Wednesday, 14 August 2019

My Journey to Oxbridge with OCD

Lottie writes about the challenge of managing high pressure expectations with OCD and the importance of remembering and celebrating achievements. 

- Lottie Brown


College was the first time that I really began to excel academically. Following surprisingly impressive AS results, it was suggested that I consider applying for Oxbridge. I never in a million years thought that I would get an offer. Even so, I applied just so that I didn’t have to live with the disappointment of not knowing. When I received an interview I was absolutely delighted yet adamant that I wouldn’t become too attached because I didn’t want to be too upset when I got rejected. To my utter amazement, I received an offer. It was such a dream come true! 

At this time, I was also living with undiagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, so I knew that the next few months would not be easy. The more I succeeded academically, the worse my OCD would get because I felt I had more to lose. The build up to the A-Level examinations was particularly difficult for me, I carried hand-sanitiser everywhere and there were days when I would be constantly going back and forth from the bathroom washing my hands because I was fearful that if I didn’t, I would do badly on my exams and thus not get to go to Oxford. I struggled to decide which clothes to wear and would get so annoyed if any of my revision papers had been moved, because I thought that they might be contaminated and cause me to fail my exams. It was, in a word, exhausting. The problem was that I was still undiagnosed, so I had no idea how to stop the time-consuming rituals. I wish that I had sought professional help at this point, then I would have been able to use the techniques from ERP therapy to challenge my OCD. It would also have better prepared me for the psychological breakdown that I experienced in the final year of my undergraduate degree. Instead, after sitting my A Levels, I had to use the subsequent months of respite to recover from the exhaustion of OCD. 

When results day came, I was so anxious. I remember going back and forth from the bathroom to wash my hands until it felt ‘just right’; I felt that I didn’t want to negatively affect my A-Level results by having contaminated hands when I opened them up. To my absolute delight, I had fulfilled my offer. I was going to Oxford. I couldn’t stop crying as I ran into my parents’ room to tell them. They started crying as well. Hearing the commotion my sister came out of her room and joined in the crying too. Almost eight years on, this is still one of the happiest moments of my life. It’s a moment that I constantly look back at when I am feeling lost or struggling to find direction. It reminds me that, in spite of a constant and debilitating struggle with OCD, I still managed to achieve my dreams and study at Oxford. And that is something that my struggle with mental illness is never going to take away from me. For anyone who is facing a similar struggle, it is important to get help sooner rather than later. There is no substitute for professional help; it would have been so helpful to have this in place before (rather than after) beginning university. Then I would have had the necessary coping strategies for dealing with the pressures of university life.

Find out more about OCD and how to support a friend here




Lottie is a PhD student in Classics at the University of Bristol. She has been struggling with OCD and anxiety for several years, and is very passionate about raising awareness of mental illness and challenging stigmas. She regularly blogs about her own experiences with mental illness here.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

So you have your A-level results...what next? #JustTheStart

Students share how they felt finding out their A-level results - this is #JustTheStart of your journey! 
- Alys Daniels-Creasey

The highly-anticipated moment that’s been looming on the horizon for months is finally here: A-level results day. Some students will be celebrating and some breaking out the box of tissues - whatever your reaction, you won’t be the first to feel the way you do. We took to social media to ask students how they felt on the day and where their results led them...

For some people, this is an amazing day full of celebration. If you got the grades you were hoping for then the relief after such a long wait might take a while to sink in.

‘I was so happy I couldn’t believe it, it felt totally unreal’ - Rachael

After the shock wears off, the concept of going to university suddenly becomes a reality and that can be scary. Apprehension is a normal emotion to feel alongside the excitement - this is exactly what our Know Before You Go guide is here to help with.

For others, results day can throw disappointment into the mix of emotions. Whether you’ve missed out on your top university or haven’t been accepted into any of your choices, the uncertainty in this moment can be unsettling. It can feel like you’re alone: you’re not! So many students have been in this position before and have come out the other side.

