Thursday, 2 March 2017

Being Active Doesn’t Mean Sweating

Leanne rights about being active for her mental health and ways in which you could become active for your mental health.

- Leanne Hall

Keeping active is scientifically proven to make you feel happier, it releases endorphins, a chemical known to reduce stress. It’s important for everybody to stay active, but it can be especially beneficial if you suffer from mental health problems.

If you aren’t into cardio or weight training then you might prefer something a bit gentler, like yoga. It takes your mind off of everyday stresses as you focus on the positions, it relieves tense muscles and it gives you a work out. You can do it in the comfort of your own home if you don’t feel like seeing anyone that day or you can bring it outside and relax with nature.

Being active is often thought as having to go to the gym, something that can be exceptionally daunting if you suffer with mental health problems. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Being active can be anything, from dancing to your favourite heartbreak song in your room, to going for a long walk outside.

People at university don’t often have the money for a gym membership, but a yoga mat will only set you back £10, and if you’re doing it in your bedroom, heck, you don’t even have to buy workout clothes.

For me, yoga is an important part in helping me manage my anxiety, I try to do 50 minutes, three times a week. It gives me the chance to focus on myself, my breathing and my body.

Something that rarely happens living in London. One of my favourite Youtuber’s who teaches yoga is there are different videos depending on your experience, and depending if you want to relax or go more hardcore. It’s a great way to reflect on the day past, without interfering thoughts popping into your head.

So, if you’re as lazy as I am, but you feel like you could benefit from moving your body a little bit, give yoga a go. Let me know in the comments how you keep active for your mental health, what works for you?

Find out more about University Mental Health Day 2017, watch or read more on our Active Mental Health stories page!

Without sport, I wouldn't be here

Yasmin is a staff member at Imperial College London, where she leads on areas relating to sport and mental health as well as running Student Minds’ Mental Health In Sport Workshops. She studied at Sheffield University where she raised awareness of mental health through charity fundraising.

- Yasmin, Imperial College London

It’s vital to talk about mental health.1 in 4 people are affected by mental health issues - of course it is something to address. Mental health issues aren’t always visible, but that level of prevalence needs to be addressed, for treatment, overcoming stigma, and resolution. If we don’t know we can’t help.

From a personal experience, mental health is close to my heart. I know people who have mental health issues and I understand what it takes for them to get through the things others take for granted – such as even getting out of bed. Everything becomes so much more of a challenge. We should talk about it so everyone understands, supports and removes the embarrassment associated with having a mental health condition. Turning mental health from an issue to an element of wellbeing is key to overcoming the stigmas but if we don’t talk, we won’t know and we can’t help.

"Quite simply without sport, I wouldn't be working where I work"

Mental health at Imperial

I recently took on a new role combining student sport and student support within Sport Imperial. I will be delivering the Student Minds Mental Health training to all incoming Sports Committee members, creating an online chat forum with the students, and working with the University ‘Mentality’ Society about new ideas. Furthermore, we will look at the Stress-Buster activities around exam times and promote and develop these further as well as providing regular drop-in sessions for students who have concerns or questions about mental health.

My main focus will be on promoting mental health in a positive light by addressing it as wellbeing incorporating sport as one of the key developments and encouraging students to engage in activity.

University Sport and Student Wellbeing
University sport is highly beneficial to students’ wellbeing for many reasons: tackling home sickness, engaging in new opportunities to challenge the brain, stress relief, and dealing with depression. Sport and exercise can change people’s lives. Being a student is a key time to pick up on potentially stressful situations that can cause declines in mental wellbeing, and turn them into opportunities for personal development and an increase in student wellbeing.

Engaging in sporting opportunities can get students out of their rooms, into social environments, and help them make friends – students often worry about fitting in when they move to university, and such activities will overcome this barrier. Engagement and participation will leave students with a sense of achievement. The adrenaline rush and the ‘feel good factor’ that is associated to sport is a positive and uplifting experience.

Furthermore, sport has positive associations for feeling good, being active and leading a healthy lifestyle, whereas mental health carries a ‘stigma’ because it is a sensitive subject. Marrying up a stigmatised topic with one of positivity can really help to break the ‘stigma’ down and help us understand mental health and wellbeing in a positive light - where sport is encouraged as a therapy for depression and general stress that are common in academic institutions.

