Sunday, 19 November 2017

Supporting Someone with Mental Health Difficulties

Jackson shares his experiences living with anxiety and how it affects his relationships.

-Jackson Miller

After receiving plenty of supportive feedback for my first anxiety post, I wanted to write this second post without hesitation. I was asked what advice I'd give to the loved ones of those suffering from anxiety or any other mental difficulty.

This article contains details of my own relationship and the strain anxiety has placed upon it. I also give advice to those who are family, friends, or partners of someone with a mental illness, from the perspective of that person. Friendship, family relationship, or romantic relationship - this content applies to all.

My Relationship

I'm currently in a relationship with someone who makes me smile brighter than anything else in this world. We share the same values and thrive in our relationship as it's suffused with trust and honesty.

We've been together for two and a half years and, like all relationships, we've had some tough times. But we've had an exceptionally strong relationship; whenever the few arguments we've had did arise we always handled it maturely and supported each other.

My Relationship + Anxiety

Now that you have a little insight into my relationship and its stability, let me tell you about how my anxiety has affected the relationship. There have been many major effects that my anxiety has had on my relationship:

* Being unable to travel
* Being unable to eat at her house
* Being unable to do events with her family
* Being extremely clingy at times
* Putting pressure on her as my supportive anchor
* Constantly leaning on her when my anxiety drained my own strength
* She had to be there with me during anxiety attacks
* She had to watch for years as my anxiety ate away at me
* She had to explain to people why we didn't attend certain events

She Became My Anchor

My girlfriend is now the one thing in the world that takes my anxiety away. Of course, it still does occur - but it lessens when I'm with her and even when it does resurface she helps me through it.

If you become a grounding force for a person you know with a mental illness, there are a couple things you need to realise:

* They will depend on you, probably more than anyone else in their life
* You'll take on a significant responsibility
* At times, they'll feel like a burden to you
* They will need you, especially when you're away from them

We Can Be Burdens - And We Know It

I'm not going to rant about how I feel sorry for myself for being a burden, but I will address this truth: my anxiety makes life for me and everyone else more difficult at times. 

If you are involved with someone with mental health difficulties, understand that they will feel guilty. They are aware of the pressure they bring, and they sometimes think you'd be better off without them. This can affect their self-esteem; they won't show it all the time and often won't even admit it, but it can exacerbate their low mood.

I'm saying this because it is important to be aware of the way they view your relationship. Look out for when they try to distance themselves from you just to spare you, as these are the times when we need support the most. While it's difficult because we don't want to cause you pain or stress, it's never good for us to push you away.

I've learned that trying to deny being a burden isn't healthy, but growing engulfed by it is even worse. Everyone has their imperfections, and we continue to love each other anyway.  

How Can You Be Supportive?

If you have a relationship with someone who suffers from mental health difficulties,
* Support them as much as you can
* Learn about their situation
* Remind them of the positives, not the negatives
* Be there to help them when they are down. Paradoxically, giving them space can be key. If you can't help - and often, the only one who can help them is them - then just be there for when they need you. 

For the full-length article and more on the subject, visit

Hi, I’m Jackson. I’m a first year business student attending Humber College with a deep passion for reading, writing, and inspiring others. I’ve suffered with two mental illnesses for several years now and understand how much helpful information can improve your situation. Mental illnesses have a major impact on relationships, friendships, academic performance, careers, and basic living. After experiencing the struggles a mental illness can cause, I decided I wanted to write for Student Minds and share what I’ve learned from my personal experiences to help those in similar situations.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Trans Mental Health at University

Shev shares their experience of being transgender at university.

- Shevek Imogen Fodor (them/them)

I’ve started to joke that I came to uni as a lesbian woman and I’m leaving uni as a non-binary quoisexual (aka WTFsexual – I don’t know what’s going on). Exploring and discovering my gender identity whilst at university has been a liberating and affirming experience, but it has also had its challenges, and has noticeably had an impact on my (already not great) mental health. 

Imagine all of the stresses that extenuate mental health problems at university: trying to fit in with new flatmates, getting used to new living conditions and routines and a harder course with new expectations. Awareness of mental health difficulties and the challenges students face has been increasing, but trans people have all of this to deal with on top of having to navigate an oppressive, cisgendered world.