A-levels are tough. Much tougher than any exams at university. Even just to get through them makes you a badass’ - Rachel and ‘Even if you don’t get into the uni you wanted, it might turn out for the best!’ - Jess

It’s disheartening to not land a spot at your favourite pick - but if you’re holding an offer at your insurance choice this is still a huge achievement and can lead to an equally amazing, or perhaps even better, university experience.

‘Grades don’t mean everything’ - Ashlee and ‘Not getting the grades I needed for my firm choice wasn’t the end of the world - all unis are much of a muchness, and you can have a good time wherever you end up’ - Grace

And just because you might not have done as well as you hoped in your A-levels, it doesn’t mean you won’t go on to get those high grades.

‘Even when your grades at A-level aren't deemed phenomenal, you can still do amazing things afterwards e.g. top grades at university!’ - Brittany and ‘Results do not define you as a person and you can still succeed at university’ - Grace

If you’re facing no offers, remember…

It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the results you wanted. You do have options!’ - Catherine and ‘Whatever happens, there will be options and you will get somewhere you love’ - Lorna


One of those options is applying for a different university or course through Clearing. UCAS has all the information on this.

‘Getting lower than expected grades led me to a Clearing course and a career I love!’ - Bobbi

What’s important is making an informed decision that you’re happy with: you shouldn’t feel pressured to make certain choices but talking to others can give you clarity in deciding what is right for you.

‘It’s helpful to talk through your options with someone so you don’t get overwhelmed’ - Ethan

Times like this can be overwhelming: if you are worried about yourself and need someone to speak to now, Samaritans are open 24/7.

No matter what results are in your envelope today...

‘If you’ve done all you can possibly do, be proud’ - Georgia


Finding out your A-level results is #JustTheStart of a much bigger story. As graduate Carys says, ‘it will all work out eventually’.




Alys has produced content as the Communications Intern at Student Minds, passionate to share student voices in creative and engaging ways. She is going into her second year studying Sociology and sporadically writes about mental health over at www.alysjournals.com.



Monday, 29 July 2019

Voice

Beth shares a poem about the challenges of starting university and how talking to a friend can help.
- Beth Calverley

Voice

They tell her 
it’s the best three years of her life
so she nods and panics.

Other people’s happiness seems frantic.
Their smiles are the marbles she starts to think she’s lost.  

After weeks of missed appointments,
sleep calls their friendship off.

Deadlines blend together.
She looks out at the endless weather.
How much money wasted
if she skips the lecture?

She jolts awake. A message chimes: 
It’s Mum. Just checking you’re alive. 
The kisses that follow make her want to cry.

Nobody knows if she’s eating well.
If she doesn’t leave her room today
there’s no-one to tell,

but she got into debt to do this
so how can she admit 
she thinks she might be sick?

Her mind is a kitchen sink,
heaped with dishes. Her world piles inwards.

At last, a housemate knocks the kettle on,
looks her in the eyes and asks - really asks her 
what’s wrong.

Her voice unravels its sob. 
For once, she doesn’t lie
and say she’s fine. This time,
she admits her crime,
and confesses that she’s sad.

She talks,
while kindness holds her hand -

and the secret that screamed at her silence,
somehow doesn’t sound so bad.

Click here for an audio of Beth reading the poem. 



For information and advice on how you can support a friend at university, click here. 

Beth Calverley is a poet and creative coach. She is the founder of The Poetry Machine, working with people in universities, hospitals, schools, charities and companies across the country to put their emotions into words

Five ways travelling has improved my confidence, self-esteem and social skills

Kirsty shares five pieces of advice on how travelling can enrich confidence, self-esteem and social skills. 
- Kirsty Fitzpatrick

People always say that you should ‘travel yourself interesting’. However, after a few years of independent travel, I have found that the most rewarding aspect of travel is not that it satisfied my need to appear interesting, but that it boosted my confidence, improved my self-esteem and forced me to interact in larger social settings than before. Although it may seem daunting to push yourself out of your comfort zone, travel has by far been the best way to see improvements within myself, in an enjoyable way too! Here are five things I have learnt from my travelling experiences.

