Monday, 22 December 2014

Going home after the first term

As the end of my first term began approaching I could feel myself getting more and more anxious. I have always found it hard to deal with long holidays at home, when my parents are out at work all day, my sister is preoccupied, and everyone around me seems to be busy doing things. It could just have been the uncomfortable memories of previous summers that were making me anxious, but as the end of term arrived, I was more than apprehensive. Not only was I worried about being alone, but I was worried about leaving my flat and friends I had made at uni. I had finally managed to adjust to uni life, and going home would change all of that.

Yet, when I eventually made it home, I was amazed at how quickly I adjusted back into my old routines, and the movements and motions of my family and home. Admittedly, my body clock is still running on student times, and my Mum doesn’t quite understand why I no longer go to bed at 10:30. I have also struggled to adjust to the cold as I moved back up North to a badly insulated farm cottage and away from the warmth of my modern, 24 hour heated University flat.

Coming home has turned out to be great. I appreciate the time to work, and to play games with my little sister, as well as spending some quality time with my parents. Putting up the Christmas tree and taking my little sister to school has reminded me of all the little things that make my home feel like home.  I had been so focused on all the negative thoughts, and bad times that I had neglected to think of all the wonderful and happy memories.

I was so surprised by how normal living at home now seems to me, and although I do miss my flat, friends and lack of freedom, I am glad for some time with my family and childhood friends. I never thought, whilst suffering from clinical depression and anxiety I would ever be ok with long holidays, but going to and returning from Uni has taught me so much about myself, and how to deal with my illness. So to all of you going home after your first term at Uni embrace the opportunity to spend time with your family and friends, relax a little, and get as much free laundry done as possible!

Hope Butler

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

I worry if I’m not worrying about something!

Despite the fact my exams finished over seven weeks ago, it’s still difficult for me to fully relax and forget about college/university. I should be relishing all this free time, basking languidly and soaking up all the sun, I know that. I have absolutely nothing to be stressing about! So why am I fretting?

I wonder where this, well, I suppose it is, 'anxiety', stemmed from. I mused over genetics for a while, but surmised that, as most of my family are pretty nonchalant folk, it was a pretty unlikely cause. (Do you see what I mean, though? I was worrying about why I was always worrying so much. Sigh.)

I was shocked when, at parent's evening earlier this year, one of my teachers said "She does worry a lot!" to my mother, then turned to me and asked candidly: "Do you suffer from anxiety?" I was bewildered. It was the realisation that people were beginning to view me in this light when I'd never really noticed it myself. "No," I replied, "I just worry…about everything.” Soon after this it started to get worse, affecting me physically, interfering with my life: my hands started trembling when I wrote and when I gripped small things, such as grapes. It peaked during mock exam week at college. Before each test I felt nauseas and couldn't stop jittering. By the end of that week I was a complete mess. I was drained! I couldn't let this carry on, I was concerned about my health. I went to visit my GP. It was a bit of a kick in the teeth when he told me that these symptoms were merely a product of my worrying. He used this analogy to contextualise what I was experiencing: "If it snowed heavily and someone was constantly reminding you to "Be careful!” before you’d even stepped outside, chances are you’re going to be more afraid of slipping than if you just tackled the thing head on without a single thought about the consequences. Then, if you did fall it wouldn’t’t be so bad! You, yourself are that nagging voice.” Right, well. Ok! That was that, then.

Everyone worries, it's natural; the difficulty is realising that, most of the time, the situation is out of your hands and that whatever is going to happen, will. This is a simple concept that I find impossible to accept: I must have control over my life. You can imagine how hard it's been trying to take my mind off exam results these past few weeks! I’ve not done too bad, actually and managed, somewhat, to avoid over-analysing everything. When I do feel overwhelmed, I like to watch 'Skins' (1st generation, of course). ‘Cassie’ is my favourite. Failing that, I run a bubble bath, lie in there for a while, make some tea, wear my comfiest pyjamas and go to sleep. Worrying is exhausting. It can make you incredibly sad, too.

Sometimes clarity is necessary: it's perfectly fine to ask questions to allay your curiosity. On the other hand, an integral part of maturation is gaining independence. It's important to figure things out for yourself.

Look after your mind by doing things you enjoy and being around people who make you laugh. Strive to achieve balance and stability in life.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Working with people who live with mental health difficulties

My experience with mental illnesses started in my early teen years, when my grandma developed Alzheimer’s disease. Seeing my Dad having to watch his mother decline slowly was so hard. It started slowly, with her forgetting small details about things; but escalated into disorientation and severe confusion. After a nasty fall down the stairs, we decided that a nursing home would be the best environment for her to live in, as she would be surrounded by people who could care for her at all times of the day and night. Visiting was the most painful experience, especially when it got to the stage where she couldn’t remember who we were or where she was. Her personality changed so much it was like she was a different person. My mum was so supportive, having a background in nursing and working in a care home herself. But my dad found it hard to deal with the slow change in brain function and personality, as a result of the disease which onset is upsettingly inevitable.

When I turned 16 and started working in nursing homes, first as a cleaner and then as a carer, I found that these feelings were common in relatives who had to watch their loved ones change as a result of mental illness brought on by the onset of old age: their personality quirks faded, they could forget details of their lives or their families, and in some cases they could become distressed, aggressive or inappropriate. Of course, this brought great sadness to the families concerned but also to the person that was suffering from the mental illness. During my time as a carer I have spoken to residents who are scared; who know what is happening to them, and are aware that there is little they can do to stop it. They feel distressed at their confusion and embarrassed when they draw attention to themselves with erratic behaviour.

As a carer used to looking after elderly people suffering from mental illnesses, I thought that the care and treatment that they receive should be universal and apply to people of all ages who have trouble with their mental health – whether it be an illness, or just a temporary instability of the mind. I also believe that just because mental illnesses are expected more with old age, they are still very common in younger generations and so just because they are not necessarily expected to suffer from a mental illness does not mean that it is unlikely to happen, or that it should be looked down upon as a weakness. I find that far too often the pressures of life in the 21st century mean that people become run down and unable to cope with everyday demands. People cannot be seen to be ‘weak’ in any way, and so admitting that they cannot come to work because they are suffering from a mental illness or condition is often seen as less of a reason than if that person was physically injured.

So, my reasons for joining the Mental Health Matters society are because I believe in the right to have equality and recognition of mental illnesses and conditions across all ages and lifestyles, and that the stigma attached to mental health, especially in the younger generations, should be wiped out completely.

Friday, 21 November 2014

My Brother

Most people know the statistics about mental health, especially with celebrities such as Stephen Fry becoming ever more vocal about their own battles, but there’s the general consensus that no one ever thinks it will happen to them until it does. The biggest problem we have is that people will not talk about it. Everyone appears to be ingrained with this stoicism that they can’t talk about their problems, and they must suffer in silence. It is this outlook that fosters an attitude of being a sufferer of a mental health illness as being something taboo. Everyone is affected in different ways, some for a short time, some long term, some directly and some indirectly, but until we start to talk about and share our experiences, nothing is going to change. We as part of Mental Health Matters society are not only personally interested, invested and passionate about this cause, but we are also willing to be that change we want to see. We will be starting a series of blogs to see how different people, from different walks of life around the university are affected in different ways by mental health problems.

My personal journey with mental health began five years ago, when my older brother was diagnosed with depression in his second year of university. At the time I was 16. Being that he lived away from home, and my parents were never overly forthcoming with details, believing (quite rightly) that it was his own choice who and how he told people, I was able to sweep it under the rug and brush it off as a phase. It wasn’t until he moved back from university, that I was forced to confront the idea that this wasn’t going to be a phase, but something that my whole family would have to deal with long term.

