Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Talking About Bereavement

Emily writes about bereveament and the impact its intrinsic links with mental health and wellbeing.

- Emily Maybanks

Earlier this year, I was featured in a BBC News article (and a Wales Online article) about the importance of talking about death and dying. Yes, this is a pretty morbid topic. I was speaking to the media on behalf of the hospice charity ‘Sue Ryder’. My Dad was cared for in their Duchess of Kent Hospice in Reading at the end of his life six years ago. The charity was calling to end the taboo surrounding speaking about death. Death is something that inevitably affects us all and not talking about it – in a very similar way that not talking about mental health leads to this too – makes it awkward. 

Bereavement and mental health can be linked. A traumatic life event such as bereavement can trigger mental health difficulties. This is certainly the case in my life and with my experiences. After my Dad passed away in 2012, during my final year of A Levels, it honestly felt as though my life would never be the same as it was before. This was difficult for me to accept. After my Dad died, I was diagnosed with depression and I’ve struggled on and off with depression and anxiety ever since. 

Losing my Dad shapes everything I do in my life. Everything from choosing to go to University, to studying abroad, to writing for and being an editor for the students’ newspaper at University – every choice I make, I wonder what my Dad would say, or how he would feel. Sometimes, this doesn’t help my emotional health at all. Other times, it’s comforting to think that he might be proud of me. One of the things that I have learnt over the past six years is that the pain of losing someone never quite goes away. Yes, it gets easier to deal with, but it never completely vanishes and it is wrong to expect it to. The thought of graduating this summer without my Dad watching me is heart breaking. Every Birthday, Father’s Day, Christmas and anniversary, I miss him so much it hurts. 

Talking about it and being open about how I feel about my Dad’s death is something that I struggled with enormously at first. Once I came to University, I met people who had been through similar things and I felt more comfortable to talk about my own experiences of bereavement. I have also found that talking about bereavement is helpful in helping me to deal with my own emotions and it feels less and less awkward when I do talk about it.  

If you would like to get involved with our Men's Mental Health blogging series, then you can find all of the details here. You can also send us an email at blog@studentminds.org.uk for more details!

My name is Emily (Em). I am currently in my final year studying Modern Languages, Translation & Interpreting at Swansea University, where I'm also the Creative Writing Section Editor and Deputy Editor for The Waterfront - Swansea's student newspaper. I wanted to write for Student Minds because I have experienced depression and anxiety as well as other health issues, and I support friends who have also experienced mental health difficulties. I am also a passionate writer and writing has been important in my mental health experiences - both in helping me to cope with my mental health, as well as sharing my story in order to help others. 

Monday, 23 April 2018

ED and PhD

Paula discusses the impact of studying towards a PhD on ED recovery and how it can be possible to work towards both.

You struggle every single day, you might feel constantly overwhelmed, confused and lost. It can seem that nobody around you understands what you’re going through. You have some smaller and bigger successes, but more often you fail. These are the signs of recovering from an eating disorder. Or doing a PhD. And even though their consequential issues seem so similar, they often don’t go together too well.

You might have successfully gotten through high school and college while battling an eating disorder. You’re still recovering and you think that you can keep working on your health while doing a PhD. Should you? Or rather, why should you NOT?

You might be surprised how big a role food plays in academia. Seminars often mean wine and cheese receptions or at least coffee and pastries. Your collaborator invites you for a lunch to discuss a new idea. Finally, you attend a conference and you eat weird food in weird times and places. No “safe” options- nobody cares that pizza freaks you out or that you don’t eat after 8pm.

In principle, there’s always an option of avoiding it, such as going to a seminar and skipping the pastry or travelling to a conference with a bag of your favourite “safe” food. This worked in college, didn’t it? Trust me, it would be definitely noticed in academia. Food is a social activity and its quality or nutritional values really don’t matter.