There is the daunting prospect of negotiating the bureaucracy of administration systems. This can be especially problematic if you are transitioning in the middle of your degree, as aspects of transitioning can be time consuming and anxiety-inducing. Non-binary identities aren’t recognised in the UK, so it can be a lottery as to whether your gender and prefixes will be available on forms. Furthermore, any change to birth certificates and passports, or changing your name by deed poll, is essentially a massive headache, and something I don’t want to think about when I’m worrying about getting my 3000-word essay written and submitted on time.

One of the consequences of this is the prospect of being misgendered and deadnamed by staff and students, who can be ignorant about trans issues. This term I emailed all of my tutors to ask them to use my new name, which is different from the one on the university systems. When introducing myself in the first seminars of term I told my peers that I use ‘they/them’ pronouns. Luckily everyone has been very supportive, but there is always the awareness that people are likely to forget. Being misgendered is a horrible experience, as it intensifies gender dysphoria; try battling with difficult academic theories whilst also having an underlying, overwhelming feeling of being uncomfortable in your own skin. I have been misgendered by councillors, tutors and peers, either because they assume my gender or have forgotten how I identify. Informing and correcting people is especially hard if you also have social anxiety and/or don’t want to make things awkward.

Then there is traversing social life. The realms of sports are very binarised, and intimidating for both binary and non-binary trans people. A personal bugbear of mine is trying to create a space for trans people within performance societies — where roles are often gendered and there is inadvertent transphobic humour — and trying to encourage people to use less gendered language (like alternatives for ‘ladies and gentlemen’). When going out, the consequences of how you present yourself in clubs and town can be terrifying, as you have to worry about being met with transphobia based on how you look whilst also wanting to fit in.

This is just a small taster of what life at university is like as a trans person. It is unsurprising why this extra stress can extenuate mental health problems that are already present.

To end on a positive note, one really great thing at my university has been the support of the trans network, which has a secret Facebook group that helps provide a safe space for our trans community. Here everyone - whether they are questioning, transitioning, closeted or out - can post experiences both positive and negative, questions, and advice. It helps combat feelings of isolation which trans people often experience, and can contribute to anxiety and depression. Being able to talk in confidence has helped me work out my gender identity, and on many occasions it has been such a relief to be able to vent when I've been misgendered or frustrated by ignorance. It also allows more experienced members of the university to help by providing valuable tips on navigating university support and administrative systems, and discuss ways to campaign and work towards making the university more accepting.

Shev is studying English and Related Lit and is blogging because they have always been open about their mental health problems and want to help break down stigma by helping people feel more comfortable so that they can talk about it and reach support more effectively.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Sick of Studying: Does the language of mental ‘illness’ always make sense in Higher Education?

Michael writes about the language of mental ‘illness’ within the context of University life.

-Michael Priestley

We are often incited to think of mental ‘illness’ in the same manner as physical ‘illness’; as a biological condition that besets genetically vulnerable individuals and thus demands specialist diagnoses, explanations and treatments. As with any such condition, organisational responsibility can only lie, it seems, in the providing of specialist services for the individual to access in times of crisis. But without due care, this may lead us to thinking of mental ‘illness’ solely as something to be medically treated, rather than socially prevented; something separate and other, something only for doctors and patients, something that we as students need not really think or do anything about, either for ourselves or for others. We can become so entrenched in this language of ‘illness’ that it can become difficult for us to perceive and openly discuss both the relevant social and environmental risk factors and/or potential solutions that we just already know from our own experiences of University life.

Using a different language might, I suggest, help us to view and thus respond to mental health in a new, and more helpful, way. For the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, this involves letting go of our specialist, universal, conceptions of ‘illness’, and returning instead to what we already know about mental health through listening to other people’s experiences within the context of their own lives. Perhaps then, as clinical psychologist Richard Bentall has suggested, it no longer makes sense to talk of ‘symptoms’ at all, but instead ‘abandon psychiatric diagnosis altogether’ (2006, p.220) and (re)conceptualise mental ‘illness’ simply as ‘complaints’ (ibid) that are contextually embedded within the social world.

