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What new students need to know about staying healthy

University life is an exciting time for freshers, but cash worries and being away from home can create pressure. Stephanie Bell talks to Eoghan Mullan, in second year at Magee, about the challenges.

As thousands of excited students across Northern Ireland start their new term at college or university, the Public Health Agency (PHA) is encouraging them to look after their mental health.

Making new friends, leaving home for the first time, managing finances and new course work can all lead to stress for first year students, who are being urged to take care of themselves with the help of a practical new booklet.

Mind Your Head: A Student Guide To Mental Health has been produced by the PHA and is full of practical tips and information on managing stress and achieving and maintaining positive mental health and emotional well-being.

The booklet targets first year students at universities and further and higher education colleges, recognising that the transition from school to further education can be a stressful time.

Settling into his second year at Magee College in Londonderry, studying physical activity, exercise and health, Eoghan Mullan (20) says it does take some months for new students to settle in.

He advises first year students to try and make new friends as soon as possible and not be afraid to ask for help if they need it.

Also, he says any course worries can be allayed by speaking to lecturers or student advisors rather than struggling on alone.

"It is very daunting when you first start university especially, as you don't know anybody," says Eoghan. "The students' union usually organises three or four events every week and they are worth going to for meeting other students and making new friends.

"You do feel like you are being thrown in at the deep end a bit, and I was doing a course that involved sciences, even though I didn't study science at A-level, so I struggled a bit during the first and second semester.

"Fortunately, some of my lecturers had an open door policy, where you could go and see them if you needed to. I did feel out of my depth, but I found it really helpful to talk to my lecturers.

"I would advise new students who are struggling with their course work to talk about it to someone, either their lecturer or a student adviser."

Eoghan, a former pupil of St Mary's High School in Limavady, is living at home while studying but, even though he has no accommodation costs, he says that university did bring new financial pressures.

He explains: "Travelling is a bit of a financial strain and I do have a part-time job, which helps.

"I think new students should try and get a part-time job because, as well as helping financially, it can be a good way to make new friends and meet people - especially if they are new to the city."

Eoghan's course involves studying physical and mental health, which has given him an appreciation of the need to take care of his own mental health. He welcomed the PHA's new booklet.

Also, having just entered his second year, he is aware of how difficult these first months can be for new students and believes the booklet will be a great encouragement.

"The booklet is a good idea," adds Eoghan. "Studying health with my course, I can appreciate the need to look after yourself and keep your mental well-being up to scratch.

"We didn't have anything like that last year and already I can see the first year students walking about looking a bit lost and afraid to ask for help. I just stop and ask them if they are okay.

"It can be difficult at the start, even just getting around the campus and finding what building you should be in.

"It definitely is a stressful time, but I really believe that making friends is important, as is having a bit of craic and not being afraid to talk and ask for help."

Amanda O'Neill, senior health and well-being improvement officer with the PHA, says: "This is a really exciting time for students who are starting college or university.

"With this comes new challenges, such as moving into a new home, making new friends and starting a new course. This can be exciting, but new responsibilities can also lead to feelings of stress. Some students may also need to find time to earn an income to help support their studies, which can be an added pressure.

"A certain amount of stress is normal, but it is really important that students know that looking after their mental health is just as important as looking after their physical health.

"We would encourage students who are feeling under stress to seek help and to avail of support," he adds.

  • The booklet is available from students' unions across Northern Ireland. It can also be found at guide

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