Let’s say you somehow overcome the difficulties connected to the frequent presence of food in academia. The problem is, you’ll still be constantly thinking about it. Analysing how much you’ve eaten and if you can allow yourself one more sandwich. Coming up with a sneaky plan to skip a conference session and go for a run. See what’s happening here? You’re supposed to be thinking about Maths/Biology/History/whatever your PhD is in. And yet, instead of listening to the keynote speaker, you’re analysing and reanalysing the nutritional value of your past and future meals.

If you did your undergraduate degree in the UK, you’re probably used to constant support: personal tutors, hall wardens etc. You knew that if you struggled, they’d be there for you. That someone will get concerned if you lose too much weight. That they’ll make sure you’re ok.

PhD is a different story. If you’re lucky (like I am), you may have a supervisor who notices warning signs and asks how you’re doing. However, in many cases advisers treat their students as paper-producing machines. They discuss with them only academic issues, the personal life doesn’t matter as long as they provide results. I’m not claiming that academics are heartless creatures, but in reality all researchers are extremely busy and most of them simply don’t have time to babysit their students.

Am I saying that if you have an eating disorder you should forget about your PhD dreams? Absolutely not! My only advice is to time it carefully. If you’re currently interested in doing a PhD, I strongly advise you to discuss it with your treatment team. Maybe in your particular case entering grad school would be actually a good idea, who knows. The abovementioned difficulties in juggling research with eating problems could even motivate you to recover for good.

If you do decide to start a PhD while recovering from an ED, ensure that:

• You get regular meetings with your treatment team, which means that if you’re moving miles away, you may need to schedule regular trips home, arrange Skype meetings or even consider a new team, if all other options aren’t possible.

• Someone (not yourself!) is checking your weight.

• You have social life, so you need to plan to meet new friends in grad school. This could be through societies, student accommodation or a research group.

• You are familiar with the support system of your university. This may include counselling services, departmental welfare officers or a caring supervisor.

• You and your team are SURE you’re ready.

PhD and ED recovery can go together. However, they both require time and determination- the more you focus on your own health now, the faster the recovery process will be. That’s why I recommend that you think about your options carefully, because entering grad school healthy ultimately increases the likelihood that you will have a better experience.

No matter if you choose to do your PhD now or wait until you’re healthier, be sure to make the most of it. Good luck!

Hi! I'm Paula, a PhD Maths student. I'd like to share my thoughts about mental health in graduate school.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Opening up about Men's Mental Health - Michael

Michael shares his experience living with and opening up about mental health conditions.
- Michael

For many years now I’ve been fighting mental health difficulties such as depression, mental paralysis, and anxiety. I’m in the prime of my life, so I ask myself, why do I feel like this? I’ve just turned twenty and I am a Student in London, but I find it hard to introduce myself because for years I didn’t have a clue who I was. My worst times were between 2015-2017 and I’m now in a rebuilding stage. I still fall down sometimes, but I get back up. Always get back up.

I see every day the major stigma for men to open up about themselves. People ask why? Men have been portrayed for decades – centuries, even – to be strong and mentally stable. It’s okay to be an “Alpha Male”, but it’s okay to be emotional too. The whole issue of stigma comes from society and the people around us. Our friends/family are often the main people we’d cover it up from, and I covered up my emotions just so I wouldn’t show weakness. Men do this, and using this mask works to an extent. It’s also hard finding somebody who will understand. Not many friends/family will ever understand what’s going on. I know this because I could never talk to people I care about the most.

What makes me talk today? I’ve had enough of seeing people fall below me. Meaning, I’ve been on the brink of giving up many times. Those potential final moments of your life it’s just an unexplainable feeling. Known/unknown names are falling below the level and it frustrates me. Therefore, for a Male like myself to decide to open up. It’s bloody necessary in today’s society.