For me then, I came to realise that my own experiences of depression and anxiety might itself be symptomatic of a bigger sickness within the context of higher education and society more generally. I had become sick. I felt hopelessly inadequate upon facing the often incompatible academic, social and economic expectations of student life and I constantly anticipated failure and humiliation. I began to isolate myself, taking comfort in increasingly unhealthy work patterns and, progressively, self-harming.

But perhaps, I now realise, this sickness wasn’t a job solely for the doctor or other mental health professionals. It was just as much a job for policy makers, the University and society more generally. Because what I was really sick of was the stress, the pressure and the insecurity of University life; the relentless assessment, the needless competition, the obsession with ‘future employability’, the impossible social expectations, the overwhelming debt, the constant financial anxiety. Maybe, just as certain longstanding beliefs that natural medical conditions disproportionately affecting women were, in fact, inherent to patriarchal capitalist society, the student mental health crisis could come to be seen as indicative of a larger social crisis within higher education.

I don’t say all this just to complain or to promote some political agenda. And of course, always talk to a professional if you are concerned for your own or others’ wellbeing. But I do hope that the sharing of my experiences might hold some value for both students and for the University. Because as an individual, it was both liberating and empowering to learn that some of my own failings were really just as much the failure of higher education. And for Universities, by expanding the language of mental ‘illness’ in order to to listen to, learn more about and respond to students’ own experiences, they may help to develop a more effective, collective and coordinated environment for student mental health and wellbeing.

Hi, I'm Michael. I'm currently a prospective PhD student at Durham University and wanted to write for Student Minds about my own experiences of depression, anxiety and university life. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

How Volunteering helped me with my Mental Health

Charlotte shares her experiences of Volunteering with local Mental Health charities.
- Charlotte Morley

Before coming to University, I struggled with a 5-year long battle with my mental health. I spent years of my adolescence receiving treatment from a psychiatrist and a therapist for my Depression, Eating Disorder and issues with Self Harm. Now, as a 3rd year and soon to be graduate with a BSc degree in Psychology, I want to reflect on how my mental health affected my experiences at University.

Being a self-confessed perfectionist, when the prospect of attending University was on the horizon, I threw every ounce of my energy into attaining the best grades possible to study the subject that I love, Psychology, at the University of East Anglia (UEA) where I felt at ease as soon as I visited. When results day arrived and I saw the confirmation of my acceptance into the university, I was bursting with excitement for my new journey in a chapter of my life where I could leave my mental health problems behind me.

However, amidst all of the excitement for my ''new start'' and my new-found independence in a life away from the comforts of my own home, I didn't really consider how such a massive transition could make me vulnerable to slipping back into my illnesses and leave me questioning whether I really should've deferred from a year.

Moving into halls was both an exciting and incredibly frightening experience. Although I've never necessarily struggled to make friends, I'm a family-oriented person and being away from them for months at a time felt quite daunting. My family were a big source of support for my mental health and suddenly there were going to be two and half hours away from me. Luckily, my first couple of weeks as a fresher was quite typical: nights out, the dreaded fresher's flu, coupled with the chorus of coughing in 9am lectures that you dragged yourself to, reluctantly. However, as the month progressed, I soon revelled in the fact that I had complete control and independence, and this was massively detrimental to my mental health. I became increasingly withdrawn and I started reverting to my previous eating disorder behaviours and relapsed into depression again. I was a signature away from dropping out altogether and going back home for good. Luckily, the fear of failure and disappointment, as well as the thought of losing my new friends, made me persevere and I made it through until Christmas break. However, I returned home for Christmas having lost a significant and dramatic amount of weight.

Panic soon set in and I just knew that when I returned to University in January, I had to do something to prevent this from spiralling back to the way I used to be. When I came back to University in January, having increased my weight slightly, I sought out help through the university to get things back on track. I began to notice changes. I also made a decision that has contributed significantly to achieving stability. To help tackle my feelings of isolation, I started volunteering with charities that were close to my heart.

Volunteering gave me a tremendous sense of hope and purpose, which helped me to establish my sense of identity. I volunteered regularly as a Peer Support Volunteer with MIND and Rethink Mental Illness, where I encountered some incredibly brave individuals suffering from debilitating and enduring forms of mental illness. The lovely people who attended these support groups knew me by name and looked forward to seeing me every week and confiding in me about their struggles. It gave structure to my week, which is SO important when you're struggling with your mental health and increased my levels of social support. Research has consistently shown that volunteering has favourable effects on mental health and I would advise anyone, whether suffering with their mental health at University or not, to engage in volunteering in their community, and especially within causes that are meaningful to you. I truly believe that I wouldn't still be at university without it.