Yasmin's story is one of a series of Active Mental Health stories, collected by Student Minds for University Mental Health Day 2017. To find watch or read more, visit our Active Mental Health stories page!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

I tend to get down on myself sometimes, when I'm not playing well

Arianna has played for the Wales National Lacrosse team, and is now captain of the Ladies 1s Lacrosse Team for Imperial College London. Here she talks about how she tackled mental blocks to improve her tennis.
- Arianna, Imperial College London

I always enjoyed playing all the sports that were offered to me at school. From the age of about 10-11 I started to play tennis quite seriously (I was training about 4-5 nights a week). On the weekends my parents would take me to tournaments and originally it was tough. A lot of kids start tennis a lot younger than I did and I lost about 20 matches before I won a match. This was obviously tough, but I've always been the type to try and power on.

"I'm active for my mental health because it helps me to be more productive with my day to day life"

After this losing period I started to win a few matches at tournaments, but I really struggled to implement what I was being taught because I was too scared to make mistakes. I thought it would be better to play it safe and try and tire the other person out instead of beating them with my shots. I found my parents watching quite hard as I knew how much time and money they had invested in tennis and I didn't want to let them down. This led to me being really nervous on the court and looking like a completely different player to when I was training. Although I was winning more matches overall, I was losing to people that I should have beaten, simply because I wasn't putting into practice the things I was taught.

This is something I have only recently started to improve in tennis in the past few years. I think things changed for me when I realised that playing well and with a good technique was more important than winning matches.

"I did tend to get a bit down on myself sometimes, when I feel like I'm not playing well"

I was captain of my school’s tennis team in my final year and this gave me the opportunity to watch my team playing matches. I saw a lot of them struggling with the same confidence in their shots that I struggled with and I decided I needed to set a good example.

I realised that in order to improve I needed to use the things I have practiced in matches. I hoped that this would encourage my team members to do the same. We managed to get through to the Aegon team tennis finals for the first time in my school’s history - which was great!

I don't play tennis competitively at university, but I try and make time to play at least once a week as when I go home I still play in some competitions and with my family. I have my Level 1 tennis coaching qualification and help at local tennis camps in the summer. I find it really rewarding and is something I'd like to do more of in the future.

Arianna's story is one of a series of Active Mental Health stories, collected by Student Minds for University Mental Health Day 2017. To find watch or read more, visit our Active Mental Health stories page!

Maintaining training with university is all about finding a balance between the two

Tom has a history of competitive sport, and is now studying sport at Edge Hill University, and volunteering on a schools mental health & sport project called Tackling the Blues.

- Tom, Edge Hill University

Tom has a history of competitive sport, and is now studying sport at Edge Hill University, and volunteering on a schools mental health & sport project called Tackling the Blues.

I started athletics aged 13 and quickly progressed in the sport. At 16 i was invited to take part in different talent identification schemes in north-west England and also in Scotland (my dad is Scottish).

I was competing against people older than me, competing in the senior men age group. I finished 4th in the u23 national champs two years in a row and was asked to compete for Scotland's under 23 team. I was also offered a lane in an event called the Celtic games and invited to the world championship trials twice, and Olympic trials as well.

"Before the race, sort of, pulling on my vest and just feeling like overwhelming pride and it just felt like a really good fit"

I think that sport really helped me as it gave me something to focus on. If there was a bad race or a hard week of training it taught me to learn from these, not dwell on them, and focus on future goals which supported my mental health.

"I think that sport for me, helps my mental health because ti always gives me something to focus on"

Also after enrolling at university, I started to volunteer on the sport-based mental health programme, Tackling the Blues, which really opened my eyes to the benefits sport can have on mental health. Before coming to university I would say that I was uneducated about mental health, but working on Tackling the Blues has really helped me to learn about it, and question my experiences of sport, and the links to my mental health.

Tom's story is one of a series of Active Mental Health stories, collected by Student Minds for University Mental Health Day 2017. To find watch or read more, visit our Active Mental Health stories page!

Dancing helps me to switch off from external stresses and relax

Izzy is a psychology student at Nottingham Trent University. She talks about her experience dancing and how this helps  keep her calm and allows her not to stress. 

- Izzy, Nottingham Trent University

In terms of my experiences of physical and mental health, dance helps as it offers me personally a chance to clear my head and de-stress. I find that after I have been to dance I feel happier and more content.

"I'm active for my mental health because it keeps me calm, allows me not to stress"

In terms of NTU Dance, we have Social and Wellbeing Officers, along with myself, who have undergone mental health training from the university. They are always available for anyone to talk to and at the end of every term we do a feedback session, aiming to offer individuals another opportunity to express any concerns which they have. 

I am taking part in the University Mental Health Day video as I think it needs to be made clearer to students who they can talk to in terms of mental health, and what is an available route for them to take within university to help them tackle their issues.