I’ve found myself struggling to function sometimes because my cognitive performance has been worn out with stress and anxiety. I’m currently having to rebuild my ability to do things I once thought were simple, such as literacy skills. I also lost a lot of good things in my life during those bad times. I gave up activities I once loved, like hiking and the gym. I banned myself from learning to drive because I nearly crashed the car from lack of concentration. I didn’t want to put others in danger, so I quit. I lost important individuals who didn’t know about my mental health difficulties because I didn’t want to drag them down with me. I was giving up on my future. I couldn’t let them waste theirs, that would’ve been selfish of me. It’s these regrets that I have which are also encouraging me to talk and help others.

I think that the main challenge for men in our society is to get over their own ego which makes them think they’ll be strong enough to get through it alone. I’d love to meet a person who walked in and out of mental health difficulties without anyone knowing or without any harm done. I went years without telling anyone and it made me worse. I accept that everyone is different, but everyone needs some kind of help from a healthy source. We were all born to do something in life. We aren’t here to just struggle day by day and only find peace on our deathbeds.

Therefore, we as men need to open up. It doesn’t matter who you are, or your story.  A ‘real man’ talks! Don’t ever think you have go through mental health issues alone, that’s just toxic. You can get through the barrier, you just have to break through it. There are so many resources to help us overcome mental health difficulties, you just have to use them. The first step? TALK!

If you would like to get involved with our Men's Mental Health blogging series, then you can find all of the details here. You can also send us an email at blog@studentminds.org.uk for more details!

Hi, I'm Michael Rigby and I study Sports Business and Broadcasting at UCFB Wembley. I have experienced mental illness, including depression and social anxiety since the age of 14.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

3 Reasons Why We Say "I'm Fine" When We're Not

Grace discusses the importance of being open about our mental health with those close to us.

When one replies with the phrase “I’m fine”, it’s undoubtedly one of the biggest (white) lies ever spoken – probably somewhere up there with “I have read the terms and conditions” and “there are sexy singles in your area”.

So, let’s be honest. How many times have you been guilty of saying “I’m fine” when really you’re not? A few? Quite often? Too many times to count? In fact, a survey of 2000 adults commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) found the average adult will say “I’m fine” 14 times a week, although just 19% actually mean it. 

So why do we feel this need to falsify that all is dandy, rather than just admitting we have a problem? What impact does this non-committal exchange have on our mental wellbeing and what can we do about it? For this, I propose three theories.

Theory 1: They’re just being polite.

The simple exchange initiated by asking “how are you?” is ritualistic; a social norm learned from a young age, whereby violating it is like prolonged eye-contact while eating a banana – you just don’t do it. It’s an automatic script of sorts, whereby we’ve rehearsed our parts so well, we’re basically Meryl Streep.

While acting out this well-mannered illusion of checking in on one another, we’re actually gaining as much insight into each other’s state of mind as simply saying “hello.” Unsurprisingly, such superficial – almost-reflexive – questioning and answering means we’re less likely to speak openly and honestly about our mental health, since it is implicit that the other person isn’t actually intent on finding out (or perhaps prepared for) a real answer.

Now, of course saying “I’m fine” can just be convenient. We liberally douse this phrase on one another, especially in lectures or in the library. I guess we must choose our moments with those with whom we can allow our conversations to become more substantive. By returning meaning behind our words, we can seize vital opportunities to both seek and offer support.

Theory 2: You’ve got this! (You really haven’t got this)

My wonderful Grandma says “you can either sink or swim… and I choose to swim”. Whilst there’s something impressive about a person who adamantly solves their own problems, I think we’re fooled by the misconception that if self-reliance is a virtue and that requiring help is a weakness. So, we present a “brave face”. We hide our vulnerabilities. We act like dogs that get stuck in things but pretend everything is ok. We precipitate a culture whereby we won’t discuss our own mental health for fear of judgement.

“Am I the only one who feels this way?” Such self-doubt clouds the reality that we often have common struggles. When I first acknowledged I was struggling with my mental health with my uni personal supervisor, it kind of felt like that moment when someone asks the question in class you thought was too stupid to say out loud. Suddenly you realise you’re not alone, and the question wasn’t silly at all.

