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.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Planning My Way Across the World

Chelsea shares her tips to help loosen the anxiety when travelling the world.

- Chelsea Smith

Don’t get me wrong, I love travelling. I love the freedom, the exploration and immersion of all your senses into something new. But then as I lie in bed the night before a flight I have that niggling feeling of anxiety. I’m about to fly however many miles away; away from what I know, away from the only language I speak fluently, to somewhere where anything could happen. Then my head is circling in a series of what ifs, and I don’t get any sleep the night before my flight to however many miles away.

Specifically, this was me the night before I flew out to Mexico. It was my first truly international trip, outside my safe confines of Europe where I could be home in a couple of hours if anything went wrong. Since then I’ve learnt how to loosen the anxiety the night before and leading up to a trip away.

For me, a mixture of things has helped. I do really enjoy yoga and have found it has helped a lot with my stress in general, but before a trip I do tend to end up on the mat a lot more. The control I have over myself whilst in a yoga flow and the breathing techniques taught within yoga help remind me that I am in control. No matter what could happen however many miles away, I will be able to deal with it, breathing in and out.

As well as this, planning and researching my trips has helped me to feel more excited than anxious about stepping off the plane however many miles away. Looking into the culture and appropriate clothing to be worn in Uganda made me feel more comfortable and confident that I was packing suitably for my volunteer trip to Kampala and more rural areas of Uganda. Knowing I had a backpack full of clothes that would help me blend in and not stick out like a sore thumb – or worse, offend someone – reassured my anxious self into having a better night’s sleep.

Sometimes I find myself getting a little worried whilst I’m away as well, specifically the night before I do something adventurous, outside my comfort zone. The night before I was set to go out and try white water rafting for this first time, it’s fair to say I tossed and turned a little. However, it was a great comfort that I’d looked into the company I was rafting with before I arrived; I was confident with their reviews and they were a reputable group of people to go head first into the water with. This, coupled with my comprehensive insurance, acted as a blanket of reassurance that relieved most of my anxiety.

Everyone is different, and this may not work for everyone, but when you love to travel you don’t want to let your anxiety get in the way. Finding techniques like this, that work for you, can really help transform your travel experience into a more stress free and enjoyable experience.

Hi, I'm Chelsea a third-year Geography student at the University of Southampton. I'm currently an FCO student ambassador and Travel Editor, finding relaxation through writing.

How to Survive Your Year Abroad as a Chronic Worrier

Rosie shares her tips on how to survive your year abroad as a chronic worrier.

- Rosie Wright

A year abroad can be a very stressful time for anyone. You are moving to a new place with new people, and a language which isn’t your own. Being a chronic worrier like myself, this could completely freak you out. However, if you follow these simple steps, you can keep the worrying at bay and enjoy this very exciting time in your life:

Plan, plan, plan: as soon as you know where you are going, look for accommodation. Seek out the best coffee shops, the best bars, the best places to eat. Look up the public transport and work out your route to work/university – you can even take a walk around the streets on Google Maps. Once you get accustomed to the place you are going to live, you will start to relax and be able to enjoy the experience.

Keep busy/give yourself distractions: to set your mind at ease and get out of your own head the best thing to do is keep busy. Make plans with friends, flatmates or other new people you have met. Get your friends from home to come visit, and you can be their very own tour guide. Invite your mum for the weekend and get her to bring some home comforts (PG Tips and chocolate fingers basically saw me through my stint in Leipzig – you’re the best, Mum!). Doing new things with a familiar face is incredibly comforting, but exploring your new home with new faces can be exciting too.

Get a feel for the place: go on walks and check out new places. Go and visit all the coffee shops you found online at home. Try out different restaurants or even takeaways. Find some favourite spots so that you know you will have safe havens around the city should you start to feel nervous. Seek out the nearest homeware shop (if you find a Primark you are on to a winner!) so you can make your room yours. You’ll feel instantly more comfortable and less worried with a cosy room and a feel for your new city.