Adjusting to life back home was hard for my brother; he would be grumpy and lash out at my little brother, something that would be difficult for me to deal with. I would resent my parents for walking on eggshells around him, not wanting to upset the balance of our usually peaceful house. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t be nicer, why he never wanted to spend time with us, but instead locked himself in his room. Looking back at this time I was selfish because all I could think about was how his illness had affected me. I felt so angry at how he had changed our lives, because I didn’t understand that it wasn’t his fault, he couldn’t just snap out of it. And overall I felt helpless because I couldn’t talk to him because I was scared, scared that I would make him worse. This was a feeling I couldn’t shake for years. I felt guilty that I was able to escape from being at home by coming to Sheffield, leaving my parents and little brother to deal with it alone. I didn’t speak to anyone about my brother’s depression, in denial about how much it had affected me. I never wanted to go home for the weekend; because it was going back to a life away from the carefree existence I had created for myself, to a place that I worked so hard to keep secret from my friends.

Over the summer of my first year of university, however, this all changed. I was looking for a book in my older brother’s room. Whilst I was in there I found a sign that he had written, and put by his mirror. It read; “Today WILL be a good day. I WILL be more positive.” It was at this point that I realised how selfish I had been. All I had thought about for years was how his depression had affected my little brother, my family, and me. Without a second thought to how he felt about how he was affecting people too. I felt sadness that I had been ashamed for so long about something that was no ones fault, and I had spent so long, not trying to understand, but rather trying to avoid it in the hope that it would go away.

It was at this point that I made the choice to stop trying to avoid his depression. I researched it and found people online and read about their experiences living with a sibling that suffers from mental health problems. And most importantly, I spoke to him about it. Realising that you are not alone is something that is invaluable in the battle against an illness that we still don’t fully understand. Despite this, people still aren’t talking about it enough, which is why we have created this blog. The more people share it, the more people see it, the more we might help someone who is feeling isolated and alone. Depression isn’t something that is magically cured, in my family there are still ups and downs, but it is something we all go through together. Since I have accepted that I can’t just ignore it, I have found better ways to cope. Getting involved with Mental Health Matters is therapeutic for me. Though I may not be able to help my brother in his battle, I can spread the word, fundraise and challenge the stigma surrounding mental health. I can’t help him to feel better, so I campaign for something I believe in, in the hope that someone, somewhere is benefiting from what we do.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Dating Someone with Bipolar

There are many articles on personal mental health and these are incredibly important in their own right; I’ve often used them to help me when things aren’t going so great. However, I did not realise how isolating actually dating someone with mental health can sometimes be. Due to mental health stigmas and a general lack of understanding it is often difficult to talk to anyone when your partner turns round and states that they wish they were dead. After a while you run out of reasons to show them how wonderful life can be and how important they truly are to the world. I had this moment and broke down in tears because I felt I couldn’t help the person I love. It took time but I realised the most important thing; it’s not my fault. I am not the reason they don’t want to be here. It is chemicals in their mind causing emotions which cause them to feel this way. So I thought I would share my experience of dating someone who suffers with bipolar.

My boyfriend was diagnosed with bipolar towards the start of our relationship. He was grateful for the diagnoses because for many years doctors had wrongly diagnosed him and even prescribed anti-depressants-certainly not what you should give to someone with bipolar. I didn’t really know what bipolar was, but after a bit of internet searching and talking with my boyfriend I started to understand and this is kind of it;  Sufferers of bipolar go through stages of mania where they almost can’t stop moving, thinking or talking. It is as though anything is possible; ‘hey lets jump off the roof because I can’. On the reverse of this there are bouts of depression often leading to self-harm, suicidal thoughts and sometimes suicide. These moods can last for weeks, months or even years. This is all well and good but anyone who has any experience of mental health knows that everyone is slightly different and so, although I understand the basic outlines I don’t pretend to fully get it. I tell him I see his brain as a solar nebular-beautiful to look at even if I don’t fully understand it.

He was nervous about  taking medication for the bipolar, which is understandable due to his past experience, but also because he didn’t want to become ‘zombie-like’ with no emotions. He did experience some side effects when he started the meds, he would often twitch involuntarily and sometimes his legs gave way. It was saddening to see him get upset and I was worried as if he was going to collapse I wouldn’t be able to move him as I’m fairly petite and he is 6ft4. We did have a moment where his legs gave way in a supermarket but he held onto me and I supported him as we walked home, it took quite a while longer and he was annoyed at himself but it didn’t matter. After a few months the side effects faded and he was back to his usual self.

What was difficult was explaining to him how ‘normal’ emotions work, that often people do have ups and downs, even on a daily basis-he wasn’t overly pleased at this revelation as normally he experiences long periods of being mega happy. He has been treated for nearly 2 years now but it has not been easy. Medication is not the final answer or a magic fix by any means. There are still times when he’ll tell me he wants to die. He still gets upset and angry at the world because he wishes he was dead. It hurts a lot to hear and sometimes I feel like quitting because it’s so hard. Someone once told me I should end things with him because of the stress and worry and upset but as soon as they said it I knew that it wasn’t an option. I don’t have to stay, no one has to stay with anyone they don’t want to, but I love him and I wouldn’t change him for the world.

When you date someone with bipolar, or probably any other mental health thing, it can be heartbreaking-why is life that bad you want to die? You feel like you are slamming your head into a brick wall because when someone goes into a depressed or down mood it is very difficult to say anything to help, often they need time, sometimes that’s alone, which can also be hard. People comment on my patience and how strong I am but I’m only strong on the outside. I struggle and sometimes I have what I like to call ‘kitchen floor breakdown’ when you just sit on the floor and cry because what on earth else can you do.

Please don’t get me wrong, the majority of the time we have a wonderful relationship; we go out, discuss how whales should have gills, debate human evolution and dance like we are in an 80’s aerobics video-you know what all couples do! And it is these moments that make the few bad days/weeks irrelevant; the bipolar is not important to me, it is just one of those things in our relationship. Some people have long distance relationships, some have partners which don’t speak the same language as them and some have partners with mental health issues. Dating someone with a mental health issue can be trying at times but if you want to be with someone it shouldn’t matter. My boyfriend has no control over his bipolar as it is just chemicals in his brain, just like love is a chemical and you wouldn’t break up with someone because of that.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Mental wellbeing is the goal - why everybody should be playing football

Everyone knows about football, but few of us necessarily think about its impact on mental health. Keiran from Student Minds Cardiff gives a run down of the mental health benefits of playing football, and why anybody can do it.

Why Football?
Football is the nation’s favourite game, which therefore means that finding a team or venue to play at should be easy indeed. But most importantly, it is simply great fun!

How can football improve somebody’s wellbeing/mental health?

I believe that many aspects of football can lead to the improvement of somebody’s mental well-being.

Firstly, focussing on the fact that football involves physical exertion, research has supported that physical activity, both mild and rigorous, can have positive effects on well-being. This has been concluded from surveys involving individuals with a diagnosis of mental illness, and those without diagnosis. The effects of exercise have been described as mentally relaxing despite its physical demands. A theory is that in a fast paced sport such as football; it is very difficult for players to focus on anything else but the present match. This may give the mind a break from the preoccupation of other everyday life stressors.

Secondly, another benefit of football is that it is a team sport. With the players of a team, there is already a commonality in which you all share, and therefore team sports can always be a good platform to meet new people and grow closer to existing friends. Statistics collected every year by student support services at Universities have reported ‘loneliness’ as being one of the major struggles faced by students, especially in first years. Involving yourself in a football team could easily facilitate new friendships.
The final aspect of football that I would like to mention is that football is a sport with a great capacity for self-improvement. Whether this be improving your skills or tricks, or seeing your team improve its position in the league. The feeling of development and self-improvement has been reported in research as being one of the indirect psychological rewards that people can feel from doing sport and exercise. It’s common for individuals, away from the team environment, to allocate time for their own training and practice also.

Do you have to be in good shape to play football?

Fortunately, football in the UK now exists in many different formats. These include; 7-a-side football, 5-a-side indoor football and the full blown 11-a-side outdoor football. Different formats have their different demands; the 5-a-side indoor format is often characterised by a smaller pitch and a shorter game length which is accessible by lots of people of any level of fitness. Then people can build up their fitness until they feel ready to participate in the more physically demanding 11-a-side game. It all depends on individual preference.