Those asking for support are incredibly brave. But sometimes you can’t quite initiate this first step alone. It was after noticing I fell off the uni treadmill following traumatic events that a friend first contacted my personal supervisor on my behalf. Sometimes it’s not “sink or swim”; sometimes you need a lifeboat and she was just that.

Theory 3: We don’t want to burden others

The phrase “I’m fine” can also act as the conversational equivalent of Crocs; swiftly able to shut down any chance of further discussion. Quite often, this defensive action results from a fear of worrying, burdening, or annoying the listener.

Personally, by insisting “I’m fine”, I force myself to be the person I, and others, expect me to be (I’d LIKE to think humorous and enthusiastic…). However, simulating these qualities and engaging in societies whilst depressed is gruelling – sometimes I’d rather just hide away. Exhaustion and isolation is a high price to pay to think (mistakenly) I’m ‘pleasing’ or ‘protecting’ others. It took me a long time to realise that neither have to be an option if you can have an honest conversation. People are more understanding than mental illness lets you believe.

As listeners, as friends, you may not always have the solution or the ability to fully relate – but that’s okay! There are so many services available on campus that are incredibly willing to offer professional support and advice e.g. counselling, student support, supervisors, campus GPs. But what friends do have is time, care and compassion. You hold the ability to reassure each other you can be open and listened to. You also have the capacity to learn what the other may want but won’t ask for, and what they need but didn’t know. Open ear? Cup of tea? It’s the little things too.

Overall, we must push for cultural change in terms of discussing our mental health. Speaking openly and honestly can begin by asking simply, and genuinely, how someone is. As humans, we experience a spectrum of emotions – chances are, you’re probably not just “fine”. It’s okay to say we’re not okay.

Hi, I’m Grace. I’m a final year student studying Psychology at the University of York. This post is the first time I’ve opened up and written about my own mental health. After sharing it with my friends, I received lots of love and support but also realised that I'm not alone - hopefully this post can encourage others to do the same!

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Opening up about Men's Mental Health: Michael

In order to tackle problems with men's mental health, we need to redefine our expectations and understanding of masculinity.
- Michael

Tell Us about Yourself
Having completed my BA and MA at Durham University, I began a PhD in October studying the relationship between education policy and student mental health. I regularly volunteer both with the Samaritans, and a local suicide prevention, intervention and support charity called If U Care Share Foundation. Student mental health and wellbeing is very important to me and I am running the Edinburgh Marathon in May to fundraise for Student Minds.

Do you think there is a stigma attached to men talking about mental health? Why? 
In my view, the stigma that is attached to men talking about mental health is produced through the language we use. This manifest in both how we talk about men and, consequently, in talking about men’s mental health. In his book How Not to Be a Boy, Robert Webb reflects on the way that social narratives of masculinity condition men into believing that certain thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are abnormal. Webb suggests that men act and interact according to certain socially accepted rules of masculinity. For example, that men do not cry, that men do not discuss feelings, that men get into fights, that men like girls, and that men obsess about sport. Men can find themselves defined and valued by their physical and emotional strength. These rules then tend to place conflict and competition at the centre of male relationships. 

There are ultimately, I believe, two perceived consequences for men talking about mental health. First, men become uncomfortable or unable to discuss feelings together. Men repress ‘unacceptable’ feelings such as sadness, embarrassment or fear and these feelings can become either hidden from view or visible only as anger, arrogance or deflective humour. Secondly, men that do talk about feelings together are stigmatised as un-masculine, inadequate, or even homosexual. Talking about feelings is considered abnormal and weak, and men’s discomfort can result in frustration or humour projected onto those expressing them. 

Ultimately then, I believe that, not only does the narrative of masculinity make it especially difficult for men to talk openly about mental health, it can actually produce poor mental health. It creates certain damaging expectations of men and mentally unhealthy ways of coping with emotional distress (such as silence, violence, alcohol etc.). 

What made you decide to be open about your own mental health?
I hope that in opening up about my own mental health, other men will feel more confident to do the same. It is only by having an honest and open conversation about men’s mental health that we can learn from each other and make positive changes. 

