Thursday, 21 June 2018

Facing Fears: Taking on Mental Health as a Postgraduate

So, you’ve started your PhD without any issues with your mental health. But what happens if, like me, your mental health starts to suffer during your PhD? I’m going to offer some points of advice based on my own experiences of dealing with anxiety and depression during my PhD.

1. find your ‘person’
As a PhD student, I’m surrounded by academics, research associates and other PhD students who all know what it is like to have done (or be doing) a PhD. Among these people is my ‘person’ – someone who I could trust with anything, and who I could tell anything to.

In short, there is no way I could have made it through my mental health problems without my person. I’m extremely fortunate to have him as a mentor, friend, brother. He always listens to me, gives out hugs, and is generally brilliant at getting me back on track when I have a wobble. Find your person and tell them what’s happening.

2. talk
When my mental health problems were starting to affect my work, I knew that I needed to tell my supervisor what was going on. I worked myself up and worried about the conversation I was going to have for days. I was stressed about being stressed, but I knew I needed to have the talk.

Talking is easy but trying to articulate what you’re feeling can be really difficult – it was for me! It was difficult – I won’t deny it – but I felt so much better knowing that what I was thinking and feeling was no longer confined to my own head. My supervisor was wonderfully supportive and sympathetic, and the conversation was everything I hoped it would be. It was also the first step to getting the support I needed. They want to see you do well and be happy in what you’re doing.

3. get to know what works for you
Everyone has their own way of dealing with their mental health. Maybe it’s mindfulness, exercise, meditation, counselling, socialising and recreation – there are loads of things that work for different people to help them relax, de-stress, and improve their moods.

After trying loads of things to help my mental health, my go-to thing now is to find a cafĂ© somewhere (anywhere) and read a book by one of my favourite authors. I also find that going for a run after work helps too. The important thing is to find what works for you – this might take some time, but, just like with a PhD, it is important not to give up.

4. know that you aren’t on your own
I’m not sure what percentage of the Earth’s population are currently studying at a postgraduate level, but everyone has led different lives, and had different experiences. However different we might feel though, know that you are not on your own. You aren’t the first person whose mental health has been affected during a PhD (there are loads of papers on it too) and in all likelihood you aren’t the only person to have gone through the things that have happened to you.

I thought for a long time that I was on my own with how I was feeling. It was only when a friend (and fellow PhD student) told me about what was happening to them that I realised – I wasn’t. When I looked into this a bit more, I found that there were loads of students like me whose mental health issues had first cropped up during their PhD. I wasn’t alone, and neither are you.

5. take time away
If you feel like you need to get away from your studies to deal with your mental health, that is absolutely fine. Your university should have a way that you can take ‘leave of absence’ where you can take extended time away without affecting the time on your PhD. Use this if you think it might be helpful for you!

It’s also important to take guilt-free time for yourself every day: take holidays, have lunch away from your desk, have 15 minutes in the afternoon for a cup of tea and to read a book, leave early one day. Just make sure you look after yourself!

to finish…
‘Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it’ said Professor Dumbledore. I am pleased to say that this phrase extends to us Muggles too. Help and support are always there in a variety of forms, but it can only be given if people know that it is required.

Identifying a problem is the easy part, doing something about it is the hard part. It usually all starts with a conversation.

I'm Will and I'm a final year PhD student. I've been dealing with anxiety since I was 14, and depression since I was 23. I found that writing and talking about my own experiences of mental health as a postgraduate student were hugely helpful to my recovery (and stress levels). I'm now working on improving student wellbeing at all levels and raising awareness of mental health.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Tips for Chinese Students coming to UK

This blog is written by a Chinese student who would like to share their experience with other Chinese students about coming to the UK to study.

In recent years, the number of Chinese students coming to the UK for Masters study has increased dramatically. I, as a Chinese student have been studying at the University of Edinburgh for 4 years, want to share my experiences with the incoming Chinese students regarding keeping your mental health in good condition while studying in the UK.

A year abroad is an experience that seems to end as quickly as it started. But for this whole year, you will be away from your family and friends, which may be tough. Therefore, it is important that you understand the social situation and living atmosphere while you are choosing the university, so you can come to the UK physically and mentally prepared.