Hi, I'm Charlotte. I'm a 3rd year Psychology student at UEA with a compelling enthusiasm for talking about all things mental health. I'm an avid volunteer and am passionate about contributing to my local community by partaking in a range of charity work. The transition to University can pose a huge strain on your mental health and I wanted to write for Student Minds to share my personal experiences with my mental health, raise awareness, and talk about the strategies I have implemented to look after myself whilst studying.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Taking a Breather

Yasmeen talks about the struggle of maintaining self-confidence whilst pursuing your dreams, and how it's all about balance when it comes to surviving university.
            - Yasmeen 

‘If you were born with the weakness to fall, you were born with the strength to rise. Give yourself credit for how far you've come.'

I remember it like it was yesterday; all of the excitement and nerves that built up inside of me when I found out that I had been given a place at University to study Adult Nursing back in 2015. An overwhelming feeling. A mixture of every emotion. Then, a few months into my degree, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I had just started to embark on probably the biggest journey of my life and now I was full of many doubts. Could I make it through the whole 3 years whilst battling my own demons? Why was I feeling like this now? I had wanted to study Adult Nursing for as long as I could remember. Where had all my self-belief gone?

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the number of students dropping out of university due to a mental health condition has trebled in the more recent years; between 2014 and 2015, a staggering 1,180 students left university early. I know this because I like to do my research to see how many people have actually acted on my daily thoughts. I was a lot more determined in my first year to prove myself wrong. Now I have just gone into my third year, and I feel like I’ve hit a wall. I feel like I’m struggling more than ever at the moment, with my anxiety taking over significantly. I struggle with social anxiety a lot where I find it hard being around too many people at a single one time- I have on many occasions been sat in a lecture theatre surrounded by all of the regular faces of the members of my cohort and felt like I needed to escape. My palms go sweaty and my heart starts racing and suddenly everything feels like a blur. I am trying to change my mindset towards my education, as I have felt on several occasions that I have wanted to quit and give up, to drop out and focus on myself and my health- but I am determined not to let my anxiety get in the way of achieving my dreams. A quote that I have always loved goes as follows: "The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed”- and I feel like that is my motivation to continue because I am so close!

Tips on dealing with mental health at University: 
  Ø  Use your universities support system! Take advantage of the available support that your university has to offer you. Whether that be a mental health wellbeing team or a counselling service. Having somebody to talk to at university can be useful.
  Ø  Do not be afraid to tell your lectures/tutors/mentors that you are struggling. These staff are trained at supporting students who have personal issues. They might be able to give you some additional academic support.
  Ø  Do not push yourself further than your limits. If you feel that your mental health is having a down period, do not feel guilty for taking a breather or a break from any work you may have to do. Giving yourself a break will allow yourself to work better in the long run.

I think the hardest part for me is finding a balance; a balance between looking after myself, my mental health, as well as putting my all into my degree and finding time for personal commitments. My mental health has taken over my life in more ways than imaginable. It has stripped me of my confidence and has affected my academic abilities. I feel as though I cannot function like I used to; I lack in concentration and motivation. It is such a huge battle, and nothing is more difficult than trying to better yourself whilst still trying hard to achieve your goals. I guess my main message is that it's ok to take time to breathe. Your degree is only a small number of years, but your mental health is life long. Your grades will never be more important than your health, and I hope anybody else experiencing what I am going through realizes this. Prioritise yourself and your success will follow!

 Hi, my name is Yasmeen and I am 21 years old. I was born and raised in East London and I am currently in my final year of studying Adult Nursing at London South Bank University. I have been suffering with Anxiety and Depression for around 2 years now and I see it as my goal to raise awareness about mental health, to change the stigma towards mental illness and to get people talking! Blogging my experience is a way for me to deal with my own problems and hopefully write about things that people can relate too.  

If you are considering taking time out of university due to mental health issues, speak to the student services and/or your academic tutors. 