"It does encourage people to feel a bit more comfortable because they know they have got the support out there"
Izzy's story is one of a series of Active Mental Health stories, collected by Student Minds for University Mental Health Day 2017. To find watch or read more, visit our Active Mental Health stories page!

Not only does exercise benefit your body, but it benefits your mind as well

Pete is a postgrad at Nottingham University. He talks about his experiences using a wheelchair at university, and how exercise has helped him manage his health, physically and mentally, and helped him find a community. 
- Pete Rumble, Nottingham University

The term ‘disabled’ bothers me. I understand the need for a term that defines those with an impairment, however, to me, ‘disabled’ also means deactivated, or put out of action. I prefer to regard myself as ‘inconvenienced’. Fixating on what I can’t do, or what I’ve lost physically, or what I’ve missed out on, wouldn’t get me anywhere. The emphasis needs to be on ability. 

"I think part of what motivates me is a refusal to accept that state of mind"

I was 16 when I began to lose the use of my legs for the second time. None of the family knew how to talk about it, especially me. I tried not to show any weakness. It was exhausting. It wasn’t just the physical effort of trying to walk, and the pain of the tumour in my cervical spine, it was also the anxiety of carrying it all. 

Whilst I’m long past the stage of accepting the cards I’ve been dealt, my condition can still cause me anxiety in other ways. As sociable as university can seem, having a ‘disability’ can be isolating. In a wheelchair, I operate at a lower height. And when my hall-mates were traipsing in groups over the Downs to get to lectures, I was virtually circumnavigating the campus solo because it was a longer, but more accessible route. 

"When you have to get around on a set of wheels, the wold is just bizarre"
I believe that, to come to terms with this isolation, you have to feel as though you still belong in general society. You have to believe you’re still human.

I believe sports centres help. The gym can help with anxiety. It can help with the physical day-to-day tasks. It can help you cultivate the mental strength to deal with pain and depression. All such benefits ultimately make the individual feel more capable, confident, and happier with themselves. It can give anyone a sense of ability and control - perhaps what the inconvenienced lack more than most. Thus, the inconvenienced need sports centres as much as, if not more than, anybody. And thankfully there are a lot of sports staff who seem to share that belief.

The gym in particular is a place where the inconvenienced can experience new, assorted agonies in the company of fellow sufferers, as opposed to just facing their usual challenges in grim isolation. It works best as a place where everyone feels welcome, supported, encouraged, and human. The unifying capacity of health, fitness, and being involved has great significance for the inconvenienced. If it wasn’t for the way the sports staff engage with me, I probably wouldn’t be there at all.

A lot has changed since my first visits to the University gym in 2010. There is a greater awareness and understanding in the Sports Department. I’m seeing the campus Sports Centres become the communities they deserve to be. The help I’ve received has had a hugely positive impact on my life.

Pete's story is one of a series of Active Mental Health stories, collected by Student Minds for University Mental Health Day 2017. To find watch or read more, visit our Active Mental Health stories page!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Why It's OK To Not Go Clubbing At Uni

Worrying about the pressure to go out at uni? You should just focus on doing what you enjoy, says Ruby.
- Ruby Ellis

We know all too well that university brings with it a lot of pressures, such as homesickness, independent learning, and of course a sudden increase in workload. But there was one that I wasn’t really expecting and the one that hit me the hardest: the pressure to go out.

Having struggled with anxiety in the past, clubs are one place that I find it difficult to cope. One of my symptoms before a panic attack is that my senses get really heightened. Loud music, flashing lights and being pressed up against random strangers can make it an intense and frightening experience that for me is sure to set off feelings of nausea and hyperventilation. The answer to this seems obvious: why don’t you just not go clubbing? And why do I still find myself going out every so often, knowing I will hate it and usually ending up walking back in the dark alone because I panicked in the club and had to run out as fast as I could?

I don’t mind drinking. In fact, I really enjoy a glass of wine after a long day. But excessive drinking, the feeling of not being in control and of course the hangover the next day is not my idea of fun. Yet drinking and going out is so deeply ingrained into university culture I felt like I had to force myself to go out. Freshers’ week was awful for me. I started off almost enjoying myself, but was so physically and mentally exhausted by the end of each night from trying to control my symptoms that by the end of the week I couldn’t cope anymore and was an anxious, homesick mess. I felt like a failure because I hadn’t gone out and met loads of new people, which is what I was told Freshers’ was all about. I felt like I had missed the prime opportunity to make friends and I had essentially failed. I thought I was the odd one out and was never going to make any meaningful friendships. I also thought that everyone was going to think I was the boring girl who never went out.