Here are some tips which might be useful for keeping your mental health in good condition while studying in the UK:

1. Choose accommodation wisely

The first thing to think about before you come to the UK is to find an appropriate accommodation for yourself. Most universities in the UK provide accommodation for the first year Masters students and as far as I am concerned, it is the best choice for most of the students, especially for the Chinese students who are studying abroad for the first time.

If you do plan to rent a flat outside of the university, make sure you go through the process from credible authority. It is always recommended to live with one or two flatmates as you can help each other out in your life abroad.

2. Understand the living skill

The education system in UK universities are quite different from the Chinese ones. In the UK, you need to learn the skill of studying as well as taking care of yourself in your daily life. So, it is important that you learn some basic living skills before you come to study here, such as cooking.
A good study and living habit will also help you keep your mental health in good condition.

3. Find a good balance for your study life

It is always important to work hard during your time here, but it is also important to keep yourself away from feeling too much pressure from your studying. Although it is very normal to get stressed over exams or deadlines, it's not good to let the study pressure take over your life. Your mental health is much more important than getting a good grade. Therefore, you need to focus on getting yourself well, happy, and in the right emotional state to continue working while studying abroad.

4. Always look for help

It can be very easy to get stressed due to work or study while you’re abroad, and as a result you may feel very lonely. It is always better if you can to try and talk to someone else, such as your friends or family members when you are feeling in bad mood.
You can even visit the mental health website or call the night line for a bit of support too. You are definitely not alone, and I am sure there are so many people that are very willing to help you out.

Hi, I'm Ethan. I'm currently a PhD student study engineering in University of Edinburgh and wanted to share some my own experience and give some tips to Chinese student who are coming to study in UK regarding how to keep mental health in good condition when they study abroad.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Stigmas of Autism

Ben shares his experience of the stigma surrounding Autism and suggests ways he thinks this can be prevented. 
- Ben

So, the way society is at times, sadly creates a stigma on mental health and disabilities. So many people are afraid to be open about them, whether that be depression, anxiety, autism, Asperger’s, or bipolar disorder, just to name a few. Why is this the case though? Is this an okay thing to happen? Just 2 questions which need to be answered.

Sadly, when I was first diagnosed with Autism, someone who I thought was a friend, called me numerous things, such as “Retard”, “Mental” and “Freak”. Those comments are NOT OKAY! They are simply disgusting and ignorant and it’s fair to say, I no longer have contact with that person.

The issue is, that I am not the only one who has gone through times such as those. Society allows people to think like that because of the lack of education around mental health difficulties and illnesses. Admittedly, mental health programmes looking at conditions similar to those mentioned above, are becoming more prominent. However, is a TV programme really enough to educate and inform people? Probably not.

In my opinion, topics such as these need to be taught in secondary education. By informing children about mental health, these stigmas which are constant with every generation could be reduced. If children understood the issues, when they go into adulthood they would have a better understanding of what they entail. I personally believe that as a result of this, society would become stronger, more knowledgeable and ultimately, more respectful.

Why do these stigmas exist?

These stigmas exist due to a lack of awareness, lack of education and ultimately, old fashioned views. People need to look into those 3 reasons and see how things can change. Admittedly everyone is entitled to an opinion, but there is having an opinion and being a horrible person.

Is it okay to happen? 

In short, NO! People need to change and support those who are struggling because you never know when you will need that support yourself.

Admittedly this post is rather opinionated and passionate, but I’m a passionate person and truly believe in working hard to reduce mental health difficulties and illnesses being seen as a taboo subject.

Once again, Thank you for reading.

Until next time,


I am an aspiring Primary School Teacher based in Shropshire, England. I was diagnosed with Autism in 2014 at 19 years of age and since then my journey to being a teacher started. I am a huge sports fan and a firm believer in exercise helping mental health and improving self esteem. I am passionate about everyone recognising their own individual talents.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Importance of Self-Care as a Student Nurse

Jess shares her experience of being a second year student nurse while juggling self-care and trying to find a healthy work-life balance.
- Jess

As a student nurse you're taught from day one about the importance of compassion, care and empathy towards patients, and reminded to look after yourself as well. However, in reality fitting self-care into a busy routine can be very difficult.