What misconceptions do people have about football?

The major misconception about football is that all football is played in the intense and often aggressive style of football observed on television. However, we must remember that the players we see on television are playing at the highest level, as professionals. A lot of us however have the luxury of being able to select what level of amateur football we wish to get involved in. Games at lower levels are often played in very good spirit at a leisurely pace that can be enjoyed by all. If it is the fast paced intense style that you are looking for however, there are also plenty of higher level amateur teams that play with almost the exact mind-set and ferocity as the pro’s!

The feedback after our event

From the feedback we received, it seemed that all the participants of the football tournament were grateful for the opportunity to get wrapped up in a sport they love, and take a Saturday off from pondering over work/dissertations etc. Fuelled by the food and liquid refreshments that we offered, they were able to play all day, as well as learning a little more about Student Minds than they previously did.


Taylor, C.B., Sallis, J.F., & Needle, R. (1985). The relation of physical activity and exercise to mental health. Public health reports, 100(2), 195.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

How Yoga benefits mental health

Research shows that practising yoga can improve your wellbeing. But how exactly does this happen? And what is yoga? Emily Greenfield from Student Minds Cardiff discusses the research behind the relationship between yoga and mental health, dispels common misconceptions about the practice, and explains why it's worth doing.

Why yoga?

Yoga is an increasingly popular form of exercise which is focused on strength, flexibility and breathing. Yoga is fantastic because it helps keep your mind healthy as well as your body!

How can yoga improve someone's wellbeing / mental health?

Yoga can improve your well-being as it reduces the effects of stress on the body. By teaching people to take slower, deeper breaths, yoga triggers the body’s relaxation response, helping to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This can help to ease symptoms of conditions such as depression, anxiety and insomnia. Deep breaths also increase the amount of oxygen available to the body. This is beneficial as a lack of oxygen results in sluggishness, fatigue, disorientation, and a loss of concentration and memory.

Do you have to be in good shape to do yoga?

Yoga is suitable for everyone, regardless of fitness level! There are lot of different styles, each having a slightly different pace and emphasis; some styles are more vigorous than others, some focus on flexibility and others focus on breathing and relaxation. The key is finding the style of yoga that suits you; you might have to try a few until you find one that you really enjoy and feel a benefit from!

What misconceptions do people have about yoga, and how do you answer them?

One common misconception is that yoga is only for those who are flexible! Wrong! Flexibility is a consequence of practising yoga not a prerequisite; you will not be expected to execute advanced poses on your first class. Gradually, through regularly practising yoga, your ligaments, tendons and muscles will lengthen, increasing elasticity, enabling you to execute more advanced poses.

It is also often thought that yoga is only for women. Wrong! Yoga is a great practise for both men and women! In fact, historically yoga was almost exclusively practised by men! One reason for this common misconception is that men often think yoga is not a proper workout. However, this isn’t true; yoga builds strength and muscle tone and provides cardiovascular benefits by lowering resting heart rate, increasing endurance and improving oxygen uptake during exercise.

What was the feedback from attendees after the event?

At the yoga event we held, attendees ranged in their level of fitness and experience of yoga. However, regardless of this, everyone enjoyed the practise, and left the event feeling more relaxed than when they came in!


Friday, 7 November 2014

Turning Points

I don’t really like to think back to the time when I had anorexia. I don’t like to think about the way I looked, the way I acted and especially the way I thought. However, I think it is something that I have to do in order to really accept what happened and so that I can fully move on.

My mum and I have always been quite close. The kind of close where we go shopping together or watch films together, though not really the kind of close where we would spend hours talking about our feelings. I liked this.

When I got anorexia this changed. When I think back to our relationship during that time I always imagine her with this certain facial expression. I don’t know if I can fully explain it, it wasn’t quite anger, there was an almost vacancy to it. To me it looked like someone on the brink of losing hope, unaware of what to do, but determined not to do nothing. The main emotion though was sadness, absolute and utter sadness. I hate that I did this to her, I know it was not my fault, but I wish that I could take back the pain that I caused her.

We didn’t talk anymore, not properly. Our conversations were her asking me about food and me lying to her. They were about her wanting me to see a doctor and me refusing. Even when this wasn’t what we were talking about explicitly it was always there. We weren’t friends anymore, I don’t know what we were.

The night I told her I knew I had a problem and that I was getting help, she cried. The first time she saw me finish a meal and dessert she looked pleased. When I started to try on clothes and not look like a skeleton, she complimented me. However, I could still see that there was a sadness whenever there was any reminder about anorexia and what we had been through.  She didn’t like to talk about it. She never said, but whenever the conversation came up, she would become teary or move onto something else. That was ok, I understood, I didn’t blame her.

Then there was another turning point. A little while ago I wrote a status about having had anorexia and I have been working with mental health matters to try and raise awareness of mental health. When I first told my mum about this I wasn’t sure what she thought about it. I thought she seemed a bit upset or reserved.

Then one evening last week I got a phone call. It was my mum phoning to tell me that she was proud of me. There were no tears no sadness, just happiness.

Getting over anorexia was difficult, but that phone call made that struggle worth it. What’s more, her acceptance of me and what happened has helped me to accept me and what happened and move on.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Using whiteboards in your campaign - Sunderland

This year we've been collecting best practice from around the country on student mental health campaigning. Recently, Sunderland ran a campaign using whiteboards. Whiteboard campaigns are all the rage these days - and it's easy to understand why. They're visual, you can share the photos onto lots of people's Facebook feeds by tagging the people in them, and they're a great way of presenting lots of people's views and experiences. Sunderland recently used whiteboards at their Wellbeing event, so we asked them how they organised it and what happened.

So, Sunderland, what was the event?

We went around both university campuses (City campus and St Peters) with a whiteboard asking people what they do to keep themselves well and happy.

What was the response?

We got over 60 whiteboard responses and we uploaded most of these reposes to our Facebook page. We found this event a real success because it was the first time we have managed to engage with a large amount of students from varying courses on the university so we were really happy, especially as we got to talk about our campaign group to a lot of students who we wouldn't usually get to reach so it helped us raise the profile of our group a lot.

What do you think went well?

I think what went well for this event was instead of having a stall where people have to approach us we actively approached them and started the conversation. In the past, when we have set up a stall we have struggled to get people involved so this method was really effective and really fun too.

Any pictures of the event?


We hope this has inspired you with ideas for future Student Minds campaigns or events! Remember, if you want to tell us about an event you've run, all you need to do is fill in our event form!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

"The Outing” by LAYM competition winner Aisling Lewis

As part of our Look After Your Mate campaign, we held a creative writing competition on the theme of ‘friendship’ in partnership with The Student Wordsmith. This is the third and last of our winning entries, a short story called "The Outing" by Aisling Lewis. Thanks to everybody who entered the competition! We hope readers will be inspired to think and write about their own experiences of supporting a friend. 

The Outing

by Aisling Lewis

‘The strangest thing happened to me yesterday.’
‘Go on.’
‘Well, someone I met on Saturday night phoned me to ask me out for a drink.’
‘I know! I didn’t know what to do.’
‘Wow. I don’t remember the last time anyone who wasn’t my mum, or you, called me. Red or white?’

Surveying the restaurant Kate noticed how busy it was for a Wednesday and assumed that everyone else probably had the Vouchercloud app too. There was an elderly couple a few tables away who were sitting next to each other as opposed to opposite. Kate couldn’t work out if this was a wonderful gesture of enduring romance, or miscommunication and stubbornness.

While Alice examined the menu Kate observed the décor. On the wall behind Alice was a black and white canvas print of Big Ben. Next to that was a poster of a Samuel Johnson quote about being tired.

‘There’s a girl over there wearing an incredible dress. Blonde hair. Quick, she’s looking at her menu, turn around, quick!’