1. Pick the second option
This is something I learnt in drama studies; when an idea comes into your mind, discard it and opt for the second idea because often it could be miles better. I apply the same logic to travelling, I think of a destination and think, maybe later – right now I want to go somewhere else. Although everyone does need a relaxing and easy holiday from time to time, whilst you are young and full of energy, I recommend choosing a destination that you can’t even picture. This will ensure an element of surprise when you travel and will teach you to adapt to new surroundings. Being confident in an unknown environment will make your holiday a worthwhile learning experience. That being said, it is crucial to check whether said destination is safe and the best way to do this is through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice pages!

2. Opt for socialisation
When travelling it is easy to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and not willing to talk to strangers. However, to prevent alienating myself when abroad, I make sure I have booked a really good hostel that offers social events for its guests. From yoga in the morning, to shared meals, and pub crawls, I have made great friends whilst on holiday. I have also received some of the best travel advice be it for the area I am travelling in, or just for travelling generally. To meet like-minded people abroad who will undoubtedly help you to develop your social skills and confidence when talking to strangers, I highly recommend hostels as the way forward.

3. Plan a challenge on foreign soil
Whilst your confidence to face challenges may wax and wane at home, when on holiday there is really nothing to lose and you can feel more energised by being somewhere new and exciting. That’s why I always set myself a challenge when I go abroad, maybe I really want to try a new food that I wouldn’t eat at home or go for a 5 mile run amidst stunning scenery. Whatever the challenge is, it is great to channel that new found confidence you have when you are on holiday and what’s more, you will have such fond memories of completing your challenge on holiday that you will be more likely to push yourself at home to replicate that feeling

If your challenge is super adventurous be sure to check out the appropriate cautionary steps you may have to take in order to be as safe as possible! This may include getting a special level of travel insurance to cover yourself when away. The ABTA website and the FCO’s Travel Aware site are great for this!

4. Share your adventures
In order to truly reap the rewards from your holiday and learning experience, it’s great to share your lessons learnt with loved ones as talking to someone else can help you to evaluate what went well and what lessons you will take with you. Even if you just want to share some photos of you achieving your holiday goals, let other people share your successes and you never know, you may even inspire them to take a step out of their comfort zone too! Take a look at the Travel Aware Instagram for some ideas and inspiration.

5. Don’t stop 
Whilst you can only travel within your own means, I find having travel plans or even just ideas, keeps me going through the ups and downs of everyday life. It is important not to stop or give up, even if you had a bad experience, because every holiday destination is so different to the next. Talk to friends and family, and share travel stories and advice. 

You can find advice around looking after your wellbeing on a year studying abroad here

Hi, I’m Kirsty. I am a student at Lancaster University studying English Literature. I have a keen interest in writing as well as cycling and running. This year I have been writing as a student ambassador for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, offering advice on travelling safely abroad.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Prioritising your mental health when abroad

Varsha discusses the challenges related to traveling and moving abroad and offers some ways to manage this.
- Varsha Patel

Travel and moving abroad can be stressful. While you’re thinking about dodging pickpockets, brushing up on useful local phrases (les toilettes, svp?) and trying to squeeze in those extra pair of heels in your already bulging carry-on, there’s something that might take a backseat in your travel preparations: your mental health. Whilst you can always buy the bottle of shampoo you forgot to pack at duty-free, there’s sadly no quick fix for mental health. So why are we not adding preparations to look after our mental health to our pre-travel iPhone notes checklist? 

There are a plethora of challenges related to traveling and moving abroad: making friends, meeting rent, unfamiliar support systems and a complete change to your daily life. In fact, the NHS has identified some challenges that could disrupt mental health such as language barriers, culture shock and a sense of isolation and separation from family and friends. But this doesn’t have to put you off traveling! Taking the steps both before and during your travels means you can prioritise your mental health, no matter your destination. 

Here are my tips and advice on things to consider when traveling or moving abroad!

Before you travel
Consider whether your insurance covers your mental health condition. Some insurance companies will exclude cover for mental health, so shop around and read the small print. 

