control over them.

One way to take control is by choosing to believe compliments. When someone pays you a compliment, it's easy to tell yourself that you don't deserve it, but remember that compliments are freely given. The person giving you a compliment didn't need to say anything at all – and wouldn't if they didn't really think it. Believe they are telling the truth and thank them.

This isn't always an easy thing to do, and you may need to actively remind yourself to do it at first. Gradually, you will find it easier to accept compliments and believe what you are being told about yourself.

Make a list of your achievements and qualities you like about yourself

When your confidence is low, it can be hard to remember reasons to be proud of yourself. Making a note of things that you achieve can give you something to look back on.

If you find this hard to do, you could ask people you know to suggest things. This can be a good thing to do in a group: if each person writes down one thing they admire about each other person, then everyone ends up with a list (and anyone who would feel embarrassed saying them out loud doesn't have to).

It can sometimes be easier to think about negative traits that you don't have – the opposites of these bad traits are your good qualities. For example, you may think about yourself: 'I don't talk about people behind their back' or 'I don't tell lies'. Flip these backwards and you come up with positive character traits such as honest and trustworthy.

Think about yourself the way your friends would

If we heard someone talk about one of our friends the way we criticize ourselves, we'd stick up for them. If we heard our friends talking themselves down, we'd reassure them. Try to value yourself in the way you value others, and challenge negative thoughts you have about yourself.

At the same time, think about how much time you spend thinking about other people's behaviour and characteristics. You probably have more important things to do than judging other people. In the same way, other people are unlikely to be spending their time judging you.

Look after yourself

Your mental health and your physical health are closely related, but it can be easy not to look after yourself properly, especially if you are struggling emotionally.

Things that can make a big difference to your wellbeing include:

  • eating healthily
  • exercising
  • taking time for activities you enjoy or find relaxing
  • making sure you are getting enough sleep
  • avoiding drinking too much alcohol