Kate span herself around.

‘Bit much for this place, isn’t it? She must be on a date.’
‘You know, I thought she was that girl you used to hang about with before you went... away’

Alice’s head was turned down into her menu but both could feel her awkwardness.

‘That’s it. She looks a bit like her, don’tcha think?’ Kate didn’t bother turning around to look again.
‘Not really.’
‘Have you heard from her... since? Or, you know, recently?’
‘Oh. I wonder what she’s doing now.’
‘Use your imagination.’

Both waited for this cloud of clumsiness to pass.

The wall was painted a deep maroon colour, some years ago, and beneath the loud murmur of chatter and the clinks of crockery, Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know could be heard in the background. To their right was a young couple with enough Topshop bags at their feet to explain the lack of conversation at the table.

Alice discreetly checked her watch. ‘Did I tell you that a girl I work with has just moved into a place on the road we were looking at?’
‘She’s living on her own though. I couldn’t do that’.
‘Because you can’t take the tops off your eggs?’
‘Exactly! And who would fake tan my back?’ They exchanged wide grins, long overdue. ‘Right’. Releasing her fingers Alice announced that she would be ordering the ‘Bruschetta, risotto and the house red.’
‘Lovely. Should I have the avocado salad, or, the burger?’
‘Burger. Definitely.’

Aisling has recently finished an MA in Creative Writing at Loughborough University. During this time she developed a narrative of historical fiction set in World War Two Britain which she hopes to turn into a novella. At 23 she is yet unable to drive, but rather impressively, can recite by heart, the whole of David Bowie's Jean Genie. 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

How to run a Comedy Evening Fundraiser - Sheffield

Wondering how to fundraise for Student Minds but don't know what kind of event to run? Do you enjoy putting on events that involve humans? Do you like humour? Sheffield recently ran a comedy evening in collaboration with the politics society, and raised a huge amount of money. We interviewed them about their experience!

Sheffield, tells us the who/what/where/when!

The Mental Health Matters Society organised a comedy evening (Stand Up For Mental Health) in collaboration with the Politics Society at the University. The evening was held in an upstairs bar at the local vodka revolution. It went on from 8pm to 10pm and included the University comedy society as well as two other comedians we found on a website.

How do you think it went?

We have had a lot of positive feedback from the evening! We included references to mental health on the publicity we distributed and began by discussing mental health stigma and how important it is to go fight it. We also managed to raise over £500, which we were really pleased about.

What do you think went well?

It was great to collaborate with another society, as this meant we had help with publicity and made it easier to organise. We had buckets present on the evening which was really helpful for raising money. For publicity we contacted the University and managed to get the event advertised on the University Website which was really helpful. Finally, we did leafleting throughout the week leading up to the evening.

What do you think could have made it better?

We had a few issues with the venue, I would recommend going to look around before hand.

I would also recommend making sure to be prepared that when working with comedians there is a chance that they won't be able to make it at the last moment!

On the whole, though, it was a really enjoyable event and also was really great for helping to get more people of our society and talking about mental health.

We hope this has inspired you with ideas for future Student Minds events! Remember, if you want to tell us about an event you've run, you can fill in our events form here!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

"A Friend, in Two Parts” by LAYM competition winner Rose Walker

As part of our Look After Your Mate campaign, we held a creative writing competition on the theme of ‘friendship’ in partnership with The Student Wordsmith. This is the second of our winning entries, a poem called "A Friend, in Two Parts" by Rose Walker.

A Friend, in Two Parts

by Rose Walker

When I started uni, my mind was set.
I was starting again, brand-new and fresh!

I didn’t need to tell every person I met
that sometimes I get down –
sad, even

Instead, I wanted to the follow the packs, the herds,
and for them to think I was totally cheery.
Who wants a friend that constantly seems dreary?!

But you, you were different – cool and kind, and
I made you laugh (I really tried)
because I wanted you at my side.

Gradually I began to hint
in just the briefest of words
that sometimes, but not always, I found things hard.
That I’d overdosed,
just the year before,
that the pain of the memory was still pretty raw.

Yet now, when life gets tough, again,
you hold me up. With
late night food and Skype, phone calls and hugs,
your prescription worked better than any drug.

You didn’t shy away, ignore me, or run, and
You help me to realised that life is still fun.
You held my hand when I’d given up hope, and
you gave me the jolt that helped me to cope.

Beyond all, you’re my blessing, and
a prayer.
My steadfast conviction is
that life can be fair.

Rose Walker is a final year university student who is passionate about both writing and mental health. She describes this competition as a ‘dream to be involved in’ as a result of this and suggests that the more we talk about mental illness, the more we realise how common it is. It is nothing to be afraid of.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

How to run a freshers' week stall - what Cardiff Student Minds learnt

Stuck for ideas on how to attract volunteers at the freshers' fair? We interviewed Cardiff Student Minds about their experience running a stall, asked about their successes, and found out what could have made the event even better.

So, Cardiff, what was on the stall?

We held 4 stalls; 1 at Cardiff Met, 1 at Cardiff University Cathays Campus, 1 at Cardiff University Heath Campus and 1 at Cardiff's volunteering fayre. We gave out keyrings, pens, information booklets and business cards. We had a fancy dress photo booth, and a '#look after your mate' sign to use in photos. We also ran a prize draw - everyone who liked our Facebook page, followed us on Twitter and signed up to our mailing list was entered into a draw to win some prizes!

Did you get a lot of sign-ups?

During Fresher's week we have had 193 students sign up to our mailing list, over 70 new Facebook likes and over 30 new Twitter followers. We have also had a lot of interest from students who are keen to help out with our events and campaigns, so we have set up a Cardiff volunteers Facebook group which has almost 50 students in. Our Facebook photo album '#lookafteryourmate snaps' reached 481 people and had 378 post clicks.

What do you think went well?

We found that taking photos with the #look after your mate sign worked extremely well, as students having their photo taken asked what it was all about, so it was a good way of starting a conversation about the campaign.

Having some freebies to give out was also successful, as it was a good way to get students interested in our stall, and talking to our volunteers about what Student Minds is all about.

What do you think could have made it better?

We found that the fancy dress aspect of the photo booth didn't work very well, so in the end we just took pictures with the #lookafteryourmate sign. Also, we started taking the mailing list by hand, but we quickly realised it was difficult to read some students' handwriting, so in later stalls we then used a laptop.

Any pictures of the event?


Cardiff Student Minds Freshers' Fayre Stall #Lookafteryourmate Cardiff#Lookafteryourmate Cardiff#Lookafteryourmate CardiffCardiff Student Minds Freshers' Fayre Stall    #Lookafteryourmate Cardiff#Lookafteryourmate Cardiff

We hope this has inspired you with ideas for future Student Minds events! Remember, if you want to tell us about an event you've run, you can fill in our internal feedback form through the internal section of the website.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Part II of “The Cat’s Out of the Bag…” by LAYM competition winnerLizzie Akass

As part of our Look After Your Mate campaign, we held a creative writing competition on the theme of ‘friendship’ in partnership with The Student Wordsmith. We're delighted to release the first of our winning entries, a short story called "The Cat's Out of the Bag..." by Lizzie Akass from Loughborough University, the second part of which is below.

Part 2 of ‘The Cat’s Out of the Bag...’

by Lizzie Akass

‘Robin Hood?’

‘Wrong. We’re watching Tangled.’

‘Brilliant. Thanks for asking.’

‘It’s only polite, you are my guest.’

She puts it in and we sit quietly for a few minutes as the story is introduced.

‘The guy in this is beautiful.’


‘Is it weird to find a cartoon attractive?’

‘Nope. Everyone does, nobody talks about it.’

‘They should.’

‘Indeed. So are you adding Flynn Rider to your list of acceptable men?’

‘It’s Eugine Fitzherbert, you uneducated swine.’

‘Toy Story reference, I approve.’

‘Thank you.’

‘You’re most welcome.’

‘Have you got a placement yet?’

