After all the excitement and busyness over Christmas, it’s normal to feel a little glum during January. Getting back into a routine may leave you feeling low, not helped by additional stressors like financial constraints, lack of sleep, increased alcohol consumption, and the bleak January weather. Together, these can lead to sadness, anxiety and depression, as well as thoughts and feelings of suicide.

Can drugs and alcohol help with low mood?

People struggling in January often turn to substances to try to cope with their low emotions. It is important to know that drugs and alcohol are more likely to exaggerate rather than alleviate these emotions. Relying on substance use when you are feeling low can lead to psychological and/or physical dependence, and can put both your physical health and your psychological health at risk. Drugs and alcohol can trigger underlying mental health issues as well as worsening existing conditions. For these reasons, you will feel better faster if you instead reach out for support when feeling down and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

It is important to remember that, if you have had a break from using drugs and alcohol over the winter break, you will have a lowered tolerance when you come back to university, which puts you at higher risk of overdose and intensified effects of drugs and alcohol. If you, or someone you know, are misusing drugs or alcohol, support is available on campus with Open Road.

Open Road provides a specialist substance misuse worker for the University, offering 1:1 confidential support for students which includes harm minimisation and psychosocial interventions. If needed, the substance misuse worker can also refer students for structured treatment through Open Road, the Essex Young Person’s Drug and Alcohol Service (EYPDAS), or Phoenix Futures Essex Alcohol Recovery Community.

If you are worried about a friend who you think may be struggling with substance misuse, Open Road are happy to give advice on how you can help. If you would like to receive support from Open Road on campus, please email to self-refer, or attend the Wellbeing Drop-In to request a referral.

Top tips to conquer the January blues

  • Exercise: shake off the sluggish feeling from the cold and dark weather and boost your mental and physical health when you get some exercise. It doesn’t have to be much: even a short walk to the shops will help.
  • Eat well: eating a healthy, balanced diet has been shown to lift mood, so make sure you’re eating the right stuff. It’s also OK to treat yourself and eat the food you love most.
  • Practise self-care: do things that improve your mental health like meditating, reading, cooking, and engaging in your hobbies and interests. Make time for yourself.
  • Sleep well: sleep is important for your wellbeing. Unwind before bed by swapping TV and phone screens for some mindfulness or calming music.
  • Talk: speak about how you’re feeling with friends, family, and your doctor. You can also access lots of support from the Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity Service.

The January blues may lead you to experience thoughts of suicide and self-harm. These feelings are normal, but it’s important you speak to someone you know and trust about how you are feeling.

As part of the University’s Suicide Prevention and Response Plan, we want people to feel free to talk about feelings of suicide and self-harm so they can be supported.

It’s vital that we first know the signs of suicide and how to talk to someone who may be feeling suicidal to allow us to have honest conversations around feelings of suicide.

Signs that someone is feeling suicidal

Mind have produced a guide on the signs of suicidal feelings. Different people have different experiences of suicidal feelings, and these feelings may build over time or change from moment to moment.

Someone who is suicidal may:

  • feel hopeless, and that there is no point in living
  • feel tearful and overwhelmed by negative thoughts
  • feel useless, and that they are not wanted or needed by other people
  • feel desperate, as if they have no other choice
  • feel restless and agitated, angry and frustrated
  • not want to do things they usually enjoy, and not want to engage with other people
  • find it hard to handle everyday things
  • use drugs and alcohol to cope with feelings
  • experience changes in sleep and appetite
  • neglect their personal care
  • avoid others and cut off communication

It is also helpful to know some of the circumstances that can trigger thoughts of suicide and self-harm, including:

  • bereavement
  • relationship and family problems
  • housing and/or financial worries
  • loneliness and isolation

You may not always be able to spot these signs or circumstances in someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, but it is useful to keep these in mind if you are concerned for yourself or for someone else.

How to start a conversation with someone feeling suicidal

It can be distressing if you are worried about someone who feels suicidal. You might feel unsure about how to start a conversation with them or feel anxious about asking them if they feel suicidal.

If you are worried about someone, choose a good time and place to speak openly with them where it is quiet and there aren’t distractions. Use open questions to ask how they are feeling and share your worries with them: for example, ‘How are you, I’ve noticed recently that you don’t seem quite yourself?’. Listen to them and be patient, allowing them time to open up and build trust with you. It’s also important to avoid giving your personal view of what’s wrong or what they should do.

You could ask:

‘Have you thought about ending your life?’ or ‘Are you saying that you want to die?’

Evidence has shown that asking someone directly about suicide can protect them, as it allows them the chance to talk openly about how they feel and provide them with relief to talk about what they have been experiencing. It is not true that you will be planting the idea of suicide in someone's head by asking them about it.

How to support someone who is feeling suicidal

Samaritans have created a helpful guide on how you can support someone who is experiencing thoughts and feelings of suicide. This guide includes tips on active listening when speaking with someone who is feeling suicidal, including showing you care, having patience, using open questions, and having the courage to support them.

You can encourage the person you are concerned about to seek help and support from medical services, and offer them emotional and practical support like looking for information that might be helpful, and asking if they need help with any practical tasks. You could also support someone by writing down self-help ideas for when they feel suicidal (such as who they can call in an emergency), how they can distract themselves using breathing techniques or engaging in their hobbies, and developing a support plan with them.

Getting support now

If you are experiencing thoughts of harming yourself, or concerned for someone you know, you can call Papyrus on 0800 068 4141, or Samaritans on 116 123, for confidential advice and support.

If you need a friendly chat about how you’re feeling and the support that is available to you at the University, come and speak with the Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity Service (SWIS). You can contact SWIS either by email at, or by coming to the Wellbeing Drop-In service.

During evenings and weekends, you can contact the 24-Hour Student Wellbeing Support Line on 0800 970 5020. You can also access our SilverCloud and Togetherall online support programmes at any time.