As a mature student I already had a well-established job, my own home and a long-term relationship under my belt. I'd established my foundations but felt that it was time for me to do my nurse training. When I started my course however, I became increasingly anxious; I felt uncomfortable and self-conscious and was thinking too far ahead into the future.

I'm an inward thinker but my thoughts started to keep me awake at night. The constant overthinking began to have a negative impact on myself, so I decided that because my nursing means so much to me, that I couldn't let my anxiety take control and I started seeing a counsellor.

Initially I kept things to myself, I'd never been great at talking about my feelings and because I've always managed to appear composed, I felt like I could continue in that way. I'd stay composed when I needed to and then try and deal with the fallout in private, alone.

I felt like I was living two separate lives. I had the professional, hardworking side that was exceeding my own and other’s expectations. Then this other side of me that behind closed doors, had never cried so much, worried as excessively, or felt as deeply unhappy.

Counselling helped me gradually with being able to gain some control back. It took a long time as progress was slow but eventually it became less intense. However, I couldn't see that as the anxiety lessened because I'd subtly gone into overdrive. Alongside clinical placements and studying, I was working part time, and my relationship reached its conclusion; I had no time to see friends or take time out and I wasn't looking after myself. The worst part is that I didn't care either.

My appetite disappeared, I couldn't muster the brainpower to make simple decisions like what to eat. I was managing on very little sleep and eventually I was running on empty, and unsurprisingly my mood plummeted. I heard people saying I looked unwell, but I didn't listen, not until it became more frequent and I decided that whilst counselling was helping, I needed to see my GP and admit that I'd become depressed.

I didn't want to start medication, but I needed to. Thankfully I had a positive experience with my GP. He listened attentively, empathised with me and acknowledged that I was genuinely at a low point and struggling.

Slowly I started to open up to people around me, don't get me wrong I didn't start shouting it from the rooftops but I did talk to people I trust, and admitting I was struggling started to lift some of the shame and guilt I felt.

Looking back, it's as though I had to learn the hard way to recognise the importance of taking care of my own mental and physical health. I can't effectively care for others if I'm not taking the time to be compassionate towards myself.

I know there'll be times when I struggle in the future, but I've gained invaluable coping skills from counselling. I have a stable base with medication and know now that it's ok for me to say when I'm struggling and that it doesn't mean I won't become a good nurse. If anything it allows me to be more empathetic towards those that I will look after throughout my career.

My name is Jess and I'm currently studying Adult Nursing at the University of Bradford. I wanted to share my experience because it's difficult to admit you're struggling with your mental health when your chosen profession focuses so much on looking after others, making self-care very difficult at times. Hopefully this will help other nursing students to look after themselves throughout their training

Friday, 15 June 2018


- Michael Rigby

Many of us know the word, “unfortunately”. It’s a word that tends to mean rejection. For example, when applying for that job, we wait days/weeks for a reply from the company we think we would like to work for and the unaccountable amount of times majority of applicants who will or have received the word “unfortunately” can have a major impact on someone’s own belief within themselves.

Meaning, when receiving that rejection email/letter can sometimes make you feel like you’re not good enough. I can say that it had an effect on myself, I’ve applied for that opportunity which I feel would be a perfect fit for me. However, I wasn’t picked. Yes, I became very depressed etc.. because I wasn’t given the opportunity. For a while, I wondered what I had to be doing so I could be picked next time.

Despite, all of that. I’ve realised that I shouldn’t wait for those people to pick me. We have the time to work on ourselves and improve our abilities which would make those companies want to pick us. 

The word, “unfortunately”. It’s not a meaning of failure. It means we all have the chance to make ourselves stronger and smarter. I’ve experienced rejection, I did get depressed about it but it’s made me stronger. I now know what I actually want to pursue in life because of those set-backs. 

Therefore, never let yourself get depressed about not being chosen. Use the opportunity to build something for yourself. Whatever, it may be. Doesn’t matter who you are, we have the chance in our hands already. Take that risk.

That opportunity that, “unfortunately” you weren’t accepted for could actually be a blessing in disguise. 

Keep going and never give up.

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

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

What I wish I’d known starting University

Emily shares what she wish she had known starting university. 
- Emily Maybanks

Starting University is a big step in life. It can be easy to forget that even getting into University in the first place is a real achievement in itself. I am at the end of my Undergraduate degree at University and looking back to when I was preparing to head off to University as an anxious Fresher way back in 2013, there is so much that I wish I’d known then that I’ve learnt over the past 5 years.

To briefly introduce myself, I’m Emily. I’ve been studying Modern Languages, Translation and Interpreting at Swansea University (we have a beach opposite campus – it’s lovely in this part of the world) and it’s taken me 5 years to finish my course. My 4-year degree programme included a year abroad, and then an extra year out. From this, one of the most valuable things I’ve learnt is that everyone’s experiences of University is unique to them and that it’s definitely not a good idea to compare your journey to someone else’s. There’s that quote that goes “don’t compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 14. Follow your own path; write your own life story and never give up on yourself.” As cheesy as it sounds, it is true. There’s a lot of pressure to make University “the best years of your life” – it doesn’t have to be the best time of your life, and honestly, it won’t be the best time all of time. There will be moments of amazing highs and there will be moments when you wonder why you even started University. I can genuinely say that while I was disappointed and upset to have taken an additional year to finish my course, it’s also turned out to be a real positive in the sense that I’ve spent my final year getting involved with as much as I can alongside my studies because it is important to make the most of your time at University, both in lectures and outside of lectures!

What I definitely wish that I had known when I started University is just how vital a skill time management is. What threw me a lot was going from a very rigid routine throughout my A Levels in Sixth Form where I’d get up early each day, get the bus, spend hours in school, come home, do my homework, have dinner, relax, and go to bed, to being on my own at University and having lectures at random times throughout the day. I suddenly had to learn to manage my time in a different way to what I’d been used to. I think that once you manage the art of time management, it definitely becomes a lot easier – get into a routine as quickly and as smoothly as you can.

Another thing that I wish I’d known is that it is perfectly okay to not enjoy nights out in town and clubbing as well as the drinking culture that it is often viewed as “typical” at University. I was worried ahead of starting University because I was 19 and I had never stepped foot in a club (they are my idea of a nightmare) and I had also never been drunk. I was worried that I’d be judged right from the beginning. However, I’ve been lucky that I’ve met people along my University journey who have never held this against me. There’s always something to do at University that doesn’t involve drinking or going out. One of my most memorable moments in my first year was a game of “hide and seek” at my friends’ flat. In my later years at University, it’s been nice to meet people who are more than happy to spend an evening watching films, walking on the beach or playing games.

There’s a lot to get involved in at University right from the very beginning of your first year. Go to the Fresher’s Fair and join at least one society that interests you. Joining a society or a sports club is a fantastic way to get involved with student life. My closest friends at University have come from joining the Hogwarts society in my first year. They put on lots of fun events such as a Yule Ball at the end of the first semester, a trip to the Studio Tours and several quiz and film nights. In my final year, I’ve been a part of my students’ newspaper and the wider Student Media community. If your University has any media opportunities, be it a students’ newspaper, or a radio station, I would recommend getting involved as it’s another way to meet new people but also to learn new skills and gain a unique, worthwhile experience. One of my regrets from University is not getting involved with the students’ newspaper at Swansea earlier on during my degree.

Finally, you learn a lot about yourself at University. Looking back to the beginning of my first year, I had no idea that I’m more resilient than I think I am, for example. University has certainly helped to shape me into who I am now. Everything that I’ve been through over the past 5 years (positive and negative) has developed me. I am proud to say that I am leaving University a more confident, more open and much more willing individual.

Some final words of advice about starting University and the adventure that lies ahead:

  • Look after yourself; take time to focus on you and only you, doing what you enjoy,
  • Say “yes” to as many exciting opportunities as you can, but also know when to say “no” too,
  • People will come and go during your Uni years, just as they come and go in life itself. The right people will stick around; 
  • Cook yourself a really nice meal every once in a while;
  • Remember that it is YOUR journey and YOUR life – do what makes YOU happy. 

Check out Student Mind's resources on transitioning from school to university.

My name is Emily (Em). I am currently in my final year at Swansea University. I wanted to blog because I have experienced depression and anxiety as well as other health issues, and I support friends who have also experienced mental health difficulties. I am a passionate writer and writing has been important in my mental health experiences - both in helping me to cope with my mental health, as well as sharing my story in order to help others.

Volunteering and Mental Health

Emily celebrates volunteering week by sharing how taking part can be beneficial to our mental and emotional health and wellbeing. 
- Emily

Each year, Volunteers’ Week is celebrated nationally from the 1st until the 7th of June. It aims to recognise and to celebrate those who give their time freely to a cause that they are passionate about. Volunteering as a university student can come in many forms – charity shop work, blogging, working with young children or older people in the wider community, social media volunteering… the list is endless. Volunteering isn’t a one-way street and there are lots of benefits for the volunteer. Aside from being a real opportunity to use existing skills, as well as to develop new skills, volunteering is a brilliant chance to boost your CV and gain work experience whilst at university. However, volunteering is also extremely beneficial to our mental and emotional health and wellbeing.

Here are some reasons as to why and how this is:

  • Volunteering helps to reduce depression – it is a way to increase social interaction. Depression can be a lonely and isolating experience, but volunteering is a way to counteract this and to build a support system.
  • It also reduces stress levels – there is no doubt that university is extremely stressful at times. Volunteering gives you a real sense of meaning and appreciation, which thus helps you to feel calmer.
  • Volunteering helps to keep things in perspective – volunteering to help people who are less fortunate than yourself can give you a different outlook on life and help you to view your own life with a more positive mind set.
  • It makes the world a happier place in which to live – acts of kindness undertaken through volunteering have a real potential to make the world a much happier and nicer place. It encourages others to do good deeds, which therefore leads to a more positive community.
  • Doing more for others means that you are doing more for yourself – this might sound a little complicated, but it isn’t. By volunteering, giving your time and doing good things for other people, you’re also doing something for yourself too. Volunteering helps you to build up a ‘kindness bank’ so to speak of special memories that can be reflected on positively in the future. 

Being a volunteer myself, I can assure others that these are true benefits of volunteering, and that this list is certainly not exhaustive of the many more benefits that volunteering can have on mental health. I really enjoy volunteering – it makes me feel as though I am doing something worthwhile and positive for things that I strongly believe in and am passionate about.

I would definitely recommend that students get involved with volunteering during their time at university.

“The greatest gift you can give someone is your time because when you give your time, you are giving a portion of your life that you will never get back.” 

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

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Finding Myself

Ben shares his experiences before and after being diagnosed with Autism and how he coped with it. 
- Ben

To introduce myself; I am Ben Tipton. I live in Shrewsbury, England and I’m a primary education student who’s aspiring to be a teacher, and I have Autism. My journey before and after being diagnosed with Autism was far from easy, or what I would have wanted. So, this post will explain my journey up until my diagnosis and what has changed since then.

From the age of about 5 or 6, my parents knew I was different in how I thought and behaved. I was naughtier than what was expected and a lot more hyper your standard 6-year-old child. Throughout my primary school I was bullied for acting differently and I was incredibly sensitive to little comments other kids made.
Numerous doctors appointments followed this, and I remember not really knowing what was going on. 
When I turned 11 suddenly my sleeping changed. I had constant nightmares and I developed insomnia. I was also bullied in secondary school and this got severely worse too. However, despite the counselling, both in and out of school, a diagnosis never ever came. 

At the age of 16, I had a huge panic attack before an AS level exam and ended up having a week off from college. This resulted in a psychiatric assessment and it was then that I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety. There was more counselling yet again, but I never ever improved, and this made life at home severely difficult as my family didn’t think I was trying to get better! However, I can assure you all, I really was! 

Finally, after further years of counselling with no improvement in my mental health plus a suicide attempt, I reached out for support. I spoke to my best friend, my grandad, who is my hero, and my sister and they recommended that I got tested for Autism! I was 19 years old at the time and my sister accompanied me to the doctors on July 17th 2014 (I will always remember that day). At that visit I was told that it could take up to a year to be diagnosed! A YEAR TO BE DIAGNOSED WAS, AND STILL IS A DISGRACE!! So as a result, my parents went private and I was finally diagnosed on the 16th of August! 

That was the day that my life changed for the good! I became me, the man who had aspirations and no longer had to worry about things when he wasn’t making improvements in the way he acted!

I became happier over night, I became more confident after a few months and began to accept who I was, and ultimately why being Autistic makes me different in so many positive ways! I can confidently say that I am proud to be Autistic! 
In addition to this, I am proud to be studying to be a teacher while also working as a teaching assistant at a primary school. I truly do love my job which is the dream job for this stage of my career. 

I can only thank everyone for the support in my journey up until this point and I genuinely look forward to blogging for this brilliant charity, Student Minds! I also have my own blog which is called The Autistic Referee so if you get a chance, check it out too! 

Until next time,

I am an aspiring Primary School Teacher based in Shropshire, England. I was diagnosed with Autism in 2014 at 19 years of age and since then my journey to being a teacher started. I am a huge sports fan and a firm believer in exercise helping mental health and improving self esteem. I am passionate about everyone recognising their own individual talents.

10 lessons I have learnt running a Student Minds' campaigns group

Rosie shares how the process of volunteering as a campaigner has been beneficial to her university experience.
- Rosie Steele

When I started my Student Minds group at Liverpool John Moores I had mixed emotions. I was excited about the year ahead and what I would gain out of it, and how many people I could reach with the message. I was also nervous and apprehensive as I was starting this in my third year, the year with the biggest workload and it was going to inevitably divide my attention.

Divide my attention it has but in the best possible way. Here are ten lessons I’ve learnt/ things I have gained through running my campaigns group this last year:

1.    How to put my degree into practice – Transferable skills
I study Media, Culture and Communication and throughout the three years, we have learnt a lot about social media campaigning, marketing and event planning. Running the group has given me the opportunity to put these skills into practice allowing me to solidify my knowledge and understand what truly works and what does not. It has been a real learning curve and taught me more about campaigning than a traditional sit-down lecture ever could. Even if you do not study a communications-focused course the transferable skills gained including leadership, planning and time-management will be invaluable to any CV come graduation.

2. Networking
Through the group, I have found so many people who make the university run and who help make the university experience inclusive for all, that I simply did not know existed beforehand. Although I had used the Student Advice and Wellbeing service personally in my second year, through meeting with them I learnt what they really do, and began to signpost others to their services who possibly were not aware of what they do. I also met with Student Engagement who run out of each school to help all students who may not want to trek their way across to the Student Advice building. I have also learnt about Disability Officers, the role of tutors in wellbeing and even about what student accommodation staff do. It really has made me question the “9 grand for power-points” narrative that often circulates among students.

3. How I’m not alone in the way I’m feeling
Every single person who has attended the group across the year has told me they too are feeling lonely, scared, stressed, having housemate troubles and like they do not fit in. It has helped me to normalise my own experience and realise I am not the odd one out in feeling this way. One in four adults experience mental health difficulties so you definitely are not the only one who is not having the time of their life at university. That is mainly the reason I started the group after all.

4. How to take breaks
Before this year, breaks within my studying were few and far in-between and I would often spend eight hours straight in the library and then extra when I got home. Starting the group meant that once a month, during the socials, I would have an hour where I could not focus on work, but the topic of the evening. Now I find letting myself have breaks so much easier.  If someone came to the group stressed, taking breaks, and not feeling guilty for it would always be my first piece of advice.

5. Sense of belonging
For my first two years, I always felt like I did not belong and like I did not fit in with everyone else. Through meeting people outside of my course, and other societies I felt myself merging in with the wider university community. My only regret at university is not getting involved in a society sooner as it has been such a good way to meet new people and explore my university city through making use of student offers with the group.

6. Importance of peer support
The campaign we really focused on this year has been the Look After Your Mate campaign which focuses on how we can care for our friends who may be struggling with university pressures whilst also caring for our own wellbeing. I always knew that friendship was important but being there for others and them being there for me has taught me to look out for small signs in others and how to be a good support network.

7. Confidence in my abilities
The reaction to the group from members of university staff has been so much more positive than I could have ever believed. Instead of playing down my hard work and dedication to the group I have learnt to accept the compliments and be proud of all the effort I have put in. I have always had really low self-esteem, especially academically, so for me, this has been a breakthrough.

8. Professionalism
I have learnt how to write emails in a professional way and how to hold myself in meetings. As with transferable skills, I feel like I will be able to head into job interviews with a clearer sense of how to hold myself professionally.

9. How to celebrate the tiny victories
When I first started the group, I was obsessed with the numbers. How many people came, how many people joined as members on the SU website, how many people wanted to come back. I then realised that it was about so much more than that. It was about helping people, making their university experience a little bit better, about campaigning, whether that be to one person or one hundred people. When I started looking at the small details, of how this was our first year and we were doing well did I really start enjoying running the group. I can now relate this to other areas of my life, look at the smaller details and see just how much you have achieved.

10. Friendships
I started the group alone over the summer between second and third year when I knew I needed to make a change. I then roped in two of my best friends to help me. Although I possibly would not recommend this as sometimes committee meetings and socials would veer slightly off course with personal dramas it gave us a space to nurture our friendship away from alcohol-centric environments. I feel like even though in a few weeks we will be split across the country we will remain friends for life due to how we have allowed ourselves to be vulnerable and open in front of each other in ways we may not have been if we had not started the group.

Tonight, we had our last social with our current committee. I am beyond proud what we have achieved in a single year. When I started the group I never thought we would get as far as we have. The highlight for me has to be talking on a panel at a Let’s Talk Disability and Mental Health event with Rosie the CEO of Student Minds about peer support and the role of student volunteers. As I sat on the stage I thought of my younger self who could barely manage five lessons a day, now sat in a room full of people talking about the importance of student mental health.

If your university already has a Student Minds group or similar campaigns group I would definitely recommend looking at how you can get involved. I have learnt so much but also had so much fun. It truly has been a year I will never forget, and I have got to help others along the way making it all the more valuable.

Rosie is a soon to be Media, Culture, Communication graduate from Liverpool John Moores and has run their Student Minds campaign group for the last year. 

Monday, 4 June 2018

Looking after your mental health during your PhD

Eloise explores the struggles that accompany postgraduate studies, sharing her ways to look after yourself and your mental well-being whilst making the most of your degree.
- Eloise Stark

Studying for a PhD is seen as the pinnacle of education. Over three or four years you become the world’s leading expert in your particular “niche”. Yes, not many people might be interested in knowing which can jump higher: the dog flea or the cat flea, whether woodpeckers get headaches, or the cultural significance of Lady Gaga. But if they ever need an expert on Women’s Hour, you would be their number one choice.

This academic prowess does not come without its costs, however. According to research, 32% of PhD students are at risk of having or developing a psychiatric disorder such as depression. This may even be a conservative estimate, as a 2014 UC Berkeley report found that 43-46% of graduate students in the biosciences reported that they were depressed. Doctoral students face considerable stress, whether internally or externally generated, and this can lead to depression, eating disorders, chronic insomnia, and even suicidal thoughts.

My own experience of graduate study corroborates this. Being hugely ambitious, I pushed myself to breaking point, and subsequently had to take a two-year break to focus on my mental health and wellbeing. I learnt the hard way, but by sharing my experience, I hope that you will not become one of those statistics.


Given that you will probably be studying something so niche that it takes you half an hour to explain it properly at dinner parties, it is easy to feel isolated. The start of a PhD often involves a comprehensive literature search, culminating in a flawless understanding of your area and any preceding research. This can be a lonely pursuit, reading dozens of articles a day and making meticulous notes.

I am lucky to be studying a scientific subject, so my research group has our own office, that we endearingly call “the lab.” On weekdays, we can treat our studies like a job, turning up from 9 to 5 and furnishing our desks with motivational postcards and our most trusty academic tomes. My humanities friends, however, do not often get dedicated desk space and the support of a group. Libraries tend to become their main working environment, which can quickly become oppressive when spending your day sitting in silence surrounded by strangers.

My advice would therefore be to try and create a community – ask people on your course or from your department if they want to work together in the library, take shared lunch breaks and coffee runs. There are even workspaces which you can hire to simulate an office environment. Try to socialise at least once per day so that you don’t spend your whole day in silence. There are bound to be lots of people just like you who crave company and solidarity. Scientists: make use of your academic community, suggest joint lunch breaks, a daily midday walk, or Friday evening drinks.


The key to a happy PhD is a good supervisor. To some extent you are taking a risk when you sign up to do your doctorate with a certain academic, so it makes sense to scope them out beforehand, and if possible contact existing PhD students under their supervision for their opinions. Having co-supervisors has been really helpful for me, as they offer different perspectives (one is a Neuroscientist, the other a Psychiatrist).

Supervisors often have many, many plates spinning at one time, so it can be difficult to regularly secure their attention. Try to make an agreement about how often you will meet, and set interim goals between meetings. Be accountable for your own progress, and be assertive if you’re not getting what you need. Supervisors are often exceptional academics, but they are not mind readers. Tell them what you need – they will be grateful.

“Publish or Perish”

The maxim “publish or perish” is a mainstay of academic pressures. During your PhD, but usually more towards the end, you will be under pressure to produce papers that demonstrate your academic prowess. Academia is a bit like a funnel – the higher you get the more competitive it is and the fewer the opportunities. If you choose to stay in academia and pursue a sought-after postdoctoral position, your publications will undoubtedly count towards your job prospects. If you take this into account early enough, you can forward plan to prepare chapters for your thesis, but also mould them into publishable contributions to a journal. However, keep in mind that quality always trumps quantity. Rejections are common, so don’t take it to heart. Do your best – no one can be perfect and I like to think that we naturally find our own way in the end.

Public engagement is a growing element of all careers in research, so getting involved with local initiatives is a really good idea (we have a public event called “Brain Week” in Oxford including talks, hands-on stands, and museum exhibitions). You can also write for student newspapers or magazines, or for The Conversation, perhaps distilling your own work in a public-oriented catchy way, or summarising recent research in your field. This sort of activity can do a lot for your “reputation” as a good researcher, and should hopefully be enjoyable too.

Strategies for staying well

Before my break from study, I was a perfectionist who demanded top-quality work on all occasions. Since taking time out, I have adjusted my expectations considerably, and implemented several strategies to stay happy but also be productive.

Goal setting is incredibly important. For me, a timeline is helpful – giving each experimental chapter I need for my thesis dedicated time for prior research, data collection, data analysis, and the manuscript write-up. Seeing the whole time you have to finish your PhD spread out, with manageable targets for each sub-project, can reassure you that you’re on track.

I also deviate slightly from my chosen research topic every now and then, to keep my interest piqued in adjoining fields. For instance, my PhD involves the neuroscience of face perception in parent-infant interaction, but I have just published a book chapter on music and wellbeing. I also keep abreast of the recent research in a number of fields that are not directly related to my PhD, by setting up Google Scholar alerts (if you don’t know what this is – it sets up regular emails with the most recent papers published for specific keywords that you input). Lastly, I try to attend a couple of lectures every week on topics that are new to me, or at least unrelated to my area. It is so refreshing to hear and can boost your academic enthusiasm considerably.

Having a support network is invaluable. This will be different for each person, but may include family, friends from home and uni, peer supporters, Junior Deans, your supervisor, your GP, or the local mental health team. Joining a society based on a common interest (I am a proud member of the Oxford Origami Society) can give you a great community of friends and opportunities to socialise. I have been a part of the rowing team since starting my undergraduate degree and have made lifelong friends who I can count on for a cup of tea if I need to vent.

And lastly, if things do go wrong or you are not happy, don’t panic. I have yet to meet a PhD student who has had a smooth ride. The most important thing is to not suffer in silence. Talk to everyone you can. Problem solve and explore options. A PhD is supposed to be challenging but it is not supposed to make you miserable.

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
― Maya Angelou

Hi, my name is Eloise and I am a second year PhD student at Oxford University, studying at the intersection between Neuroscience and Psychiatry. I am passionate about mental health, reducing stigma and increasing empathy for people experiencing distress.