‘No, still applying, you?’

‘Still waiting to hear back, I’ve applied to like, twenty places though so I keep

checking my e-mail.’

‘Well how long ago did you apply?’

‘This morning.’

‘Oh, maybe relax on checking your inbox for the time being then.’

‘I know, but what if nowhere accepts me?’

‘Then you’ll have to add an imaginary dog shelter to your list to drown your sorrows

‘Nah, you’ll definitely get a place so I’ll just sneak along with you.’

‘I’m sure they’d never notice.’

‘I am very sneaky.’

‘You are.’

‘I like that they give Rapunzel buck teeth. They’re beginning to make the Disney girls

look more normal.’

‘Well, she’s still pretty perfect.’

‘I know. I hate her.’

‘Don’t be stupid.’

‘Nah she’s a nice kid, she knows I love her really.’

‘Wait, she’s only turning eighteen?’

‘Oh my god, when did we become old?’

‘Most of the Disney girls are only, like, sixteen or something ridiculous.’

‘You know you’re getting really old when you start agreeing with the parents in kid’s


‘It’s kinda sad really.’

‘It’s OK. Zac will always choose to hang out with us, we’re not afraid of ice cream.’

‘Have you ordered the pizza yet?’


‘How long ago?’

‘Timone’s hula dance.’

‘Brilliant, should be here soon then. And you got-’

‘Yes, I got you stuffed crust, pineapple and tuna, but no olives because you think

they’re too fancy for take away pizza, and only seem right when you’re actually having them

on pizza in Italy.’

‘You’re amazing.’

‘I am the best.’

‘You are.’ She grins at me and then starts to look sad, ‘I do miss Dave.’

‘No. None of that. Pause the film. We’re having a spontaneous dance party to

Beyonce. The most independent woman in the world.’

‘She is married though.’

‘My argument still stands. She’s fabulous, get up.’

A smile creeps across her face, ‘Hold on, I’m getting your cat.’

September 2014

Lizzie Akass
Lizzie Akass is an undergraduate English student at Loughborough University. She loves writing both short stories and novels, and has recently had her short story, 'Cambodia', published through The Story Graph, loosely based on her own travelling experiences through South-East Asia.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

ReCover - Editor's Note

- Sophie North, Editor of ReCover

Student Minds is a charity that aims to work with and for students, providing the time, space and resources to help people start talking about student mental health in a safe, supportive environment. We work with student volunteers up and down the country to campaign for more focus to be put on student mental health, and help students to set up and run open access support groups at their universities, providing informal peer-to-peer support when students need it. We think that encouraging students to talk to their peers is a positive thing, that conversation helps to break down stigma. Moreover, we believe that talking changes lives.

Developing ReCover is an extension of this belief; it provides us with a platform to keep both students and volunteers up to date with news, developments and musings in the field of mental health. We hope that ReCover will be able to inform a wider audience about the work that we are doing with students and universities across the country.

As ever, special mention goes to all of our contributors for their thoughts and their enthusiasm. Without their time and effort, ReCover could not happen.

If you’ve not yet read the first issue of ReCover, then you can read it here! We’re really proud of the first two issues, but we need your help to keep ReCover going. If you’re interested in writing something for the third issue, please do get in touch via email:

For now, I’ll let you get reading. But before I do, I’ll say this: please get in touch via Facebook or Twitter with your thoughts – we love to hear them! And keep an eye on our social media sites for exciting Student Minds updates and events.

Happy reading!


Thursday, 9 October 2014

Hope in the darkest of places

- Caroline Adlam, Group facilitator at Student Minds Nottingham

I am one of five group facilitators for Student Minds Nottingham, who are running a structured support group for students. We're focusing on building a support network, eating, sleeping and exercising well and finding coping strategies that work for you. But more than that, we want to create a safe, confidential space where people can talk about mental health freely, with other people who get it. A place for conversation, a place for silence, a place for healing, a place for battling and a place for life and all the topsy-turviness that comes with it.

I feel a huge responsibility. Not for people, but to people. A responsibility to be the best that we can be. If by being here we slightly improved the wellbeing of one student, then that would make the whole thing more than worth it.

But I have a vision to reach every student here that is hurting. I remember this when eyes gloss over as I say the word "depression". People turn their heads away slightly or look down to avoid my gaze. I don't mind. I am so privileged to be standing here doing this, giving out leaflets about our service. I know that hurting people are not always recognisable from the outside. Sometimes they are the ones who plaster on a smile, or the ones who never meet your eye because they know exactly what you're talking about. That's why I chase after people to give them a leaflet, or while I continue to talk after they've finished listening.

There was a plant that sat on the windowsill of a green building in town, maybe it still sits there to this day. A lady there told me that everyone else had given up on this plant, but it was her project - she had a deep conviction that it wasn't too far gone to be helped. She sat it in the sunshine, watered it daily, gave it the time and space it needed to grow again.

I'm not a trained counsellor, nor do I have all the answers. But I believe that no one is beyond help, and for as long as I have air in my lungs I won't give up shouting about mental health and how hope can be shone in the darkest of places.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Minimum Waiting Times for Mental Health

- Nicola Byron, Founding Director of Student Minds

Minimum Waiting Times for Mental Health

Speaking at the Liberal Democrats conference in Glasgow, Nick Clegg announced waiting time targets for mental health would be introduced by April next year. We are absolutely thrilled - this is one more step towards parity of esteem between physical and mental health.

Tracking and reporting waiting times and holding organisations to targets is absolutely vital for student mental health, where waiting times are the difference between successfully continuing with education and having to take time out. Students' transient lifestyle, spending around 25 weeks of the year at home, away from University and their registered GP, creates real problems for accessing specialist mental health services and receiving good continuity of care. These problems are exacerbated by long waiting times. Due to high demand for psychological therapies, it can currently take months to progress up a waiting list to receive care.

Our transitions report, University Challenge, identified that it is not uncommon for students to reach the top of the waiting list in their university locality when they are back at home during the holidays or when they are about to sit university exams. If patients cannot attend the sessions assigned to them, they are usually dropped off the waiting list and required to go through the referral process again. A quarter of the students with experience of eating disorders surveyed in the University Challenge study waited more than 6 months for an appointment with a specialist service and on average students were waiting 20 weeks for an appointment. These waiting periods are particularly problematic, leaving students doubting whether they need treatment; as they wait, people lose the self-motivation that they need to fight towards recovery. The challenge of waiting times is not only felt by students. Over half of professionals we surveyed in the University Challenge project identified that they did not find it easy to refer students to specialist services and 96% felt that students do not get see by specialist care quickly enough.

It is imperative that we do not let students fall through the gaps. "Because the majority of serious mental illnesses present themselves by the age of 25, students are a particularly vulnerable group and are most in need of reliable, accessible mental health care," says Seb Baird, Student Minds Volunteer.

To decrease waiting times, the government is going to have increase the availability of mental health interventions. The Health Foundation argues that this can be done effectively by changing the relationships between health services and those with mental health difficulties. A pilot peer support project at Nottingham NHS Trust resulted in a 14% reduction in inpatient stays, saving the trust around £260,000. Innovative steps like this can, and must, be used to help increase provision of mental health services, decrease demand for high intensity interventions, and cut waiting times.

Student Minds has been advocating the power of peer support for years. If you are interested in finding out more about the support that our programmes offer for students, please visit -

Monday, 6 October 2014

Freshers’ Week at the University of Nottingham – 5 (Our First Event!)

- Anna-Ruth Gray, Nottingham Student Minds

6th October

Our First Event!

On Wednesday 1st October, Student Minds Nottingham held our first social event ever and it was great fun!

We hired out a little place called Sobar, a non-alcoholic bar in Nottingham city centre. There was great food and drink and a chilled, calm atmosphere. One student I overheard said they had not felt this relaxed in a long time! People got chatting and mingling together really easily because of the fun and safe space we had managed to create. There was a really wide variety of students that came and it was great to see all these students with so many varied interests, personalities and lifestyles getting to know each other.