Friday, 10 November 2017

Medication and Moving to University

Lauren explores her experiences with medication and moving to university with Mental Illness'

- Lauren Brooks

Everybody tells you going to university is the scariest but greatest thing that you’ll ever do, but no one ever tells you what to expect when you have mental health difficulties. I, myself, suffer from social anxiety, which is when you feel so scared to even speak to someone, that it paralyses you; OCD, which causes people to think irrationally and become compulsive with certain habits in order to prevent a certain event which they think will happen. Finally, I also suffer from depression, which is like a dark cloud that is constantly over you, no matter how hard you may try to get rid of it. During the summer, I had an exact plan of what I was going to do, I was going to slowly wean myself off my anti-depressants so I could become stable enough to cope without them. However, I didn’t realise just how much my mind, at that moment in time, still needed the medication in order to function.

So, once I tried to wean myself off, first by lowering the dosage through the advice of a doctor, I started to become very low in my moods or I would begin the day on an okay kind of mood, which would eventually go downhill. Telling my parents that I was struggling was hard, as it felt like in a way that my self-control and plans had been taken away from me, I wanted to stop taking the medication, so that I could start at university afresh and not have anything preventing me from socialising, like I wanted to enjoy a few drinks and experience the sensation of getting tipsy, like your usual kind of eighteen year old.

My doctor luckily let me keep a packet of my higher dosage, so that if I ever needed it I could go back to it, taking that tablet in the morning was tough, as I knew it would be another six to twelve months, before the doctors would even consider letting me off the antidepressants again. But, after seeing just how much the medication helped to make my mood okay again, I decided that my mind was telling me that it wasn’t quite ready yet to take the stabilisers off the bike yet. So, a few days later, it’s A Level Results Day, the day I had been waiting three months for, the anxiety and dread filled within me, as I knew this would be the day I found out whether I had made it into university or not.

My anxiety filled mind kept me awake the whole night practically, making me panic about the worst outcomes possible, so at around half six I got up, went downstairs, turned on my laptop, went on the UCAS website and that’s where I saw it, I had got into university. I could hardly breathe, I was so shocked, relieved and in wonder, all of the blood, sweat and tears had been worth it. Throughout the three weeks prior to my arrival at university, my family and I were in such a rush trying to get all the stuff I needed together and sorting out my accommodation, but also those three weeks felt like the longest few weeks of my life.

So, when arrivals weekend came, I was relieved that it was finally here, but also immensely nervous, what if my new flatmates don’t like me? What if I don’t like the course? What if my anxiety makes me feel unable to speak to anyone? Safe to say, my mood was very up and down on move in day, so when the time arrived to say goodbye to my family, I was in floods of tears as I watched them leave, despite knowing that they were only an hour’s drive away. At first, I found it very overwhelming knowing that I would be living on my own for three whole academic years, responsible for looking after my own safety and wellbeing.

I also struggled with immense loneliness, keeping myself in my room, afraid of showing people my real self, in case they didn’t like what they seen. Going into university, I had extremely high and ridiculous expectations that I would meet friends straight away, but now I realise that it doesn’t happen overnight that it takes time. Getting used to living on campus at university isn’t easy especially with mental health issues, but the rewards you get out of it, is also amazing. You feel so much more independent and able, you get to meet new people, venture out of your comfort zone. If you are struggling, my advice would be, don’t stay quiet, tell someone. Because you never know, someone else may be feeling exactly the same as you.

"Hi, I'm Lauren, I am a first year student studying Social Work. I suffer from Depression, OCD and anxiety, I am writing for Student Minds to try and help others."

Monday, 6 November 2017

Am I stressed or is this just part of my personality now?

Elise writes about managing the stress that university life brings for stress-awareness week

- Elise Jackson

University is majorly stressful, I doubt anyone’s disputing that. Exams, deadlines, social pressures: one is enough to make your stomach turn, let alone all at once. But yay, that’s what uni is! You gotta take it in your stride, right? 

Well, yes, actually. Kind of. 