What are the challenges for men talking about their mental health and how can we overcome them? 
To be clear, the social narrative and expectations of masculinity form the biggest challenge for men talking about mental health. Recognising that is the first step. To try and overcome this, I believe we must re-write the rules masculinity; that is, we must use language to re-form society’s expectations of men. One way we can achieve this is by empowering men with safe spaces, like this blogging series, to speak more openly about mental health. In doing this, I believe we can create an environment that supports men experiencing mental health issues.

If you would like to get involved with our Men's Mental Health blogging series, then you can find all of the details here. You can also send us an email at blog@studentminds.org.uk for more details!

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

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Applying to University with a Pre-Existing Mental Health Condition

Harriet shares personal experience and tips for applying to University with a pre-existing mental health condition. 

Among the inevitable worry about remembering to pack the right things, successfully finding your lecture rooms without getting lost (I am genuinely yet to master this well into my second year), and making long-lasting and genuine friends, starting university can raise a whole other number of concerns for applicants with pre-existing mental health conditions. 

It is fair to say that mental health issues among university students are fast reaching crisis point; The Guardian’s annual Student Experience Survey demonstrates that almost nine in ten (87%) of students find it difficult to cope with social or academic aspects of student life. However, as I will demonstrate throughout this article, most universities, alongside services most students are familiar with such as visiting a GP or local counselling schemes, can offer fantastic support for those struggling with mental health issues. 

Personally, I knew well before applying to university that I would struggle with living away from home and keeping up with the pressures of University life due to my long-term anxiety disorder. My advice to those in a similar predicament would be to make the university well aware of your needs as soon as possible, so that adjustments may be made to help you from the outset. 

The counselling service provided at most universities generally offers a high standard service for those who are finding that their difficulties are hard to manage and are affecting their studies. The aim is to aid you in developing skills or allowances so you can experience university life to its full potential. After a discussion with a counsellor about your needs, the service can provide sessions where you are able to choose the focus. Examples of problems people seek help with through the counselling service include anxiety and depression, eating disorders, issues with self-esteem, and homesickness. However, this list is certainly not exhaustive - the counsellors are happy to hear about anything that may be troubling you. I have also found that the Counselling Service at my university provides excellent signposting to external support networks for mental illness, such as self-help podcasts created by The Mental Health Foundation, support publications at Mind, and various helplines.

Equally, the support provided by the Disability Service at university cannot be overstated. I spent the whole of my first year completely unaware that this service supports mental health conditions (which legally classify as disabilities), and have since received so much support with my coping methods at University. For example, if the assessors deem it beneficial to you and your needs, provisions can be made to inform both your pastoral support team and academic tutors of your difficulties so that they may better support you, as well as the possibility of equipment to facilitate note-taking and time management, and the provision of mental health mentors to assist your personal needs.
It is also worth noting that many student accommodation facilities have a dedicated welfare team, intended to provide support and be a friendly face to any student that needs it. There is also Nightline, a widespread service, which provides a student-run listening service every night of term between 9pm and 7am. 

As I am well aware from experience, this may seem intimidating at first, but it is honestly not worth struggling unnecessarily when there is so much support available. Living away from home for the first time can be challenging at first, so be sure to make the most of the support available to you.

Hi, I’m Harriet! I’m a student at Durham University and I’m currently on my year abroad. I am passionate about removing the stigma attached to mental health issues, and truly place so much value in the power of the sharing of writing online to do so. 

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Self-Managing on Fieldwork Placements

Jacqui discusses how she learned to self-manage and control her anxiety during placement for occupational therapy.
- Jacqui

Student placements can strike fear into the hearts of even the most laid-back characters. If you couple this with juggling a family, a jarring new environment and a bout of ill health then you have a recipe for disaster. 

