Student health checklist
With A-Level results just in, many students may be preparing to go off to university this September. Have a look at our checklist to help you stay informed about health risks associated with student life and where to get help and support.
– MenC vaccination –
Even if you were vaccinated against MenC as a child, immunity to this disease can decrease over time and it is recommended that you call your dcotor to arrange a MenC vaccination at least 2 weeks before starting university. Because new university students will be in close contact with many new people, and some of these people may not realise they are carrying the meningococcal bacteria, this is a key time to make sure your vaccinations are up to date. If you were born before September 1995 and received the vaccine at school you shouldn’t need another one, however those born after September 1995 who were vaccinated during their childhood will probably need another one, as their immunity is known to decrease over time. If you are not sure whether you have been vaccinated or whether you need a booster, contact your doctor to find out. Also make sure you are aware of the symptoms of meningitis and septiceamia so you can act quickly if you or any of your friends are affected. Consider saving the Meningitis Now 24 hour helpline number in your phone: 0808 80 10 388
– Safe drinking –
Make sure to take precautions to keep you safe on your night out, especially if you will be drinking alcohol. Stay within the alcohol unit guidelines to avoid putting your health in danger. For women, it is recommended that you do not exceed 2-3 units per day and men are recommended to not exceed 3-4 units per day. If you are not sure how many units some of your favourite drinks add up to, use the Drink Aware unit calculator to find out before you head off to university. If you want to keep track of your alcohol consumption when out, you can use My Drink Aware on your smartphone. Avoid drinking alcohol in combination with energy drinks, as research has shown that you are likely to consume more alcohol like this, as the ‘wide awake’ effect of the energy drink makes it difficult to assess how you are feeling. This combination of alcohol and energy drinks is also associated with increased risk taking, calorie consumption, sleep problems and other health problems, both in the long and short term, so be sure you are informed about your drink of choice. Avoid playing drinking games where your alcohol consumption can get quickly out of hand without you realising.
When you are drinking alcohol, it is also important you continue to drink plenty of water and ideally intersperse alcholic drinks with soft drinks to ensure you stay hydrated. Other tips including avoiding pre-drinking before you go out, making sure not to drink on an empty stomach and setting a spending limit for the evening so you are not tempted to purchase more drinks.
Make sure that you never leave your drink unattended, as drink spiking does unfortunately happen. Be informed about the risks and what to do if you think your drink may have been spiked so you can act quickly if this happens to you or a friend. Before you head off to uni, make sure you know how to help other people if you notice they have drunk too much alcohol so you can act quickly in an emergency. This article from Drink Aware has some useful tips and advice from a paramedic on how to recognise if there is a problem and what to do.
– Safe sex and contraception –
In 2012, an organisation called Student Beans carried out a survey about Students and Sex, which thousands of students responded to. The survey found that 66% claimed to have had unprotected sex, putting them at significant risk of getting an STI. If you are sexually active, the best way of lowering the risk of getting an STI is to use a condom. Make sure you know how to use a condom correctly to ensure that it is as effective as possible in protecting you against STIs. You can use this service to find out where the nearest sexual health service is for you. Your Students Union should also offer advice on where to find a sexual health service.
If you have had unprotected sex or are worried you may have chlamydia, make sure you get a free and confidential test. If you are under 25 and sexually active it is recommended that you get tested every year or when you change sexual partner, as you are in the age group most likely to get chlamydia. In some areas, you can even order free online tests if you are under 25. There are also lots of apps you can download to help you monitor your sexual health and stay informed. You may also want to take this test to check your knowledge of contraception and STIs before you go off to university.
You can order your oral contraceptive tablets from our online doctor service if you are too busy or embarrassed to see your doctor face-to-face. Make sure you have a good supply of all other regular medication that you take before you leave for university.
To find out where you can access free condoms, enter your postcode or town into this online service.
– Summer or gap year travelling –
If you have decided to take a gap year or you are doing some travelling before you go to university, make sure you check if any of your destinations are malaria risk destinations. Many popular gap year destinations do put you at risk of malaria, which means you will need to organise anti-malarial medication in plenty of time before your trip.
Find out if you need to take anti-malarial medication for your destination of choice and be aware of the symptoms and tips for malaria prevention. You can order the correct medication for your destination through our online doctor service. If you are off travelling, make sure to regularly check up on the current advice for your destinations from the FCO.
– Remember to register with a GP near to where you live at uni –
Ideally do this as soon as you arrive so that you can see a doctor if necessary. Put this on your to-do list for freshers week!
– Stress, mental health and depression –
Mental health problems are just as common amongst students as the rest of the population and university can be a time you experience stress due to the pressure of your academic work. If you are experiencing high levels of stress, depression or what you think may be a mental health issue, make sure you are informed about your options and you seek help.
Many universities have mental health advisers, disability advisers and counsellors who you can talk to about your problem. Try to take active steps to avoid stress becoming unbearable, with useful tips including regular exercise, relaxation time and talking to someone about how you are feeling. You can also explore your mental wellbeing with the help of eight podcasts published by NHS Moodzone. For more information about depression, consult Students Against Depression to help you understand your condition, find out where to get help and read up on other students’ stories.
– Look after your skin –
If you suffer from acne, have a look at our blog post on coping with acne for tips on how to manage your acne and keep it under control when you go off to university.
– Drugs –
If you are worried about drugs or want to find help and support near you, or even just talk to someone, make sure you save the Talk to Frank helpline number in your phone: 0300 123 6600. You can also text FRANK and a question to 82111 and someone will answer your question. Make sure you are aware of the health risks of taking legal highs as well.
– Eating a healthy diet on a budget –
Lots of students have a limited budget, so it is important to plan your meals and food shopping carefully to ensure you are eating a healthy diet. The NHS offers 20 key tips on eating healthily and cheaply.
– Get moving and exercise –
It is important not to get out of the habit of regular exercise when you go off to uni, as even just 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week will bring many health benefits and help you combat stress. This does not necessarily have to mean forking out for an expensive gym membership if you don’t want to. You can get active at university and save money with simple tips, such as walking to lectures instead of getting the bus, taking the stairs instead of the lift, going for a jog between classes, going dancing or playing football in the park with friends.
You may decide to take the NHS Couch to 5k challenge if you want to start getting fitter at university. You could also try yoga or pilates for relaxation benefits or try out a new sport in one of your university’s societies and clubs.
– Research what student health services your university offers so you can take advantage of the services available to you as a student. Many offer sexual health clinics on campus, counselling services and advice on where to find other local healthcare services.