Hear me out here because I know it’s not the most comforting thing. Suck it up and get on with it? Seems a pretty regressive way of managing your problems. However, stress is different to the problems that probably led you here. Acute stress and chronic stress are completely different, biologically and functionally. Acute stress is the kind you feel when your boss yells at you or when you talk to a crush. This stress is triggered by one of two neurological pathways, leading to the ‘fight or flight’ response. The sympathomedullary pathway (I know right) triggers those familiar bodily responses by releasing adrenaline and noradrenaline: your heart rate increases to get blood pumping to your muscles (so you can run away); you sweat (so you’re slippery to predators); and you need to throw-up/pee (to expel water-weight so you can run quicker). However, these are short-lived. Once the stressor disappears – or more accurately, you’ve reached safety – so do the symptoms. Your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and renormalises everything. This is, in a weird roundabout way, the ‘nice’ kind of stress. 

Kiecolt-Glazer’s (1984) studies with medical students show that, whilst the symptoms seem unending, their stress often proved to be a kind of prolonged acute stress that disappeared after exams. So, what does this mean? Well, with university, deadlines are always around the corner. Depending on your subject, you might feel like you’re being constantly assessed. And, to an extent, this is true (and unavoidable). University is intentionally challenging. Whilst stress sucks, adrenaline can be useful: it keeps you alert and buzzing so you can get more done – like an internal coffee machine. It’s a physiological reaction, so, it’s best utilised to your advantage. Top tip for when stress does disappear: cortisol, the hormone that levels you back out after a stressful experience, is an immunosuppressant, so you may get ill. Like my advice with most things mental health – remember to look after your body! 

But, what if stress doesn’t go away? Chronic stress is slightly more troublesome. Whilst acute stress can last for a long time, it disappears once the situation stabilises. Chronic stress can last months, even years, detrimentally affecting health. Studies show heightened coronary heart disease, chronic headaches, and mental illness in chronically-stressed individuals. A good way to identify potential chronic stress: think about your last submission of a big assignment. Did you feel relieved? Were you calmer or did that dread feeling not budge? Don’t worry if it didn’t, as there are ways to manage this. There’s the usual, exercise (swimming has been proven particularly effective as it helps to regulate breathing without being too intense) and eating well. Peppermint tea is great for an uneasy stomach; chamomile tells your brain to calm down; and I don’t know what’s in Pukka’s Night Time tea but it legitimately knocks me out every time! Mindfulness is essential – start with yoga or guided meditation sessions.

However, if you think you’re chronically stressed, please seek help. It may seem like some people are never stressed, but I promise, no student is a stranger to it. Personality differences often manifest in stress-management skills; but, talking to friends can help you to feel less alone and overwhelmed and may even give you new perspectives. You can explore professional avenues: hardiness training and stress-inoculation treatments - forms of cognitive behavioural therapy - prove effective with chronic sufferers. Most universities, alongside Student Minds, run workshops on managing stress-induced symptoms. Importantly, remember: this isn’t forever. I know I’m guilty of falling into the ‘Am I stressed or is this just part of my personality now?’ trap. You aren’t your stress; it isn’t inherent to you. Combining healthy living, mindfulness, and a good community will help you feel better eventually, if not right now. 

Oh, and chocolate releases dopamine, the happy drug. So, eat chocolate!

Hello! I'm Elise. I'm currently in my final year studying English Language and Literature at the University of Nottingham. My writings for Student Minds will range from pieces about depression and DPD to coping with loss, bereavement and change during your studies - all the while remaining mindful and getting the most out of university life. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Freshers' Flu and Feeling Blue

Mary explores the realisation that you're struggling and accepting help during the early months of university. 

- Mary Litchfield

The first few weeks of university are so busy and hectic that you can have hardly any time to think about how you’re feeling and coping with such an enormous change; it can take time to adjust to getting into the routine of lectures and coursework. Sometimes suppressed worries can surface after a few weeks or months.

Freshers’ and neglecting yourself

Starting your first year of university opens up a whole new world of opportunity, from making tonnes of new friends, joining lots of exciting societies and clubs, to just going out and having a laugh. And, of course, go to every single one of your 9 am lectures. However, the beginning of university isn’t always sunshine and roses and it can be difficult to fully take in your new situation or surroundings. When freshers’ ends and all the excitement that goes with it, sometimes it can be tough. It can feel like you’re alone and fending for yourself, and potentially can lead to you feeling down about the university experience.