I had been placed in a physical care environment, which had lots of very sick people, bodily fluids, medical equipment and I knew I HAD to pass. The pressure I place on myself is always the heaviest - I don’t fail things, I can’t. So when I found myself here, somewhere I would never have chosen to work and with an educator so different to me, I was on edge at all times. I had anxiety. It was beyond the level of nerves before a presentation, or first date butterflies or sales deadline dread. It was the full-on inability to sleep, second-guess every choice I make, continually catastrophizing, life-altering anxiety.

During my previous placements, I hadn’t told my educators - I didn’t want to be judged. I had always done exceptionally well, scoring consistent firsts in my assignments and excellent passes in fieldwork but this just felt different. I started at crisis point, going uphill and I knew it was going to be tough.

My daughter has Autism, and during this period I had been fighting her school, whilst still traveling three hours a day to my placement to deal with work I had little interest or aptitude in and felt incompetent doing. At the same time I was still trying to juggle family, finances, academic writing, and physical health issues (an infection and then a biopsy).

In just eight weeks I could feel my mental health crumble. I stopped going the gym, started eating junk, let the housework pile up, and snapped at those who loved me. As an O.T. student, I know the power of doing. I know that I’m a maker, a baker, someone who likes to be crafty and sew and DO. But I’d stopped everything. When your body goes into trauma and you’re fighting for survival it turns off non-essential functions. Anything non-essential just wasn’t being done. But it was the bits I’d switched off that were the very things that had been keeping me well.

I searched Google for terms like ‘Fieldwork stress’ and ‘Student placement anxiety’ but to no avail, which inspired me to write this blog. I hope that, by opening up about my struggles, someone else will know that they are not alone.

So here it is: I have General Anxiety Disorder. I struggle, I reprimand myself, I fight to please everyone, I barely sleep, I force myself to be brave, to feel the fear and still act, to still live and I do this with an outward smile. I never let it show. I try, wherever possible, to use strategies that might allow me to wade through the sticky treacle that is my dark thoughts. 

Strategies that have worked for me:

• Being occupied with my hands

• Spending time with people who love me

• Exercise and plenty of water

• Writing down my worries / the worst case scenario

Things that don’t work for me:

• Drinking too much alcohol

• Eating fast food and sweets as a ‘treat’

• Using electronics/ social media excessively

• Going over worries in my head without sharing them

You need to find what works for you but regularly taking any prescribed medication and seeking help from your University are good ways to start. Be kind to yourself. You’re still learning.

Hi, I’m Jacqui, I’m currently studying Occupational Therapy in Wales. I was inspired to write for Student Minds after speaking honestly about my anxiety with my educators for the first time.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Year Abroad Blues

Paige shares her tips for keeping the international experience alive when you return from your year abroad.
- Paige

A year abroad is an experience that seems to end as quickly as it started. When it draws to a close, it’s most likely you’ll be wondering why you were so apprehensive nine months earlier. Yes, in the same amount of time it takes to carry a baby to full term, you’ve given birth to a whole range of life-changing and unforgettable experiences. You’ve survived speaking Spanish or French every day, detoxed from not being allowed to drink alcohol in the USA, and accepted that supermarkets just don’t open on Sundays in Germany. And there lies the kicker: just as you’ve immersed yourself in living in a different country and culture, it’s time to head back to your rainy British university town for final year. Salamanca will be swapped for Sheffield, Los Angeles for Leeds, and Melbourne for Manchester.

Though nothing beats being back with your old friends, there’s no doubt you feel like you’ve left a part of yourself behind in your year abroad destination. All you want to do is talk about the experience, but your mates just aren’t interested in hearing the story about how you hitchhiked through Tel Aviv for the hundredth time. It may not be immediately obvious but living in a different country for a year has changed you; and, it’s very likely, the place you came accustomed to calling “home” when you moved to university just doesn’t feel that way any longer.

There are, however, steps you can take to keep the international experience alive when you move back to the UK. We’ve compiled a list of how you can “continue” your year abroad back home – even if it does mean having to juggle things alongside your finals!