Thankfully, the reality couldn’t be any further from that. Through my course and other activities, I have met loads of people who I don’t have to go out to bond with. Sure, some of them do enjoy clubbing but I’m under no obligation to join them, and we can hang out in other ways like film nights and going out for food instead. And even those who were out every night at Freshers’ have revealed to me that they don’t think clubbing is all that, and they were just faced with the same pressure to go out as I was. You may come across the odd person who thinks that you are “boring” if you don’t go out, but you must ask yourself, are they really all that fun if the only way they can enjoy themselves is by drinking themselves into oblivion?

Clubbing is a big part of university culture, there’s no denying it. But the great thing that I have learned is that it is not the only part of it. You will meet people from all over the country and even the world who have different interests, and there are so many opportunities available to you. Now is the time to learn a new skill, pick up a new sport or hobby and explore your interests. I started to learn yoga, which is now my go-to if I’m feeling low; it makes me feel amazing. Most importantly, you are here to get a degree, to learn and to grow as a person. If you are feeling isolated because you don’t enjoy going out, just know you are not alone and there are people who feel the exact same as you, but they are just not speaking out about it; but most importantly that does not make you any less of a person than anyone else. Embrace it and start filling your time with things you truly enjoy.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

That First Appointment

Kate tells the story of the GP appointment which set her on the road to recovery.
- Kate Dickinson

I sat, quietly shaking at the centre of the busy GP waiting room. There was a baby in a pram to my left, a man with what seemed to be a rather severe cold to my right, and a mother trying (but failing) to control her three small children sat opposite me. It was as bad as being at a party, in a new place, knowing no one around me, completely out of my depth and feeling thoroughly awkward. There were enough people there to have populated a party as well, and very much like the few house parties I'd grudgingly attended in my first two months of university, I had arrived unfashionably late and been left with the choice of either taking the only remaining seat, located at the centre of the room, or standing. Reluctantly I took the seat, where I waited anxiously for my appointment.

My appointment time came and passed, but still I was left waiting, the anxiety building. Each time the speakers clicked into action I braced, as though hearing my name being called would be painful. It wasn't – just terrifying. "Kathryn Dickins, Ystafell Tri, Room Three" came the kind-sounding voice of a lady (oh, can you tell I went to university in Wales?).

Terror bubbled inside me as I got up and walked across the room, through the foyer and down the corridor, locating room three halfway along on the left. I knocked. The same kind-sounding voice from the speakers answered, and I went in.

"So, how can I help you today?"

I had perched myself awkwardly on the chair next to her desk, having quickly decided that taking the seat closer to the door would probably be considered strange, if more comfortable. I stared down at my lap, trying to force the words out that would neatly answer her question, but nothing. A solid minute must have ticked by, though it felt much longer, and I could see her becoming irritated by the silence. Appointments are only 10 minutes and I had already wasted 10% of that. I had foreseen this happening though and, finally conceding that on this occasion my words were unlikely to appear, I reached into my pocket for a pre-prepared notebook that I duly passed across, before receding back into myself again. I fidgeted as she read:

'I took an overdose last week.
I went to the hospital and I'm fine.
They told me that I'm probably depressed and should go to my GP about getting antidepressants.'

Silence. I peeked up. My GP's confused look that had emerged when I had produced the notebook suddenly turned to one of understanding. It was from that moment that I felt safe with her. I had been utterly petrified before this point, but she was so sympathetic, so caring and kind. In a moment and a few words I felt almost comfortable and slightly hopeful.

I hadn't been to the GP about my mental health in over a year and back then I hadn't felt any benefit in having gone. But this time, I felt it immediately. I had found a person who could see my pain and my suffering, and was, in an instant, committed to helping me get through it. I wasn't alone anymore. For the first time in years I felt as though someone truly understood me, understood my problems and, most importantly, was going to help.

A single consultation, that lasted far longer than my allotted 10 minutes, had given me hope. Having only days before believed that life was no longer worth living, I now felt as though it just might be. Little did I know at the time that my path through treatment and recovery would not be a simple one, but that does not in any way negate how beneficial and life transforming that first, most difficult, appointment was.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Coping with Loneliness at University

Lottie gives her top tips for those struggling with feelings of loneliness or homesickness during their studies.
- Lottie Thomas

Everyone becomes lonely or homesick at uni at least once, and most try to struggle through it because they think they are the only one. Coming back from a long break like Christmas can make returning to uni tough. So, here are my top tips for coping with those feelings of homesickness:

Start the day and take it one day at a time
When you wake up in the morning it can sometimes seem impossible to get out of bed and face the world, but the best thing you can do is just start the day. I used to find setting an alarm (not too early!) would really help me to do this. Getting up and jumping in the shower freshens up your mindset and washes away that groggy sleepy feeling. Teaching yourself to not think too far ahead and just focus on the day in hand is an important part of keeping those feelings at bay.

Treat yourself
Working yourself into the ground can make you feel even worse, so take time out of your studies to do something you really enjoy. Watch a film, bake a cake or just chill out and listen to some music. It’s really important to take the pressure off and allow yourself some time to yourself, or with friends. You deserve a reward for persevering when times are tough!
Tell people close to you
An important factor for me was telling my housemates how I was feeling. Although not everyone will feel comfortable doing this, it’s a good idea to tell someone just so you don’t feel like you’re suffering in silence. Once I told my housemates, they even shared the occasions that they struggled, and it made me feel less lonely. Just knowing that it’s on their radar is comforting, as you don’t have to explain why you might be quiet sometimes, and they might be able to help.

Allow yourself a bit of home
Buy your favourite food you only get at home or bring photographs to put up in your room. Don’t completely disconnect from home – it’s still where you spent most of your time before coming to uni. Get someone from home to send you something occasionally; my grandparents used to send me chocolate in the post sometimes which always put a smile on my face because I knew they were thinking about me.

Exercise/get outside
It is well known that exercise releases that concoction of endorphins or ‘happy hormones’, but sometimes a hard workout isn’t for everyone. I recommend getting outdoors in the fresh air and reminding yourself that the world holds so many possibilities. There’s adventure out there for everyone – you just have to find it.

Nothing lasts forever
It may not feel like it at the time but these feelings won’t last forever. Things are constantly changing, and as long as you keep this in mind you’ll be fine. If you find these feelings are continuing for long periods of time, and especially if you think they are affecting your studies, don’t hesitate to contact the support services at your university. It may be something else that’s more serious than homesickness, so letting someone know is very important. Universities know that many of their students are living away from home for the first time and are equipped to deal with people struggling.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

I’ll be there for you: The Importance of Friendship and Support

Sarah writes about the struggles of being a supportive friend.

-Sarah Williams

We all have those moments in which we’re standing in front of the mirror, saying things to ourselves that we would never consider saying to anyone else, because it would hurt their feelings. So, why are we less considerate of our own mental health? Why are we so quick to put ourselves down. Sometimes so down that it’s becoming out of control. Mental health difficulties feed on silence. They grow when they are left in dark corners alone.

At primary school, we are taught the “Gold Rule”, which is to treat others the way we want to be treated. Children who grow up in healthy, functioning homes expect love and respect from their peers or, in other words, the same support and treatment that they received from family members. For a child who has not been exposed to this sort of behaviour, the “Golden Rule” might translate a bit more ambiguously. Once we develop our own individual identity, we also, unfortunately, develop doubt, jealousy, and insecurity, which ultimately leads to self-deprecation. As a person who has struggled with depression and has friends who have also battled with depression, schizophrenia and eating disorders, I’ve learned the true importance of maintaining and providing a strong support group.

A friend of mine, (let’s call her Alice) who began struggling with schizophrenia during University, spent hours trying to convince me of her delusions about her boyfriend. Without going into detail, I can assure that this was not typical paranoia we all experience in relationships. These were irrational hallucinations that were haunting her, keeping her up at night, and deteriorating her heath. I used to leave our sessions, and I only call them sessions because she had begun referring to me as her therapist, rather than her friend- she tried certified therapists but would often lie to them because they were strangers who had not won her trust like I had- but, I would go home feeling so emotionally drained, with a heaviness in my chest and a confusion as to what was even real anymore.

I’d become angry and resentful at her for bringing me down. Our friendship felt so one-sided; I was convinced that she didn’t even care about me. I don’t want to compare whose situation was heaviest as I cannot even try to imagine how it is to be that severely sick, but what I felt in this relationship was loneliness. But at the end of the day, Alice gave me purpose. I realised that as heavy as my burden felt, hers was even heavier, and if she needed me to carry some of her load, if that helped her in some way, I was willing to do it. Because at one time or another, I was all she had, and I couldn’t bear to think about the severity of her mental health difficulties had I not been around.

Give your brain the space and time to think about something else. For my friend learning to paint and getting involved into it with her whole heart had positive effects. The worst thing you could do to a person in need is to abandon or give up on them. And the worst thing you could do as a person in need is to use your illness to take advantage of your friends’ time and energy, or to get angry with them for not understanding the root of your illness.

If you’re struggling with mental health difficulties, it’s important to see your friends as regular people, not therapists, or super heroes. We are all the same. We all have pain, and we all need each other.

For more information on how to support a friend, you can find it here