It can feel so busy that you don’t have time to address any emotions that arise, and so it's easy to deny yourself a little necessary me-time just to ponder your own thoughts and see how you’re coping emotionally and physically. Looking after your mental health as well as your physical health, especially when freshers’ flu makes an appearance, is important for thriving at university.

Things not going to plan

When you arrive at university there are so many ideas and preconceptions about student life that are going through your mind. Things will likely not be exactly how you had expected, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; surprises can be exciting. However, when things aren’t going to plan it’s easy to feel anxious or worried, especially once you’re fending for yourself without the immediate support of your family.

Additionally, worries and negative feelings that were in the back of your mind can creep up on you beyond your initial anxieties when beginning university. You may be in a situation where you aren’t getting on with your flatmates, or your course isn’t what you expected, or perhaps you’re missing family and friends back at home. Navigating a new stage of your life, on a new campus, and in a new city can be confusing!

But it is important to remember that lots of people experience these anxieties, but that every individual also adjusts to university differently and no one’s situation is the same. It is perfectly normal for things not to have gone how you expected. If you’re facing problems then it can help to share them – you may be surprised at how many of your peers may share these worries.

Mental health matters

If you’ve struggled with mental health difficulties or significant worries before coming to university it can make the process of going away a lot more difficult.

Struggling during the beginning of university is normal for every student embarking on a new stage of life but it can be particularly difficult, especially if you’ve struggled with mental health difficulties or significant worries before coming to university. You’re in a new place and want a fresh start so it can be easy to deny to yourself that you might need a little help or it can also be overwhelming trying to approach the university and ask for help. With so much going on, it can be even more of a struggle to get into the swing of university life. Bumps in the road can feed on difficulties or problems you’re having or have had previously. Even whilst being surrounded by hundreds of people you can feel alone.

There can be a pressure to “have fun” and neglecting your feelings or not getting support can be easier than these facing problems. But this can just make it worse and it’s usually best to tackle things earlier.

University is a whirlwind of chaos, excitement and opportunity. You can have the best and worst days. It’s not always plain sailing, particularly during your first couple of weeks or months. It can be easy to let problems linger and get worse, which isn’t what you need whilst battling off fresher’s flu. Whatever you’re struggling with, never be afraid to seek out help.

Hi, I’m Mary. I recently graduated from The University of Nottingham. During my time there I was part of Nottingham’s Student Minds committee; it was here that I found out about Student Minds’ blog. Mental health is still something very stigmatised and not always talked about. So, I thought I’d try my hand at starting conversations about it and if they help even one person, it’s a step in the right direction.

Starting university/ Freshers':
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The Perils of Perfectionism

Catrin discusses the effect that anxiety and perfectionism have on university life, and how easy it is to put unnecessary stress on yourself. She explores the high-pressure environment at the University of Oxford, and how stress can be a competitive sport.

- Catrin Haberfield

University is hard. Brilliant, but hard, no matter where you are or what you study. I’m in my third year at Somerville College, Oxford, and I’ve truly loved every minute of it. My course is fantastic – I’ve had the chance to study everything from Beowulf to Dickens, Chaucer to Stoppard, and I’m having a whale of a time researching runic epigraphy for my dissertation. My college is amazing too: the welfare, food, accommodation, and people are all wonderful. But while the past two years have been an absolutely incredible experience, they’ve also been extremely challenging. 

One in four university students experiences mental health issues; at Oxford, it’s closer to one in two. I’m not stating this to gain sympathy, or to try and convince people that Oxford students are ‘special snowflakes’. I know that I’m at quite literally the best university in the world, and I’m proud of my achievements, but it can’t be escaped that standards here are high and so many people push themselves to breaking point just to live up to expectations. To make matters worse, these expectations can often be self-imposed. I definitely think that most Oxford students have a perfectionist streak, but with the sheer amount of work we’re given it’s hard to be 100% on point for every essay, tute sheet, or presentation. All too often, stress becomes competitive, and having four essays and reading list a mile long is worn like a badge of honour. But there’s nothing more futile, nothing more unhelpful, than constant self-deprecation coupled with high expectations.