Ensure, if you’re eligible, that you have an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) - they don’t take long to arrive in the post, but make sure you order one at least two weeks before you travel. For more advice, check out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) guidance on travel insurance

If you take medication, make sure you have enough to last you for your whole trip. You might also what to consider whether your medication is both legal and available where you’re staying. You can check the information on NHS traveling with medicine. You can also check with the embassy of the country you’re planning to visit and check with your airline if you need documentation to prove you need to carry the medication. 

Finally, it might be a good idea to research what mental health support is available where you are traveling to, as well as local attitudes to mental health. 

For further advice and recommendations for pre-travel mental health preparation, check out the FCO guidance. 

When you’re abroad
So what about when you’re there? You’ve done all the preparation, and you’ve worked out whether your medication is acceptable and readily available. But you’re now in your rented shoebox of a room, and you’re just feeling crap. What now?

As somebody who has moved abroad before - and found myself not loving it at times - I think the biggest difficulty for me was to will myself to get out of my bed, and see the city I’m in. 

Just going for a walk around the street, or exploring something I always said I would but convinced myself I never had the time for. I found it really allowed me to reset my mind and have a more positive outlook. Of course, convincing yourself to go is a hill to climb in itself, but setting yourself a target of a 20-minute walk a day could might really help. 

Additionally, a consistent hobby that takes place at a certain time every week, could also help you get moving (e.g. a netball session or a cooking class). Before you leave, I’d recommend researching local clubs/teaching activities/courses outside of what you’re traveling there for. Keeping occupied is always a good step. But equally, you want to give yourself time to breathe.

I also found it really helped me to keep a piece of home with me. I was consistently allocating time to Facetime my friends and family, and keeping dates in my calendar for when they were going to visit, so I always had something to look forward to. When you’re not in a good place, you can always count on your loved ones to lift your spirits, and distract you after a down-moment. A nice little trick which I wish I used more when I was abroad was WhatsApp voice notes. It’s quick, and is perfect for when your friend wasn’t able to pick up your call at that very moment, but something hilarious has happened that you want to recount immediately before you forget. 

Start adding ‘prioritising my mental health’ to your pre-travel checklists - you won’t regret it.


Varsha is a London-based journalist who is interested in promoting mental health awareness in all aspects of everyday life, be it travel, employment or university. She graduated from the University of Warwick in 2017 in Law and French Law, and her writing can be found here. She can also be found on twitter @pretendjourno. 


You can find further support and advice on navigating your year abroad and looking after your mental health here.

Monday, 22 July 2019

Living Abroad and Mental Health

Claire shares her experience of living abroad, and her advice for managing anxiety and maintaining mental wellbeing whilst travelling. 
- Claire Jenns

When I was six years old, my parents made the life-altering decision to permanently move from England to Thailand. The eleven years I grew up there were an immense privilege, but also a struggle in so many different ways.

I spent the first nine years there on an island called Koh Samui, which whilst a beautiful place to grow up, presented a number of challenges in terms of my education. I moved between several different international schools, and even had a hiatus from school for around two years. I was only ten or eleven at the time, but this was extremely isolating as I spent most of my days at home on the internet, not spending time with other people my own age. I pinpoint this as the formative moment when my anxiety started to surface, and it’s stayed with me ever since.

Not only that, but I never managed to learn how to speak Thai fluently, which made me feel like even more of an outsider. I adapted to the culture in some senses, becoming familiar with the amazing food and social customs, but I never quite shook off that feeling of otherness. I eventually moved up north to a city called Chiang Mai, where I completed my IGCSE’s (the first continuous stint of my education in a long time). After that, I returned to England to go to sixth form, and now at University I feel more grounded than I ever felt in Thailand. I feel like I’m home. I still struggle with my anxiety, particularly in new situations involving strangers, but I try not to let it stop me from seizing opportunities in life.

Travelling with anxiety can be difficult, but it is manageable. I love to travel, and I find planning well in advance and familiarising myself with where I’ll be going helps alleviate a lot of stress. It sounds obvious but recognising that my trip away, or holiday will be for a fleeting amount of time in comparison to living abroad, and that I’ll be returning to a place that feels like home, also alleviates some anxiety. I don’t wish that I hadn’t experienced growing up in Thailand, as it made me who I am today, but I would caution anyone thinking of living abroad permanently. I’d urge them to think carefully about their decision, do their research, and spend a really good amount of time in their potential new home-country before making the move; it’s not all perfect and definitely doesn’t serve as an escape from life's problems.