1. Visit your international friends

One of the best things about being on a year abroad is the friends you make from all over the world. Unfortunately, being able to visit them in their home countries depends a lot on where they are based. If you engaged in an Erasmus exchange and made friends in Europe, visiting them will obviously be easier than if you studied further afield. Airlines offer low cost travel to a variety of European destinations, and if you have the option of staying with your international friend, it will make the trip even cheaper! Being able to visit your friends will rekindle those memories you shared together when studying abroad and, if you’re a linguist, will offer a great opportunity to practise your second language. Of course, you can always encourage your friends to visit you in the UK, at your home or university town!

2. Take cheap weekend breaks

Even if it’s too difficult to visit your friends in their home country, there is always the option to meet somewhere else for a weekend. Or, if you fancy a trip on your own, travelling to a new destination can give you that same rush of wanderlust you had when you first moved abroad. Taking a short and cheap holiday will break up the monotonous pace of the semester and will give you something to aim for once you’ve handed your assignments in.

No matter how close to the UK you travel, always take out travel insurance to ensure you’re covered for costs in case of injury abroad. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has more advice on what you should cover with travel insurance here. Also use the FCO’s website to check for updates on travel safety. They have a directory of every country in the world with live travel updates here. If the FCO advises against travel to a certain country, don’t be tempted to go –  no matter how cheap the trip is!

3. Join your university’s Erasmus and Year Abroad societies

If your university offers year abroad opportunities, then it’s almost certain that they will have a society dedicated to welcoming incoming international students. Joining these societies offers a fantastic way to make even more international friends (which means even more places to visit at a later point). It will also offer a rewarding experience of making an international student feel welcome at your university – you could even offer to show them all of your favourite sights in town. Think of the help you were/would have been grateful for at your destination and aim to replicate it. The society will normally be run by fellow students at your university who’ve been on exchange years. If your normal circle of friends has grown tired of your ramblings, you can meet with students who have more understanding as to why you miss your year abroad so much!

4. Learn a new language

Bring a slice of the world into your own home! Learning a second language has never been easier thanks to apps such as DuoLingo. If you’ve grown accustomed to the international lifestyle, speaking a second language will also greatly increase your chances of securing employment abroad. It will also help you to decide on further destinations you’d like to visit in the future to test your language skills. Which brings us onto our next point…

5. Connect with an international pen pal

DuoLingo offers groups you can join to practise languages with fellow users. There are also a variety of pen pal websites to be found online. Connecting with a native speaker will be invaluable to improving your language skills. It will also offer the opportunity to create even more friendships overseas!

I am a final year undergraduate at the University of Birmingham studying Philosophy. I spent my third year studying in University College Dublin, Ireland and really enjoyed every second of it! I now want to help other undergraduates consider taking a year abroad as part of their studies and as part of this.

Friday, 16 March 2018

University isn't always a positive place

Jatinder discusses how statistics show that, far from being an anomaly, mental health difficulties are common among students.
- Jatinder

I have no problem with admitting that, for a long time, I kind of felt like an anomaly because my experience of University does not match up to what I was told it would be by many others. But, poor mental health can affect us all. Your emotions are wild – they can go up and down like a seesaw and you don’t have to be at university to understand how this feels like. But experiencing this at university can be even harder to fathom. It’s like one minute you may think life isn’t that bad and the next thing you know you’re in your dorm room panicking, staring at the ground listening to the voices in the corridor. Sometimes the voices in your head just contemplate whether being alive is even worth it right now or if you would rather be dead.

This is confusing when you bear in mind that you are only used to hearing about the life-changing, positive aspects of university. You may even question why your feelings are so extreme or if you are the problem.

Society doesn’t give us a manual to deal with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, or mental wellbeing when it comes to extreme stress or heartache as easily as it does when you have the flu or a broken ligament or bone. If you’re unfortunate, family members aren’t that sympathetic to you when you ring them up every week to tell them you cannot hack university life and you want to come home.

But it is perfectly acceptable to feel deflated because university isn’t what you thought it would be or that the journey appears to be physically and mentally tougher on you than anyone else around you. University does not have to break you apart or change you for the worse and you should not let it do so.

However, this isn’t just a small-scale issue; it’s a big broadcasting problem that needs to be resolved. The number of students to drop out of university with mental health problems has more than trebled in recent years. Figures show that 87,914 students requested counseling in 2015-16 and it is highly likely that these figures have continued to rise. I said I felt like an anomaly, but I’m not. Statistics show that 1 in 4 university students suffer from mental health problems like me.

In 2016 it was reported at least 77% of the student population at university experienced depression. So if you went to university, the chances are at least one person you may know was struggling at the brink.

We need to break this culture of shying away from speaking about the negative aspects of university life. More needs to be done in educating people about the down spirals that one can face whilst being in higher education, and more needs to be done to ensure those who are struggling in university do not let these intense issues encompass their ability.

Hi , I'm Jatinder. I am a final year Law student at the University of East Anglia. I have suffered with mental health issues throughout my time at university and would like to share that it is okay to not be okay, during what can feel like a tough time in a person's life at university.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

University: End of Semester Stress & Putting your Mental Health First

Lucy talks about the importance of putting your mental health first through times of university stress.
- Lucy

If you are a University student, you will probably be able to relate to that huge mood changer that comes along when the end of a semester is in sight, whether that be the build up to the Christmas holidays, or the month of May when final deadlines are handed in and exams begin.

It can be very easy to get caught up in the panic and stress of how much work you have to do and then in return feeling like your head is going to explode. The idea of working through essay after essay and then having to spend the few weeks building up to exams shut away in your room revising can become very overwhelming. However, amongst all of this, it is so important to always put your mental health first.

If you don't feel right in yourself and you're not in the right frame of mind to focus, then it's only going to make matters worse. Until you begin to look after your mental health, you're never going to be able to put your best self forward, to finish off the essays and revise for those exams. Therefore, it should always be your primary focus, guilt free.

Stress is something I have always struggled with throughout my academic years and it has also linked closely with my anxiety. Therefore, around this time of the year my whole body becomes extremely sensitive to every little thing that's happening around me and can trigger the worst at any point.

The overload of work and things to be thinking/worrying about can all get a bit too much and with each year of University I have always experienced that sudden break down, where I just want to cry and give up. However, each time this has happened I have always been able to look back and feel extremely glad that I never did.

Although it is very normal to get stressed over exams/deadlines, it's not okay to let it consume your mind and take over your life. Your mental health is much more important than getting a good grade. You need to focus on getting yourself well, happy, and in the right mindset to continue.

I may not have it all figured out just yet, but I have learned that when I begin to feel overwhelmed, it is time to take a step back. I don't feel guilty for taking some time to myself, whether that be taking a walk in the fresh air or taking a few days off from work completely. Either way, I know it's so important to allow myself that time, so I can come back and feel ready to tackle those deadlines once again.

If you ever feel like you're struggling and feel overloaded with deadlines that you can't cope with, take a step back. Speak to your housemate, a close friend, or even contact your university's wellbeing service for a bit of support. You are most definitely not alone, and I can assure you that so many people will be able to relate and will be very willing to help you out.

You shouldn't ever have to feel alone through these critical moments in your degree. Make sure you are looking after yourself and getting the help and support when you need it. You're fully capable of reaching the end and finishing your degree, and you will do it.

When people say you can only do your best, that doesn't mean working yourself so hard that it leads to a breakdown and puts your mental health at risk. Instead, do your best while being aware of your limits and take a steadier approach to success. Always put your mental health first.

Hello! I'm Lucy, a Clinical Psychology Masters student at Anglia Ruskin University! Through studying Psychology and experiencing life as a student, I have become incredibly passionate about mental health and helping to make a positive change. I have been volunteering for Student Minds for the past 2 years as a Peer Support Facilitator at my university, and have been the Editor of the Student Minds blog since June 2017.