I’ve lived with anxiety for years, and have struggled with depression and an eating disorder at various points of my life. A lot of these issues stem from perfectionism, and manifest as unhealthy coping mechanisms for stress. Eating disorders and self-harm, for example, often develop as ways to regain control over one part of your life when you feel powerless in other areas. During my first year, my eating disorder developed into bulimia, my depression reached an all-time low, a relationship ended, and my grandfather died. Add all of these things together, and top it off with a healthy dose of two essays a week (plus learning Old English from scratch), and you can see why I struggled. 

But – and this is the important thing – you don’t have to have a mental illness to struggle at uni. You don’t have to be mentally ill to find things hard. Everyone has their own mental health, the same way everyone has their own physical health, and you need to look after both. Stress is a natural part of life, and a certain amount is absolutely a healthy thing. Can you imagine if you didn’t get stressed about anything? You’d never be motivated, or interested, or scared. Life would be boring. But don’t make things harder by putting more pressure on yourself than you need. Set realistic goals, find a balance between work and play, and don’t punish yourself for taking an evening (or even a whole weekend) off. I guess my point is: be nice to yourself. You deserve it.

Hi folks! I'm Catrin, a third year Medieval English Language and Literature student at Somerville College, Oxford. I've always been super vocal when it comes to mental health; I love pushing boundaries and challenging people's assumptions about mental illness. I live with mental illness, so I know how much both the illnesses and the stigma can affect your life, as well as the lives of others. I'm incredibly excited to be a Sub-Editor for Student Minds, and I can't wait to help other people share their stories!

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Travelling with Stress and Depression: 5 tips on making beautiful memories

Zahra provides her top 5 tips on how to make the most of travelling when you're dealing with stress and depression. 
- Zahra Rahman 

Travelling is a great way to learn about new cultures, foods and people. It might not magically cure you of the negative feelings in your life, but it is a great experience and can help you take a break and gain some perspective. As a sufferer of depression, I have a few tips that may help you look on the brighter side of travelling and that will also, hopefully, give you the encouragement to travel if you haven’t before!

1) Plan ahead 

A drastic change – even a positive one – taking place without any planning can be extremely daunting, so do as much research as you can before you go. Check the FCO website for any travel updates, research where the nearest pharmacy or doctor is, locate the beaches, pack your EHIC card and buy some travel insurance. Having an FCO travellers’ checklist to hand is a great way to help you before you set off.

2) Take your closest friend or family member – or both!

Travelling solo can be an amazing; you can learn a lot about yourself and have a completely different experience. However, if that’s just too big at this stage in your life then it’s fine to save that trip for another time. Having a close friend with you when travelling means you have someone to support you, as well as sharing your excitement and experience. They’ll probably even make things more exciting for you!

3) Build confidence

Being away from home is a great time to try out new things and venture outside of your comfort zone. You never know, that confidence you build abroad might even stay once you return home. That’s not to say that you should aim to come back from a trip as a completely different person; learn to love yourself for who you are and take steps to build a better version of you.

4) Don’t just go to the tourist parts

I have been to Turkey twice so far. The first time I went to Bodrum, which was a great holiday but obviously a tourist spot; restaurants served “English Breakfasts” and all the music in the bazaars were American pop songs.

The second time I did a road trip around all of Turkey, which was amazing. However, one thing hit me hard: I saw two boys aged between 5-8 years old, begging for money on the metro. The younger boy had a bandage over his eye and looked so, so tired. His older brother was dragging him along the carriage, scared of losing him.
This broke my heart, but also began to fix me. I realised that I may have some negatives in my life that stress me out, but I am not in the position of those children. These kids are struggling to stay alive.
Seeing tragedies sometimes hits your own reality hard, but gives your mental health a positive effect.

5) Take photos and videos: Be trigger happy on the camera!

Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a professional photographer or have a top end DSLR to do this. Whatever pictures and videos you take are just for you, to remember the amazing time you had, how you grew as a person and how that country was a part of it. Looking at your memories will pick you up on a bad day and will get you planning your next holiday. And you never know, one day you will be that solo traveller!

You can follow the FCO on Facebook and Twitter @FCOtravel and on Instagram under @ukforeignoffice for further information and travel safety advice.

Hi! My name is Zahra Rahman and I am a Digital Media Student at the University of Brighton. I love laughing, travelling, food, Bollywood and getting involved with charities that help vulnerable people across the world. The one thing I say to myself when things get tough is, "This is happening for a good reason". Stay positive and keep smiling!