Later on in the evening we had 4 live acoustic acts, they were all quite different and all brilliant. A couple of the acts said some words about mental illness and how it had affected them which was a lovely moving touch and a step towards reducing stigma. One of them even commented that they don't normally feel comfortable explaining songs which are about mental illness at gigs but, they wanted to start because there really shouldn't be so much stigma around it.

Everyone involved had a great time and it was quite different to social events that are held by other groups at the university, which was refreshing. If you wanted to come and you were nervous, next time don't worry. Everyone was friendly and got socialising easily, there was also quite a few of the student minds team about to approach if you were feeling nervous.

Remember to like us on facebook or twitter for updates on events and socials:



Thank you to our events officer Jonathan for doing almost all the organising of this successful event and to the rest of the team for getting involved. Also, thanks to the music acts and everyone that came, we hope to see you all again soon!

Part I of "The Cat's Out of the Bag..." by LAYM competition winnerLizzie Akass

As part of our Look After Your Mate campaign, we held a creative writing competition on the theme of ‘friendship’ in partnership with The Student Wordsmith. We're delighted to release the first of our winning entries, a short story called "The Cat's Out of the Bag..." by Lizzie Akass from Loughborough University, the first part of which is below.

Part I of ‘The Cat’s Out of the Bag...’

by Lizzie Akass

‘Just give me the keys to a cat shelter now.’

‘Oh come on, don’t you think you’re overreacting?’

‘No. I’m so sick of men. I hate boys.’

‘Shall we become nuns together then?’

‘Too much work. I’d rather be a cat lady.’

‘OK. I’ll buy you a cardigan so you can button it up wrong.’

‘Perfect, I need glasses with the tape in the middle as well, please.’

‘On it. Anything else?’

‘Jonny Depp would be nice.’

‘Too old for you, it’d ruin him, he’d be creepy, not sexy. Robert Pattinson?’

‘Hmm . . . I think he’s more your type.’

‘He was voted sexiest man in the world a few times, I think he’s a lot of people’s type.’

‘No. I need options.’

‘Zac Efron?’


‘OK, so the ‘no boys’ thing is out of the window then?’

‘No, no. Still in place. He can just visit me when I need a man, ninety percent of the time I’m good with the cats.’

‘Well if the cats are in cages they can’t leave you.’

‘Exactly, they’d have to love me.’

‘That many cats is a lot of work though.’

‘Less work than a relationship.’

‘Well, evidently. But Dave is just a tool though, he can’t be your bar to judge all men by.’

‘Ben and Jerry are the only men I need in my life.’

‘Oh no, Zac will be so disappointed.’

‘OK, Ben, and Jerry, and Zac.’

‘Now you’re being greedy.’

‘You’re the one eating all the ice cream.’

‘Well, I did pay for it.’

I pass the melting pot of chocolate over to her and she plunges her spoon in. The Disney movie we’re watching flickers into a new scene. She glances up and begins to sing along, spluttering chocolate.

‘Oh you’re so attractive.’

‘I’m allowed to be. Newly single people are allowed to be gross for a month. It’s practically law.’

‘Oh really? Where was I when this was decided?’

‘Not being dumped.’

‘Fair point. But I do have to look at you . . . and smell you . . . when was the last time you showered?’


‘OK sure, sure. And in reality?’


‘It’s Sunday.’

‘I’m allowed to be gross! Simba wouldn’t judge me.’ She nods at the TV screen.

‘Lions wash themselves all the time.’

‘They also eat raw animal innards, your argument is invalid.’

The Lion King finishes. She launches herself to the cabinet beside the TV and produces three other Disney movies to choose from.

‘Which one?’

(To be continued...)

Lizzie Akass
Lizzie Akass is an undergraduate English student at Loughborough University. She loves writing both short stories and novels, and has recently had her short story, 'Cambodia', published through The Story Graph, loosely based on her own travelling experiences through South-East Asia.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Freshers' Week at the University of Nottingham - 4 (Homesickness)

- Anna-Ruth Gray, Nottingham Student Minds

26th September

Feeling Homesick?

Getting towards to end of freshers week means that many of you will now feel rather homesick. If this has been your first time leaving home and being independent then missing your friends, family and pets is perfectly normal and to be expected. Being somewhere new with people you don't know very well can be difficult, especially when you know that you have 3 years ahead. It can seem overwhelming at first. But, you will soon settle in and if you're having some difficulties and want help, here are a few little tips.

  1. Be true to yourself!Many articles I've read about freshers suggest that you force yourself to go clubbing as that's where everyone meets and you have to make friends e.c.t. My opinion is (as cheesy as it sounds) is that you should be true to yourself! If you love clubbing and the fresher's nights then of course do them and have a fantastic time but, maybe try to pace yourself. If you aren't a clubber try some of the alternative events that really appeal to you or even stay in your hall and go to the common room and then you may meet others who didn't fancy a night out either. If you force yourself to go clubbing if that's not you then the chances are you won't make friends with people who you really click with. Nottingham has so many alternative events on offer there is bound to be something for you!

  2. Share how you feel.I'm not necessarily talking about a big emotional talk with people that you've just met, but, if you mention your homesickness to a new friend the likelihood is they feel the same and at least then you will feel reassured that it's not just you. Although everyone may look as if they are having the time of their lives with no worries, it's unlikely that they feel as carefree as they look. If you don't feel comfortable talking to new friend, then ring a loved one. Have a bit of a chat or cry to your mum or your best friend down the phone, even better if they've been to uni themselves, they will completely understand. Failing that, if you feel alone call the universities listening service Nightline on 01159514985 and someone will be there to listen and reassure. Don't sit and worry, do call them they'd be happy to help!

  3. Do something you enjoy.Cheer yourself up with something you enjoy, it might not get rid of the homesickness completely but, it may help lighten your mood a little. Go for a run, do some yoga, dance, sing, watch something funny. You could even go exploring and maybe invite a new friend to join you. There is so much to do in Nottingham you could go to Woolaton park, visit the castle or just go and treat yourself to some new shoes (if your loan can stretch to it). The city centre always has a lot to offer.

  4. Look after yourself.You've probably heard this a million times but, it cannot be expressed enough that you need to look after yourself! If you start to feel really ill and exhausted that will only make feeling homesick more pronounced. You should really try to:

    - Get some sleep! Even if you have to have a nap in the day. Lack of sleep can make you ill very quickly and you'll wish you had when fresher's flu creeps up on you.

    - Eat well, try not to just live off the free pizza from freshers fair. Get some fruit and veg in you, maybe even take some vitamins as an extra illness prevention.

    - Keep Active, although when you feel low you might just want to hide in your room, try and go for a little walk/run/cycle and get some fresh air and exercise.

If you're still feeling homesick after using some of these tips, don't worry it will soon pass. Freshers week is not a typical uni week and everything will soon settle down. It might be that your friends will be mainly course people or society people rather than the ones you're living with. So, persevere and get out there and you'll soon find people that make uni feel like home. Then you'll be having the most amazing time! If you're worried or feeling alone contact student minds or come along to one of our events and you'll always have someone friendly to help you and point you in the right direction. :)

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Freshers' week at the University of Nottingham - 3

- Jonathan Davies, Nottingham Student Minds

24th September
It feels like you only just got here but halfway through week one so much has happened you could have been a Nottingham student forever. As fresher’s week begins to taper off lectures loom ever closer and all of a sudden your presence in such a large university begins to feel a little overwhelming. Or exciting. Maybe you’re tired. You might be finding the whole experience a little intimidating, or perhaps you thrive off it. It’s possible you’re feeling alone, or crowded, or comfortably familiar with the new friends you’ve chosen to spend your week with.

Or maybe you’re feeling none of the above.