Having a routine: this one is important. Get up at the same time each day, and make sure to have an indulgent and stress free morning so that you are not worrying before you even get out the front door! You could even fit in some exercise if you are feeling adventurous. Make sure you know what you are going to eat, and that you have some meals planned you will look forward to. Try to go to bed at a similar time every day too, and make sure you feel comfortable in your room, so you can sleep. If you are also scared of the dark – like me, at the ridiculous age of 23 – get some cute fairy lights or a night light to ensure you get off to sleep easily.

Have someone to turn to: whether it’s your mum, your grandad, your best friend or your dog via Facetime, it’s important to have someone there to listen when it all gets too much, even if it’s just ringing your mum, or going round to a friend’s flat who also lives in the area. You never know when you’ll need someone to talk to and calm you down, so knowing there is one person (or more than one if you are lucky like I was!) you can rely on no matter what will set your mind at ease. Even if it’s just having them send you dog memes, having them on the other end of the phone is incredibly soothing.

Try to make the most of your year abroad despite your worries and most importantly – have fun! This is a once in a lifetime experience to pack up and move somewhere exciting, and one you will look back on fondly later in life!

Hi, I'm Rosie and I'm a final year German student at the University of Manchester. Having suffered with mental health issues throughout University and especially on year abroad, I wanted to speak up and break the stigma surrounding mental health.

Supporting from the field: Manchester Men’s Hockey Club

Student Minds is the chosen charity for Manchester University Men’s Hockey Club. Here, John explores why they chose Student Minds, and what hockey is like beyond the sport itself.

- John

It’s easy to assume that most university sports clubs fulfil the stereotype: a big group of lads who don’t necessarily have the capacity for sincerity, sensibility, or a conversation on the subject of anything other than ‘beer and banter’. As one of the largest clubs at Manchester University, everyone in the Men’s Hockey Club is aware that this is how we are viewed by many who don’t know us. However, the reality is actually very different.

The friends that I have in the hockey club are genuinely among the most considerate and friendly people you could possibly come across. The club has always been keen to emphasise that it is inclusive to everyone, and the experience always trumps the hearsay. I’ll always remember my very own Freshers’ Welcome Day -  every current member of the club took genuine interest and the time to ask who I was, what I was studying, and have a chat. Especially considering that I hadn’t played hockey for two years, this had the potential to be an intimidating environment, being watched by established members of the club. However, I managed not to embarrass myself, and instead I met people who I am friends with today. 

It never fails to amaze me, seeing how a sport can bring people together. We have so many members from a variety of different backgrounds, but we all have hockey in common – which at the end of the day is all that matters. This unifying factor creates a tight-knit community; the hockey boys are some of the most loyal guys I know.

This is why we decided to support Student Minds, and why it is such an important cause for us. For me, hockey is an outlet from the stresses of university life. I am a third year Architecture student, and the grade I achieve will ultimately affect the direction of my career. On top of my own personal life, that’s a lot of pressure. When I’m on that pitch, though, my only worry is the scoreline, the man I have to mark, or the pass I’m looking to play. Many will tell you that Wednesdays are sacred, and we mean it. It’s one day of the week where nothing else matters. 

Supporting Student Minds reflects what our club is to us. Hockey helps us, and we want to make sure that others have the same kind of support. 1 in 4 students suffers from a mental health issue, and while hockey is a fantastic community and support system, the pressures to perform well on the pitch can affect people, myself included. Mental wellbeing interacts with physical wellbeing, and this is a cause that is genuinely close to our hearts. 

This year, we have baked, raffled, even grown moustaches to raise money for Student Minds, and we’ve also been encouraging other clubs to take up the cause too. We’ve also just booked a charity club night, are planning a bingo evening, organising a campus league tournament, and are running the Manchester 10k in aid of Student Minds. Any of my team mates will tell you that with my asthma, I rarely last 10 minutes on the field, so 10k is a real challenge!

When you think of a university sports club now, hopefully you will see us as a group of lads who care about each other and are ready to welcome anyone into their world. Don’t get me wrong, we still have our weird traditions, and sing our songs louder than the rugby lot, but we also really care that everyone has the best possible time at university. We are proud to support Student Minds, and show that it’s ok to have problems, its ok to talk, and that even ‘the hockey lads’ have some heart.

Hi, I’m John. I’m an architecture student at Manchester and the charity secretary for the Men’s Hockey Club. I personally have suffered with mental health issues, and as a club, we are motivated to change attitudes towards it and to support Student Minds in the work that they do.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Doing University Teetotal

Becky writes about ways of approaching University life alcohol free.

- Becky Reed

University years are often positioned as a time to get blind drunk several times a week and wake up not knowing what on earth happened the night before. For some people that's great, but for some of us, drinking at university is a no-go, whether that is for cultural reasons, personal preference, or because of medical reasons. This, especially when starting uni, can be quite daunting. 

Two months before starting university I was prescribed anti-depressants that would be dangerous to consume alcohol with. If I had not been moving to university in a couple of months, being forced to become teetotal would not have been a problem. I had never been a big drinker - I just liked to have a drink now and again with friends (sometimes to make me more confident). But, because of the drinking culture that surrounds university, I became very anxious about not being able to drink. I thought I would be the only one at uni that didn't drink. I thought everyone would think I was boring, and therefore that I would not make any friends. 

I spoke about my worries with my therapist, parents, and close friends. This was really helpful, but I cannot pretend that their advice took all the anxiety away. It did, though, help me come up with a bit of a plan of how to approach the subject with my new flat mates and friends at university.

I was adamant that I did not want them to know I had a mental illness. At this point, I hadn't come to terms with my diagnosis and was crippled (wrongly) by embarrassment, shame and guilt. Therefore, I came up with these options. Please have a think about which one would work best for you, should you find yourself in a similar situation. 

1. Tell them you are on medication (even if you're not). This was the option I went with. Partly because it was true, but also because I didn't believe anyone would argue with this. I told them I was on medication because I had become physically ill over the summer (this was actually true, but this wasn't the medication that stopped me drinking). From my experience, people respect this, and the majority of the time they tend not to ask any more questions.

2. Tell them you are on antibiotics. This is similar to the above, however, just be aware you can probably only keep this one up for a couple of weeks.

3. Tell them you don't like it. This is a perfectly reasonable option to go with. There is nothing wrong with not enjoying it. Hopefully people will respect this, but some may try and encourage you more than you may like. 

4. Always get your own drink. You could pretend you have put an alcoholic beverage into your soft drink.

5. Always volunteer to be the designated driver: Obviously, this will only work if you have a car and actually need transport to get to wherever you're going.

6. Tell them the truth. This is daunting I know. I couldn't even begin to contemplate this option - I didn't know how people I had only just met would react. This said, you have nothing to be ashamed of, and if people react negatively, this shows more about them than it does about you. 

Ok, so you have told your new university friends that you are teetotal. Now the next challenge… how do you enjoy university to the same extent as everyone else? It is 100% possible, I promise.

1. Get involved with activities that don't involve drinking. For example, join a society so you can meet like-minded people.

2. Encourage your new friends to meet up for a meal. A lot of emphasis can be put on going out at uni, but by organising a daytime activity it can be an ideal way to catch up with friends without feeling guilty for not drinking.

3. Don't be afraid to go on nights out sober. Ok, so the likelihood is that the majority of students will drink, but, this does not mean you can't still have fun with them. The thought of socialising can be terrifying at the best of times, and you may wish you could just have a drink to help you relax. I would just say to try this a few times. See how it makes you feel. Maybe discuss it with someone you meet at uni and get on with.

4. Don't be afraid to say no. Know your limits and what keeps you healthy. If you don't want to go out… don't. If you don't want to drink… don't. You could tell the truth, or make up an excuse. Have a think about what works for you.  Please at no point feel pressure. If they are your true friends, they will understand.

Whenever you're worried that you should be drinking for whatever reason, just remember you're not going to wake up with a stinking hangover in the morning!