You can find information on managing anxiety here. You can find advice on looking after your wellbeing on a year studying abroad here

Hi, my name is Claire, and I’m a second year English Literature student at the University of Liverpool. I’m an avid reader, swimmer and dog-petter! In using my experiences living and travelling abroad in Asia and Europe, I hope to shine a light on the mental health difficulties that can arise from such situations and help people to embark on their own adventures abroad.  

Sunday, 21 July 2019

The Long Road to University

Beth writes about her journey to university, A-level results day, and the importance of prioritising personal wellbeing over ‘conventional’ expectations and standards.
- Beth Matthews

I didn’t have the conventional linear journey to university.

My mental health declined during the first year of my A-levels (2015) due to the stress of struggling with my studies. It was therefore decided that, in the circumstances, it would be best for both my mental health and learning to drop A Levels for the rest of that year and start again the following September (2016).

I restarted and ended up taking A Levels in Sociology, English Language and History, with grades predicted at AAB. I applied for university through UCAS; 3 drafts of personal statements and endless cups of tea later, I settled on Politics and put down my first choice and insurance choice. My first choice required ABB and my insurance wanted BBB.

Then along came results day 2018. My alarm woke me up at 7am. The way my college worked was we could go and collect our results at 9am if need be, but they would also be emailed to us at 6am. I didn’t look at my results until after I knew which university I was going to. Instead, my Mum looked. 7:30am rolled around and UCAS track had now updated. I glanced at the screen anxiously. “Congratulations! Your place at Brunel University London (my insurance choice) to study Politics is confirmed.”

My heart sank. I finally opened my email to see my results. I got BCD. At the time, I felt heartbroken. I felt in denial at what had happened. How did I get BCD after being predicted AAB? In my disappointment, it didn’t even register that it was amazing I had got into Brunel considering I technically didn’t meet their entry requirements. Instead I was so focused on my first choice that I immediately rang them up to try and see whether I could negotiate a place. When I couldn’t get through, it eventually sunk in that there was nothing I could do. I had to consider my options. I did even contemplate ringing other universities because I still felt that I couldn’t accept going to my insurance, as this would be too disappointing.

However, those feelings of disappointment soon faded away. I got into university, for heaven’s sake! That’s still an amazing achievement. I suddenly thought going to Brunel was going to be the right thing for me. But there was still one hurdle.

The combined stress of A Levels and results day meant I simply wasn’t ready for university, and so I contacted Brunel to ask them to defer my entry which they did with no hesitation. I took a gap year to mentally prepare myself for university and spend time with my family before the next chapter. In that time, I’ve changed my degree to Politics and Sociology and I now blog regularly. My journey to university has taught me that it can be helpful to take time out for your mental wellbeing and go at your own pace; try not to compare yourself to the ‘conventional standards’ or expectations and instead remember to do what is right for you and celebrate your own achievements.

From my experience then, here are three pieces of advice for those waiting for A-level results day.
1) Consider all options. Are you prepared if you don’t meet your first choice offer? Have you thought about other universities and courses?
2) Don’t be afraid to ask. Ring up universities to explore the options. Get help from your college or school. I didn’t need to, but they made me aware that they could provide support if I needed it.
3) Have your family around. My Mum made me see sense that day, and feel proud of my achievements.

It may have taken 4 years to get to university since I started my A Levels but that doesn’t matter; I’m here now. I made it.

You can find more advice on managing exam stress here, and information on starting university here.

I'm Beth and I'm just about to start my first year at Brunel University London studying Politics and Sociology. I am a lifestyle blogger and I also like to blog about Mental Health, my journey with my Bullet Journal and my travels. I am also a musical theatre enthusiast and I'm hoping to become involved with my university's societies and campaign for mental health whilst I'm there!