There’s no magic formula for being at university. Every year hundreds of preparatory articles for incoming students trend online but the absence of an important lesson is palpable: nobody’s student experience is the same and you shouldn’t feel any pressure to change yours in accordance to the “stereotypical student lifestyle” because it’s a myth. Over the last few days hundreds of new students have chatted to the Student Minds team in the Great Hall at GP registration and it couldn’t be clearer that everyone’s individual hopes, fears, experiences, and expectations are very different. Whilst some are buzzing from the Nottingham nightlife others live for exploring one of the greenest campuses in Europe.

If there’s one thing all students have in common it’s that they want to enjoy university. And everyone can! Nottingham’s huge Student’s Unions offers everything from deeply involved people-orientated activities that give you the chance to perform, debate, and compete, right down to niche groups with shared hobbies, or even just a shared desire to have a quiet evening watching an indie movie, baking cakes, or playing board games.

Sometimes it can feel threatening to see people settling into their groove and acclimatising to student life faster than you are. If people around you seem to have grown thriving groups of friends apparently out of thin air and you’re still finding your feet in that tricky balance between studying, socialising, and simply existing in a new and potentially frightening environment, remember that there’s no right way to be a student and there’s no pace too slow for making your mark and finding your corner. “Everyone does things in their own way” may sound like a cliché but it’s an immutable fact of student life. Nottingham is a culturally diverse hub of undergraduates and postgraduates of all ages from all over the globe, and it’s this reality that encapsulates what it means to be a student - it means whatever you choose it to mean.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Freshers' week at the University of Nottingham - 2

- Freya Cumming-Webb, Campaign Group Leader at Nottingham Student Minds

19th September

Today on our facebook and twitter we’ve been asking what our followers wished they’d known in fresher’s week (or Week One as we call it at Nottingham). I think the thing I wish I’d known was quite simply ‘it will be ok’, it might not feel like it at times but there are things to do, people to meet and lots of support to fall back on if need be. Instead I think I spent a large part of my first week at university worrying about plagiarism rules! I was very lucky and found good friends, who I’ve since lived with, only a few doors away in my hall.

That won’t be the same for everyone but I think it does prove that most people can get on with most people. Think back to your friends at school, your best friends may well have been in your randomly assigned form groups and through time spent together, doing the same things friendship was formed. Now, I’m not suggesting everyone finds their best friends in hall, or that forcing yourself to do something you know you don’t enjoy with people will create friendship, but the duration of your course, not just the first week will be a series of experiments and pushing yourself. With hundreds of societies from sky diving to knitting, in a university of thousands of people you will find things you enjoy and your future best friends…quite simply it will be ok.

…but I haven’t found my niche yet, it doesn’t feel ok?!

Why not come along to Student Minds @ Sobar on Monday 29th September? There will be music, food, and if you feel lost just come and chat to someone in a Student Minds t-shirt!

Join our facebook and twitter pages to keep up to date with events and workshops we’re holding or come along to our Positive Minds course which offers suggestions about how to meet new people as well as a chance to chat openly about any struggles of starting university!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Freshers' Week at the University of Nottingham

- Freya Cumming-Webb, Campaign Group Leader at Nottingham Student Minds

16th September

The first new students arrive today, international students are here for their orientation and a chance to recover from jet lag before Week One really gets going on Sunday! At Student Minds UoN we’re putting the finishing touches to posters, banners and our free event for Week Two at our local Sobar in the city centre. We’ve also ordered 30 t-shirts for our volunteers and 1000 pencils to give out at GP registration!

The whole team is getting to grips with Twitter and we’re really hoping to get our name out there this term! We’ve got a new team, our new Positive Minds course, new events and new campaigns as well as old and new staff and volunteers helping us along the way!

Let’s hope it all comes together!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Looking after yourself at university

~ Rebecca McCerery

It’s not always easy trying to juggle studying for a university degree with looking after yourself. Many of us feel like we have to handle everything on our own and finding support can sometimes feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I know finding help can be daunting and it’s hard to figure out where to start when it comes to looking after yourself so I thought I’d share some tips on coping with university life to help keep you on track and hopefully relieve some of the stressors so that you can focus on being happy and healthy.

  • Look into what help is available to you, including from your GP and from your college or university. There are lots of ways to get support, from sitting your exams in a smaller room with fewer people, to accessing treatment through the NHS. It’s a good idea to speak to a GP first and foremost if you feel like you’re struggling and they can advise you on what support is available.

  • Take the help offered. Remember that you don’t need to struggle on your own - people will want to help and it’ll relieve some stress so that you can really focus on looking after yourself. This is probably the hardest part and might take you some time, but it’ll be the most rewarding thing you do.

  • Try working from home. There may be some days when you’re feeling too tired to head into university, or simply not up to spending a whole day in the library. Remember that it’s ok to look after yourself – why not try working from home for a few hours, and then arrange to meet a friend for lunch or go for a walk to relax. Coffee shops can be a great place to work if you don’t feel like heading into the library but don’t want to be on your own, and you can treat yourself to your favourite drink too!

  • Tell your lecturers. If you find that your health is affecting your studies, it’s a good idea to keep your lecturers in the loop so that they can offer you some extra support and help make any adjustments you might need.

  • Talk to your friends and classmates. Even just talking things through can help you to feel better and more motivated. Sometimes socialising can seem like a daunting task and it’s okay to turn down some offers to go out if you feel like you need some ‘me’ time – I know I need a lot of ‘me’ time to rejuvenate myself as I am easily tired and over stimulated, but it’s important to find the right balance for you as no two people have the same needs.

  • Time management. As well as figuring out what your needs are when it comes to downtime and social time, you also need to assign time for your studies. Each course is different and some are more demanding than others so it can help to make a schedule of how much time you’re going to set aside for studying and assignments. This should stop any last minute/middle of the night assignment crises when you should probably be in bed!

  • Get enough sleep. Sleep is your body’s way of repairing itself and making memories, so anything you’ve been learning throughout the day will be nicely engrained in your mind after a good night’s rest. It’s recommended that adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night, but it’s important to figure out what works for your body – I find that I need 9-10 hours of sleep a night to feel fully functional the next day, but everyone will be different so just make sure you’re at least getting the recommended daily amount.

  • Eating and exercising. It’s so easy to forget to make time to eat well and exercise whilst at university. Eat what your body wants to eat, find out what foods agree with you and make you feel energised and fully functional, and make exercising part of your downtime. Joining a sports club at university gives you the opportunity to make new friends and jogging along a beautiful scenic route as part of your 'me' time can really help you to reconnect with your body. Finally, TRY YOGA, just trust me on that…

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Don't forget to look after yourself too!

~ Lauren Gasser

Just like any physical illness, a mental health condition can leave you feeling weak, exhausted and detached from the world around you. Unlike physical illness, mental health problems often cause sufferers to blame or punish themselves, adding anger, guilt and self-loathing to all the other symptoms they are already experiencing. The phrase “look after yourself” has somewhat lost its true meaning in recent years, but these simple words are so often forgotten or underestimated. We all have people we care about, people we care for, so why not apply the same care and kindness to ourselves? Here are a few very simple ways that you might care for yourself when you are feeling unwell:

A pampering evening: both men and women can benefit from a few hours of pampering. For men: a hot bath, a shave, clipping your nails, all the things that you might neglect to do, but that make you feel a little more human. For women: a face-mask, painting your nails, putting on some sweet-smelling moisturiser and other small ‘treats’. For those with forms of body dysmorphia, the physical process of being gentle and kind to your body, the act of rubbing in cream or brushing oil through your hair, can encourage a sense of connection with yourself that is often lost. You may find that these small actions are harder than they sound, but just spending five minutes being kind to your body each day can help that uncomfortable feeling ease.

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Gentle exercise: if getting out of bed is a struggle, the last thing you want to be told is to go for a run, yet it is an undeniable truth that movement and deep breathing are very important ways of maintaining well being. As a first step, try some gentle stretching: lying on the floor and stretching your arms and legs until you are as long as possible; sitting cross-legged and leaning forwards until you feel a stretch. Each time you get into position, take a deep breath in through the nose and as you breath out sink gently into your stretch. If you have access to the internet, Youtube has some great yoga and mindfulness videos you can follow. You can even download guided meditations for free and use these to help you relax.