Hey, I’m Becky. I’m a final year student studying Sport and Social Sciences at the University of Bath. I have been living with generalised anxiety for a number of years, and have, more recently, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and episodes of severe depression. I wanted to write for Student Minds to show there’s light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how dark it seems.'

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Misconceptions about Eating Disorders

For Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Mary talks about the common misconceptions of eating disorders students face.
- Mary

Students have the stereotype of having an unhealthy lifestyle: eating too much fast food, not eating enough fruit and veg, and drinking too much alcohol which adds to students’ already growing pressure to perform. Eating disorders are also stereotyped, creating stigma and common misconceptions about them. Having an eating disorder at university, combined with the pressure of being a student can be overwhelming, which is why we need to banish the common misconceptions about eating disorders so that it is easier for people to open up about them. 

1. People who have eating disorders are thin

People of all body shapes can have an eating disorder. In the media, people with eating disorders are generally portrayed as very underweight but this isn’t an accurate portrayal of reality. People’s weight fluctuates, therefore just by looking at someone, you cannot judge whether they have an eating disorder. You can be underweight, overweight, or have a ‘healthy’ weight and have an eating disorder.

2. Eating disorders are about vanity

Yes, a part of eating disorders relate to the way someone sees themselves. But this isn’t only about physical appearance – developing an eating disorder is not something somebody does for the sake of how they look, but for other reasons such as a way to control something in their life.

3. Men don’t get eating disorders

Anyone can get an eating disorder. Whilst it is true that high proportion of people who suffer from eating disorders are young women, particularly those going through key transition stages in their life, such as from school to adult life etc., eating disorders occur across all genders (and ages, for that matter), male eating disorders shouldn’t be overlooked. this has led to the common misconception that men or people identifying as a gender which doesn’t include female do not experience eating disorders. 

4. There are only a couple of eating disorders

Wrong, there are lots of different types of eating disorders beyond anorexia and bulimia, and symptoms vary from person to person. Just like the flu, there are lots of different types and some symptoms or characteristics affect certain people more than others. 

5. It’s all in the mind, there are no physical symptoms

There are multiple physical symptoms and they vary between types of eating disorders, and they can be very dangerous. 

These are just five examples of the misconceptions about eating disorders. This is why it is important to increase awareness in universities. If more people are aware of eating disorders and how they affect individuals, there is more chance that people will be willing to open up about them. The more people know, the more support that can be offered from coursemates, housemates and friends at university. 

As a student, certain situations can make it more difficult to deal with problems like this. It is important to take time out of your busy university schedule to check your wellbeing. One of the biggest things that makes it hard for people to open up about eating disorders are the common misconceptions which further increase stigma. Therefore, starting the conversation at your university is an important way to increase understanding and decrease stigma for your fellow students. Students and young people are the next generations in society, and by opening up conversations, we can effect change, making our society an easier place to talk about, accept and overcome eating disorders. 

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 just one person, it’s a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Impact of Community: University Mental Health Day

For University Mental Health Day, Katie shares the importance of community to help tackle mental health while at university.
- Katie

How do you give back to your community?

I do a lot of volunteering, campaigning, and fundraising, both inside and outside of university. Back in 2016 I signed up to skydive for mental health charity, Mind, which was such an amazing experience but I definitely prefer terra firma! Currently I am a Student Minds Press Ambassador and within my students’ union I have been President of our Mental Health Awareness and Support society (MHAS), and currently Disabled Students’ Part-Time Officer.

Who do you speak to for your mental health?

I have used a variety of services, both in and outside university. My first point of call is usually my close friends, but I am getting more comfortable with talking to my parents. I make regular use of my university counselling service, as it can be very helpful to talk through how I am feeling – especially with a familiar staff member who knows my story. They can also help me see things from a different perspective, such as how resilient and strong I am. I also have an accessibility tutor, trained to help students with mental health difficulties, who assists me with planning my time and organisation. This helps me establish routines, especially for revision or assignments. Recently, I started my own YouTube Channel which I use to talk about my mental health story among other things.

What do you do for your mental health?

One of my favourite outlets is writing. I both blog online on my wordpress site and write creatively - stories and poems. I’m also pretty much never seen without my iPod earphones in my ears! Music can be soothing when I’m feeling down, or can provide an outlet such as going to music gigs where I can sing and dance. Being an advocate and talking openly about my experiences also helps, because I am helping others and creating an environment where we don’t feel alone in our struggles.

Where do you feel part of a community?

I feel part of a community where I am able to thrive, around people who have my back no matter what. This includes being around friends, my family, within my church, and university staff. These people have my best interests at heart and always try and support me in any way they can within their remit. I also use a lot of online spaces where I talk to other fans of TV shows I enjoy as well as fellow writers. They are supportive communities where I feel safe and able to be myself, and this is really important.

Take action and be part of a growing movement to transform the state of student mental health. Join a Student Minds group on your campus or set up a group today

Hi, I’m Katie, a geology student at the University of Leicester and Student Minds Press Ambassador. I was diagnosed with mixed anxiety & depressive disorder in 2015 and have since become a confident advocate, speaking out and writing about my experiences. 

Finding a community of support at university

For University mental health day, Emma shares her experiences of building supportive networks and the importance of communities for dealing with your mental health at university.
- Emma

No matter your situation, community plays a massive role in mental wellbeing. Loneliness and isolation often worsen anxiety and depression, and having a social circle or someone you can talk to is important. This is heightened during University for many people, leaving their comfort zone and entering adulthood and independence. 

I’m a student at the University of Winchester, five hours away from the little Wirral peninsula where I grew up and the people I’ve spent my whole life with. As someone with generalised anxiety disorder, it was my mission to build up a community and support network straight away, to ensure I’d be able to manage. On my first day, I spoke to the student mental health team and they helped me go to my first class. At Winchester, we have learning agreements for students who need extra support for any disability or illness. So, during my second week, I spoke to Disability Support and we wrote a list of my needs, such as: leaving the room at any time, rest breaks in exams, separate exam rooms, and all my lecturers being aware of my anxiety. 

I have also taken the time to speak to every one of my lecturers and explained my anxiety in more detail so that they don’t think I’m rude or not interested in their subject. Just today, I missed my radio production lecture due to an anxiety attack, so I spoke to my lecturer and he was understanding and supportive. It’s really important to let people know what’s going on and seek any help you may need. I know it sometimes feels like a weakness or failure but to achieve the best experience and best grades, your mental health has to be a priority. 

I try to help other students at university too, since we are all in the same situation and sometimes knowing that someone understands can lessen the burden. I have an upcoming radio project and I’ve decided to base mine on mental health support at university. I plan to interview students who suffer from different mental health difficulties, as well as representatives from support teams. I hope that this will help people who are afraid to speak up to know that there’s a huge community of people who understand. I’m very open about my struggles, usually making jokes about my anxiety to let people know what’s going on in a light-hearted way. For example, if I know that going to a lecture is out of the question, I’ll say to my friends, ‘don’t think I’ll make it this morning, classic anxious me.’ This way of being open might not suit everyone but it helps me keep people in the loop without feeling like I’m complaining or being negative. It has helped friends speak to me about their own problems, because I think it makes me more approachable, and I’ve created a strong social circle that is open and understanding. 

As well as the support I have in place at university, I’ve also made a habit of using positive coping techniques when I’m in my flat too. I make sure the flat is always (reasonably) clean and tidy, I write down the issues I’m having and their solutions, I practice mindfulness, and I make lists of all the assignments that I need to work on. My course has a group chat on Facebook too so we all help each other stay on top of the work and help each other out when there’s room changes or upcoming deadlines. 

I feel very much part of a community at University and I feel confident that my mental illness will not hinder my experience or my final grades, and it’s important that you put support in place to feel the same too.

Take action and be part of a growing movement to transform the state of student mental health. Join a Student Minds group on your campus or set up a group today

I’m Emma and I’m studying Journalism at the University of Winchester. I’ve suffered with anxiety and anorexia for a long time so thought I’d share my own experiences to hopefully help others on the same journey to recovery.