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Mental Health and Travelling

Esther shares her experience and advice on managing and overcoming travel anxiety, and how to maintain mental wellbeing abroad. 
- Esther Walker

Last summer I embarked on what was the most exciting (and nerve wracking) adventure of my life thus far - working as a camp counsellor in America. But, not only would this be my first trip to the US, it would also be the first time I’d be flying solo – quite literally! 

I had nightmares about the impending travel; it was all I could think about. For me the worries started weeks before my trip: consumed by thoughts of packing the wrong things, forgetting essential items, my luggage getting lost or somehow ruined. What if airport security interrogated me? What if I didn’t have the correct Visas? Missed my flight? Thoughts like this kept me up at night - working out exactly how many hours before takeoff I should arrive at the airport…

Some may say that my fears were irrational, and okay yes - it was fairly unlikely that I was going to contract Ebola, board the wrong flight (Home Alone 2-eque) and end up in Timbuktu, but my mind was racing, and ultimately, the anxiety I felt about my impending trip was very real. 

When it came down to it, whilst I was excited for my new adventure on the surface, my enthusiasm was dampened by fear and worry. Beyond the travel concerns, I was deeply worried about being in a new place, where I didn’t know anyone, without my usual support network. So, how did I combat this? I was fortunate that my cousin had worked at a summer camp the previous year, so I reached out. By expressing my worries and talking through them with someone who had had a similar experience, I was able to calm myself - it was reassuring to know that I was a) not alone, and b) that even though I would be away from home my support network were only a phone call away. 

By being brave enough to ask for advice, I was able to implement strategies to manage my mental health condition whilst abroad. I also made sure to get comprehensive travel insurance for my trip, this meant that my pre-existing medical conditions were covered, and helped to put my mind at rest. 

Now, the good news is that I thoroughly enjoyed my time in America, so much so that I’m going to be returning this summer! Whilst I am still anxious about travelling, I have been able to prepare myself in order to limit my anxiety. Thankfully my travels went smoothly last year and my preparedness definitely limited any stresses on the day of travel. 

So, how did I prepare? Firstly, I made copies of all important documents (such as my passport, itinerary and insurance policy). I shared my itinerary with my family, made sure they knew the time difference, and stayed in regular contact with my family and friends back home during my trip. I researched medical professionals in the area where I’d by staying, so should I need support whilst abroad, I knew where to find it. I also made sure that my medications were legal in the States (as rules differ between countries).

I’m proud to say that my mental health did not stop me from travelling and having an amazing summer. Here are my lasting words to help ease those travelling worries:

1. Be prepared – make lists, do your research. It’s obvious but it really helps reduce stress and anxiety. 
2. Take a minute for yourself – It’s ok to take your time and gather your thoughts.  Have a drink of water. Take a deep breath.
3. Take a little bit of home with you - download your favourite films and music, do those little things that make you feel at ease and are familiar. You might be travelling solo but help (and home) is just a phone call away.

You can find advice around looking after your wellbeing on a year studying abroad here. 

My name is Esther, and I’m a second year history student at King’s College London. My hobbies include fitness and travel, I am also passionate about reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and improving mental health awareness. 

Monday, 8 July 2019

Being Proud of who you are


Emily speaks about cherishing your identity.  


“Sexuality and sexual preference is always handled in a private matter. Everyone knows about it, but no one truly speaks about it. And when it is spoken about there is hate, judgement and fear… Sexuality, I believe it is something that helps mould you into something greater. It is an expression, an experience and a journey.”

The month of June is also known as Pride month for those of us within the LGBT+ community. With the recent homophobic attacks shown in the news, I believe it is more important than ever to be proud of who you are, and be proud of being part of the LGBT+ community – no matter which or how many of the LGBT+ terms you identify with. I, myself, identify as both asexual and bisexual. It wasn’t until I was at university and first started to meet people who also identified as LGBT+ that I finally had the courage to first be open about my own sexuality and learn that it is okay and that it is good to be proud of who you are! 

It’s not always simple to be proud of your sexuality or to even be open and honest about it. Sometimes, I still feel worried and anxious about what people might say. I have particularly found this since graduating from university and starting different jobs. It’s difficult enough to be open about having difficulties with depression and anxiety without being scared about what colleagues at work might say or think, but to also wonder if you should be open about being part of LGBT+ community without feeling judged.

Through my experiences of being LGBT+ and coming out as bisexual and asexual at university and now in the workplace, I have learnt a lot about what being LGBT+ means to me and also what it means to me to be proud of my sexuality. I think that sexuality is a personal thing but feeling comfortable enough to be open to people, whether it’s friends, family, colleagues or an LGBT+ society, is certainly something to be proud of, in my opinion. I have also learnt that if people aren’t okay with my sexuality and who I am, then that’s their loss. Having this mind-set makes it a lot easier for me to be accepting of myself. 

“Stand up for what you believe in, even if it means standing alone. I won’t apologise for who I am.”


My name is Emily (Em). Last year, I graduated from Swansea University with my BA degree in Modern Languages, Translation & Interpreting; I was also passionate about and dedicated to Swansea Student Media and the University students’ newspaper – Waterfront. I blog for Student Minds because I have experienced mental health issues as a student and now as a graduate, as well as other health issues, and I support friends who also have mental health difficulties. I am a passionate writer and writing has been important in my mental health experiences – both in helping me to explore and to cope with my mental health, as well as sharing my story in order to help others.
For more information or support see:

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Mental Health At Work

Emily shares and compares her experiences of seeking help for mental health difficulties in the workplace and at university.
- Emily Maybanks

“Mental health problems at work are common. At least one in six workers is experiencing common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. You might not be talking about it, because mental health is still a taboo subject. And many people feel scared and confused about confronting the issue at work.”Mind Website

Facing mental health difficulties at work can be, I have found, completely different to coping with mental health difficulties at university. From my own personal experiences of dealing with depression and anxiety whilst at university, I knew who I could go to speak to and when if I needed, which was always reassuring and helpful to know. Here I compare my experience of seeking help for mental health difficulties at university and in the workplace in both China and in the UK to highlight important considerations for others going to work or study abroad, or entering employment following or alongside their studies. 

Earlier this year, I moved to China to begin a 15 month contract as an English Teacher in a private language school in a very remote part of China. Before leaving the UK and everything and everyone familiar, I was, of course, apprehensive about whom I would be able to turn to in China if my mental health deteriorated, for whatever reason. I wasn’t in China long enough to learn about their policies on mental health in the workplace. After a particularly difficult and challenging couple of weeks, I left after two months. What I learnt from my experiences in China was that work managers may not always be the best people to confide in about mental health difficulties. This made me very apprehensive returning to the UK and starting to search for work at home and induced some of the most challenging depression, anxiety and lack of confidence that I’ve had to deal with for a very long time. Going into a new job, for me, was simultaneously nerve-wracking and exciting. It was scary because of my previous experiences, but I was also looking forward to having a “purpose” again and a chance to meet new people. 

Recently, what felt like a multitude of stuff going on outside of work started to affect me in work. Following a panic attack during work one day, I was worried about losing my job. My manager and my colleagues could not have been more supportive and genuinely kind which shocked me a little, but is also reassuring because I know I can talk to them, which means I am more comfortable at work. 

Overall, based on my own experiences of mental health in the workplace in two very different environments, whilst working in another country may produce some additional cultural considerations, it can be useful to speak to someone at work about how you’re feeling, especially if you are new to the role, whether it is a manager or a colleague you get on particularly well with. I have also found that it’s important to “switch off” from work on your days off – don’t get tempted to check your work emails, for example as this helps you to relax and have some you time. Also, it can also be nice to meet up with your work colleagues outside of work and have fun together, as work is also a good place to make new friends!

My name is Emily (Em). Last year, I graduated from Swansea University with my BA degree in Modern Languages, Translation & Interpreting; I was also passionate about and dedicated to Swansea Student Media and the University students’ newspaper – Waterfront. I blog for Student Minds because I have experienced mental health issues as a student and now as a graduate, as well as other health issues, and I support friends who also have mental health difficulties. I am a passionate writer and writing has been important in my mental health experiences – both in helping me to explore and to cope with my mental health, as well as sharing my story in order to help others.