A special meal: for many, eating and appetite can be hugely affected by a mental health condition and meal times can become stressful. It can be hard to remember what food you even enjoyed before you started to feel unwell, but if you can, go to a supermarket or grocers and buy two or three items that you really like to eat. This may be beautiful ripe strawberries, or some fancy cheese, or some special dark chocolate - something that you can savour and enjoy. Eating little and often can help take some of the strain off meal times, and prevent your day being broken-up into breakfast-lunch-dinner.

So this week, remember to take some time to yourself to relax and unwind. Do you have any tips of your own? Comment below or send an email to

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

#StudentTransitions Campaign Success: Changing the shape of support forstudents

~ Dr Nicola Byrom, Student Minds Founding Director

I can remember moving to Nottingham as an undergraduate student. It was an exciting time, but it was also a nerve-wracking time. The move provided an enormous opportunity: a new beginning with new peers in a new city. That opportunity came with a pressure to make the most of it. This is a transition that thousands of young adults make every year and it is not an easy one. Today almost 50% of UK young adults enter higher education and 80% of them move away from home to do so. This move offers these amazing new opportunities, but means leaving behind all existing support networks.

A proportion of students will be experiencing mental health problems when they move to university and may be receiving support from mental health services. Despite being national our NHS cannot cope with an individual living in one area of the country and receiving support from a service in a different area of the country. Though there are fantastic examples of what can be achieved using modern technology (e.g. SHaRON in Berkshire), for the majority of students, as they register with a new GP in their university city, their support will need to be provided by a new mental health service in the new city.

The transition to university isn’t easy and so it would seem to be a time in a young adult’s life when they could really do with as much support as possible. When the care system in our country works, young adults experiencing mental health problems receive the support they need as they make this transition. Home mental health services can contact mental health services in the university town to formally hand over care and ensure that a care plan is in place so that continuity of care is achieved. This doesn’t always happen. I have heard so many stories of students who have been discharged from mental health services at home shortly before making the move to university, who are left struggling to get support at university. In worst case scenarios it can take the better part of an academic year before a student is able to be seen by the mental health services, by which stage the difficulties of transitioning to university are well past and a student will either have begun to settle into university or have dropped out.

I believe it is completely unacceptable for students to be systematically let down by health services at such a crucial time in their lives. At Student Minds we have been looking into this problem for some time now, trying to understand exactly why this gap in care arises. This research has been written up into our Transitions Report. We can identify two factors; it is often quite difficult for home mental health services to find and make contact with university mental health services and the mental health services in a university town may not be aware of the needs of students in their area. On the 24th of February 2014, we launched a petition calling on the Department of Health to ensure that mental health services meet the specific needs of students.

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On the 13th of March I was able to meet with the government care minister, Norman Lamb, to discuss the needs of students. We asked Mr Lamb what could be done to ensure that mental health services had specific guidance about the needs of students. Today, services across the country are commissioned locally by Clinical Commissioning Groups, CCGs. While NHS England provides guidance to CCGs about the needs of many community and patient groups to help them commission appropriate services, no such guidance exists for students.

Our meeting with Norman Lamb felt very successful. Mr Lamb agreed to have brief put together by the end of April about the possible options for improving care delivered to students. We also set the wheels in motion for a meeting with NHS England to ask for this specific guidance to be written on the needs of students. While I’m optimistic about the possibility that improvements will be made for the provision of mental health services for students, we are continuing to call for support from students across the country. The challenges for student mental health provision have been raised before; this is not a new complaint! Though many professional organisations have discussed the challenges students face when transitioning to university many times, real improvements have not materialised.

Students need to get behind this call for mental health services that meet their needs. Today it is estimated that around 28% of students are experiencing clinically significant levels of psychological distress, but if students remain silent about limited services, services will never be tailored to their needs.

If you agree that students with mental health problems should be able to access support as they transition to university, please get behind our campaign. You can sign our petition at But please don’t stop there. Ask your friends, family and peers to sign the petition; your involvement can turn one signature into many. You can find out how to get more involved in this campaign on our website at or by emailing

Thursday, 13 March 2014

#StudentTransitions: Improving support for student mental health

Later today Student Minds Founding Director, Nicola Byrom, and trustee, Eleanor Hambly, will be meeting with Norman Lamb to present our University Challenge report and petition. We'd like to thank all of you for your ongoing support, from taking part in the research surveys to responding to our consultation or signing the petition. In just over two weeks we have collected almost 1,500 signatures and we've been inspired to read all of your comments about why the campaign is so important to you.

With over a million students spending half the year at home and half the year at university each year, it is clear that we need to start responding more flexibly to the needs of a transient student population. We're hoping that today's meeting will mark the beginning of a series of changes to improve access to care for students across the country. Whether you’re a current or future student, a university or NHS professional, a parent concerned about your child or a member of the public who wants to help make a change, please join us by calling for this important issue to be addressed.

What's the issue?

A postcode lottery for student support exists. Whilst there are some great examples of best practice in a number of larger university cities, in many parts of the country students are facing particular problems accessing support services. Of the professionals we surveyed, 92% felt that a student's treatment is negatively affected by moving between home and university and 96% felt that students do not get specialist care as quickly as they would like. There are a number of issues at play, but a key problem is that NHS commissioners often aren't aware of how many students are in their area and where they are at different times of the year, so many do not take this into consideration when funding services.

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What are we asking for?

We're calling on the Department of Health to support the development of best practice guidelines for all Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) on how to support transient student populations. We have spoken to a number of CCGs that welcome further input in this area and are enthusiastic about improving student access to support, but central action from the Department of Health is necessary to help commissioners access the resources they need to make changes.

"My daughter is in her first semester of her first year at university… our experience is a disjointed, complicated, stressful and timely one, with my observation that I have provided the role of case worker to help join up the dots, communicate and facilitate her best use of the help that's out there. I can see how a sufferer can very easily slip through the net without this support and motivation. Any change to address this would be helpful."

Why students?

Today, 49% of young people enter higher education. According to NUS, 20% of these individuals are experiencing a mental health problem. In 2011, The Royal College of Psychiatrists called for NHS providers to ‘recognise and respond to the particular mental health needs of the student population and the difficulties that many experience in gaining equal access to services’. Our research has shown that this isn’t happening fast enough. Too many students are falling through the gaps between home and university support services, with their care being compromised by a lack of continuity and the need to go through a new assessment process and build up a new therapeutic relationship each time they move to a new service and see a different professional.

"It is hard for people with mental health needs to ask for help, even without the increased stress of being split between two locations, frequent changes of address and learning to do things for yourself (maybe for the first time in your life). Whether it is dealt with rightly or wrongly will impact the rest of their lives. Let's give students the chance they deserve!!"

At the same time, students are particularly vulnerable to developing mental health problems and university can be an intense environment with significant academic pressures and expectations combined with the challenges of leaving home for the first time and living independently. If we can ensure that students have access to appropriate support early on then we can help prevent the development of longer term mental health problems.

Why now?

Over the past few months Clinical Commissioning Groups have been developing their local strategies. Their five-year plans will be signed off from April 2014, so this is a great opportunity for us to ensure that the particular needs of students are taken into account.

Transitions Campaign
What next?

Later today we will be meeting with Norman Lamb, the Minister of State for Care and Support, to present our research report and petition. We are hoping to secure a commitment to produce best practice guidance for supporting students in collaboration with Clinical Commissioning Groups, and to ensure that student needs are represented on CCG panels. After the meeting we will have a clearer sense of what action we can expect from the Department of Health on this issue. If the project goes ahead as planned, the next stage of the campaign will involve lobbying to ensure that local changes are being made, adopting a collaborative approach to benefit students across the UK.

You can find out more about the #StudentTransitions campaign on our website: