Wednesday, 19 February 2014

10 Ways To Get Involved...

1. Train to run a group or course:

Eating Disorder Support Groups: our eating disorder groups provide support and encouragement to students with eating disorders. The groups maintain a positive, pro-recovery focus and offer a confidential space to talk about life, university and whatever helps you keep your life on track.

Positive Minds Course: a six-week course for students with mild depression, covering topics such as building a support network, establishing healthy routines and exploring different relaxation techniques.

Supporting Supporters Course: a two-part workshop for those supporting a friend or family member with an eating disorder.

If you would like to set up a support programme on your campus, take a look at our website here.


2. Campaign for change:

Lobby on a cause you're passionate about and have your voice heard! We support a network of student-led campaign societies at 25 universities across the UK. Take a look at our website to find your nearest group. We offer training and support to all of our campaign groups - here are some clips from this year’s Student Minds campaign training! See below for further information for three upcoming campaigns which you might like to get involved in...

Look After Your Mate: We are developing an interactive online resource to encourage and support students to look out for their friends, covering everything from approaching difficult conversations to self-care. To ensure the campaign is focused on students’ experiences we need your stories! Tell us about how you have looked after a mate, or how a mate has looked out for you: you can share your story or find out about submitting a video blog here.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week: To mark EDAW 2014 we will be publishing a report on the effect of university transitions on access to eating disorder treatment and support. Following on from this, we will be launching a national campaign to call for integrated support for university students both at home and at university. More information coming soon!

Love Your Body: We want to get people talking about the things they love about their bodies, so why not start a conversation with your friends, share the campaign on Twitter or download our ‘love your body’ poster to start your own campaign on campus.

Love Your Body

3. Become a mentor:

Do you have experience that our volunteers could benefit from? Whether this is running a support group, campaigning or leading a team, it is always helpful for our volunteers to have support in developing their skills, problem solving and running a great project. See here to find out more about becoming a mentor for Student Minds.

4. Come along to our conference

We will be holding our fourth annual conference on 7th & 8th March - join us to find out more about the key challenges facing student mental health today. For more info and to register, see here.

5. Run an event or fundraiser:

Take a look at our fundraising pack, which includes lots of tips and advice on running a successful event.

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 21.49.02

6. Join our blogging team

Take a look through our blog for articles on university life and mental health. If you would be interested in joining our blogging team, go to our website for more information on how to get involved.

7. Send us your recipes:

Student Minds runs ‘The Kitchen’ recipe blog to provide quick & easy recipes for students and to support individuals in recovery from an eating disorder. We’d love your contributions to the project!

Body Gossip

8. Run your own Body Gossip On Tour event:

Body Gossip challenges common perceptions of body image, promoting the recognition and acceptance of natural bodies. Find out more about taking part in the project here.

9. Stay in the loop:

Sign up to our mailing list and join in the conversation on social media: follow us on Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn.

10. Start a conversation about mental health:

Take a look at this article on having the confidence to talk.

Managing Anxiety

~ Lauren Gasser 

Anxiety, in any of its innumerable forms, is a challenging and overwhelming emotion; one that ignites without warning and often grows in intensity if you do not tackle it directly. Anxiety can feel as though it is stealing from you – stealing your social life, stealing your sleep, stealing life’s pleasures, and it is easy to feel as though you have lost control. No matter how overpowering this feeling becomes, it is important to remember that you DO have control; you have control over your actions and your choices, which can directly impact upon anxiety and eventually quench it entirely. It is also important to recall the now clich├ęd phrase, ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, because the realization that you can still walk, and talk, and pretty much do anything even WITH anxiety is one of the biggest steps towards overcoming it. It may not be easy to ‘accept’ ones fears and find ways to live with them, but remember how much you have to gain. Yes, you have to be brave, but we’re all capable of that.

Counselling is a great way of working through the causes of your anxiety, and creating a personal action plan can help you overcome your fears in small, manageable steps. Here are a couple of top tips for commonly anxiety-provoking situations:

Panic Attacks: The chemical cause of these frightening episodes is the ‘fight or flight’ response, during which the brain releases adrenalin in order to keep us safe. A primitive neurological feature (designed to protect us from saber-tooth tigers and the like), it is unfortunately rather misplaced in the modern mind and leads to hyperventilating, sweating, dizziness, tingling extremities, and of course an intense feeling of fear.

Breathing Techniques: Panic attacks manifest themselves in various ways, but the great news is that they can be managed, with increasing ease, when you realise that they are simply a result of breathing in too much oxygen. The old paper-bag trick is a bit obvious if you’re on the bus, so a useful technique is to visualise a brick (two long sides, two short) and to focus your breath around this shape, breathing out along the longer lines, and in along the short. It might be difficult at first, especially as panic attacks often feel as though you can’t breathe, but if you concentrate on making your out-breaths longer than your in-breaths, the feeling will pass much more quickly. Moreover, the mantra ‘this will pass’ can be comforting while you are getting to grips with your breath.

Social Anxiety: The idea of entering a room full of people might make you feel incredibly anxious, but there are ways to make the experience a little easier. It’s a good idea to tackle social anxiety in stages, by creating a list of situations that you can tick off one by one, starting with the easiest. Start really easy: invite one other person for coffee, or sit next to someone in the common room and start a conversation. A small group dinner might be the next step, or a cinema trip, but increasing the fear-factor slowly will help to make the process less overwhelming.

Group Interaction: Attending events with like-minded people can also be useful, for example a college club or society meeting in an area that you have some knowledge or interest. Remember, sometimes the loudest and most outwardly confident people are covering up nervousness or insecurity, so there is nothing wrong with being quiet and actively listening to others (in fact, this is a fantastic skill which many extroverts lack!) The breathing technique described above can also help if you feel you are becoming overwhelmed. Even if you are feeling very nervous on the inside, the people around you don’t know that. You can still walk around, talk to people and laugh at jokes whilst feeling anxious. The distinction lies between feeling the emotion and experiencing it – knowing it is there, but not allowing it to dictate your actions. The more we ‘do’ while feeling anxious, the less powerful the anxiety becomes, and the quicker it will dissolve completely. In fact, you may well find yourself forgetting the anxiety is there and having a good time!

What do you do for your mental health?

Here are some of our top tips...

  1. Get plenty of sleep (most people need around 7-9 hours). Take a look here for some tips on how to get a good night’s sleep.

  2. Go for a walk in the fresh air or do some relaxing yoga – it’s a great way to lift your mood!

  3. Write in a journal or chat to a friend about how you are feeling. If you’re worried about a friend, start a conversation – your understanding could be just what they need.

  4. Eat well – see here for lots of quick & easy recipe ideas for students.

  5. Meet up with friends or join a club. Take a look at your Student Union website for information on all of the clubs and societies on your campus.

  6. Volunteering is a good opportunity to meet new friends whilst learning new skills – visit your university volunteering centre to discover opportunities on campus and in the local community. You can find out about different ways to get involved with Student Minds here.

  7. Take time for yourself to relax and unwind: have a bath, meditate or sit down with a hot drink and a good book. Take a look at the ‘Be Mindful’ website for information on meditation and free online courses.

  8. Why not plan a short visit home halfway through term? Home comforts and the opportunity to see old friends can really help to leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed.

  9. Take a look here for some tips on managing your workload and studying effectively. Try working in bite-size chunks and take regular breaks.

  10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Problems with money, housing, relationships and studying are all common causes of worry, but universities have support services that are there to help you. Don’t forget to register with your local GP and make the most of support services on campus. To find out more about the Student Minds peer support programmes, take a look at our website here.

Spotlight on Cardiff's Wellbeing Service

Laura King, Intern to Cardiff University Counselling & Wellbeing Services, tells us how they engage with students throughout the year...

This academic year has been a busy one for the Cardiff University Counselling Service & Wellbeing Division. Aside from the day-to-day counselling sessions, workshops and running of the service there have been a number of successful changes made, along with many brilliant events. In September the Student Support Centre welcomed a Mental Health Nurse, whose involvement with the University is part of a two-year pilot project aimed at supporting students with severe and enduring mental health problems. The Mental Health Nurse liaises with the Community Mental Health Team in order to best support students with complex needs, on matters such as psychiatric referrals for example.

It is widely accepted that students may face a greater and differing number of mental health problems compared to the general population. This could be due to the fact that the age range of most students encompasses the age of onset for most mental health disorders, along with the sheer amount of change and upheaval experienced through moving away from home and starting a new course. University also lacks the structure and stability of life at home, which can contribute to problems with mental health, as life at Uni can feel out of control. Late nights, drinking and pressure from deadlines and exams can all contribute to a lack of self-care that can exacerbate pre-existing problems, or simply cause unhealthy stress levels.

Previous NUS studies have found that more than a quarter of students who experience mental health problems do not seek help, and only 1 in 10 access University counselling services. This is unfortunate, as when mental health problems in anyone are spotted early with appropriate treatment and support being put into place, recovery rates are dramatically increased. This is where it is particularly important for support services in higher education to make their services as open and as approachable to students as possible, so that more students utilise them. At Cardiff University, the Counselling and Wellbeing Service has been doing everything possible to ensure that this is the case, so that as many students as possible who need support receive it.

Two of the main events the Counselling Service has taken part in this year to ensure their presence around campus and to inform students of their presence are Mind Your Head Week and National Stress Awareness Day.  Mind Your Head week ran from 7th-11th October across the University. It aimed to increase awareness of mental health issues and hoped to provide students with access to resources and support to enable them to beat homesickness and feel more settled. The Counselling Service held a Catch up with Cake evening on the 7th of October in the Service, to increase familiarity with the building and to give students a way to meet each other in an alcohol-free environment. The Service also held a stall in the Students’ Union to raise awareness of the kind of support available whilst engaging and informing more students. The Wellbeing Team have planned a number of outreach drop in sessions in libraries and even laundrettes (wash and unwind!) to catch students who may need help but find coming into the service intimidating.

In conjunction with the University libraries, the Counselling Service took part in National Stress Awareness Day on the 6th of November. The Service held mini meditation and relaxation workshops in two libraries along with information stalls encouraging students to ‘just ask’ if they had any questions, based on the notion that knowledge and support reduces stress.

In February the Service welcomed the Student Wellbeing Team to the Counselling Service & Wellbeing Division. The Team aims to provide practical wellbeing tips and advice, offering wellbeing drop-in sessions (both face-to-face and online), brief interventions and a variety of workshops.

Charity Feature: Body Gossip On Tour

Body Gossip

~ Charlotte Gatherer, Body Gossip On Tour

Body Gossip challenges common perceptions of body image, promoting the recognition and acceptance of natural bodies. We encourage people to think more about their bodies so in the future they will worry about them less. Body Gossip on Tour follows the same philosophy as the central campaign but takes it into university settings offering students a platform to share their body stories. The writing competition gathers a truthful picture of how individuals within the university view their body; these stories are then recited by actors in a performance. The campaign engages students in many ways as writers, actors and audience members.

Body Gossip on Tour events give students the opportunity to reflect on their life and values whilst being more open about their experiences. It empowers students to make positive changes in their life and gives new insights into the issues and stigmas surrounding body image.

The first Body Gossip on Tour event was held in Bath in 2011 and since then students from across the country have engaged in this essential campaign.

Charity Feature: Papyrus

PAPYRUS is the national charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide in the UK. PAPYRUS aims to reduce the number of young suicides in the UK and one of the ways in which they do so is by operating a national helpline known as HOPELineUK.

HOPELineUK is run by trained suicide prevention advisors who take calls from anyone concerned about a young person (under 35) or a young suicidal person themselves. Sometimes this young person is a student at university, struggling with their workload, making friends, or adjusting to living on their own and more. Our HOPELineUK advisors can help you identify the support your university can offer and encourage you to ask for it. HOPELineUK also gives university staff advice about how to help the students they support.

All HOPELineUK staff are trained in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills which means we can help you put a safe plan in place for yourself or a young person you are concerned about.

HOPELineUK understands that a life at university isn’t easy, and fully supports University Mental Health Day to raise awareness of this.

Contact HOPELineUK by phone - 0800 068 4141, SMS - 07786 209 697, or email - between Monday - Friday 10am-5pm and 7pm-10pm, Weekends 2pm-5pm.

For more information about PAPYRUS Prevention of young suicide go to

Charity Feature: Students Against Depression

~ Richard Keen, Students Against Depression
SAD Logo
Happy University Mental Health & Wellbeing Day! With hundreds of awareness raising and wellbeing events occurring across the UK, we thought this would be an excellent moment to welcome you to Students Against Depression!
We’re an award winning, student led movement gathering real life experiences alongside validated self-help resources to tackle stress, low mood and depression. We believe that the real life experience of students and those who support them is vital in shaping resources that genuinely tackle the problems students face.
So, why offer self-help resources? Though there’s no one-stop fix to depression, there are practical steps we can take to tackle it: starting now. Our site has a diverse range of blogs, self-help ideas and options for support all available online to browse. We do not replace professional services: we’re an exciting addition to them, hoping to ensure quality support and resources are freely available to all.
Understand depression, get support and share your story: Students Against Depression is powered by the work of students themselves, fuelled by the energy of volunteer website developers, graphics designers, campaigners and many more around the UK. We’re proud to be working closely with Students Hubs, Nightline and the wonderful Student Minds to advance the cause of student mental health.
There are countless ways for you to join us in the cause. Visit, support one of our heroic fundraisers such as Judith (who’s running the London Marathon this April!), or follow us on Twitter @SADwebsite.
Together, we can tackle depression.

Students Get Eating Disorders Too

~ Hugh Smith, Men Get Eating Disorders Too

We all know what eating disorders are, who gets them, and why. They're extreme diets used by teenage girls who want to look like supermodels.



Just as we at Men Get Eating Disorders Too are working to raise awareness that eating disorders affect men as well as women, we also work in alliance with other organisations and activists to shine a light on the reality of eating disorders as severe mental illnesses that take on many different forms ranging from binge-eating to excessive limitation, and can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, class, or sexuality.

You can read about the true nature of eating disorders at any number of blogs or in a library's worth of books and journals, but we're here today to focus on students.

If eating disorders can affect anyone it follows logically that they can affect students, and they do. But a male student with an eating disorder doesn't fit the student archetype of the hard-drinking, kebab-gorging, perma-snacking man-child. Just as the public perception of eating disorders is too simplistic, so too is the idea of the 18-year old who goes to uni, discovers take-aways, and casually puts on the 'freshman 15'.

To understand the 'student experience', it's useful to look at it in context. Being a student is a lot of people's first experience of living away from home, which coincides with a lot of life-changing opportunities and pressures: to cultivate a new personality, to make new friends, to compete with peers, to get a good degree, and even to choose a direction in life. All this at a time when most students have only just got out of the most volatile period of adolescence, are far from completely mature, are immersed in a highly stressful environment, and - for most - have substantial financial concerns.

So there we have stress, anxiety, neuroses, isolation, pressure, self-doubt, and a whole host of other conflicting feelings flying around. Is it any wonder that while some people take it in their stride, others need mechanisms to cope?

I developed an eating disorder when I was a student. I discovered that self-discipline in what I ate and how much I exercised was a shortcut to achieving an illusion of control over my life at a time when so much around me seemed so chaotic.

What do eating disorders in students look like? Honestly, a lot like eating disorders in anyone else. Look up the symptoms of anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, orthorexia, or obsessive exercise disorder, and you'll find behaviours that students exhibit as much as any other part of the population. The only difference will be in the detail: the methods used to hide food, the excuses made for skipping meals, the times and places used to binge, or the facilities used to exercise.

The most important thing to understand is not what eating disorders look like, but why they're there in the first place. Then it's possible to address the causes of the disorders rather than the symptoms.

So what can you do if you think a student - classmate, flatmate, friend, sibling, son, daughter, tutee - has an eating disorder? Here are a few golden rules:

  1. Conduct any conversation in a non-confrontational manner. It won't help anyone if you scare them away.

  2. Try to understand how they feel.

  3. Be aware that the conversation will be very difficult for them.

  4. Only explore possible solutions once you've taken some time to empathise.

  5. Tell them that you don't think less of them.

  6. Acknowledge how difficult it must be to admit to having a problem.

If you know someone who has an eating disorder, or if you have one yourself, there are four main ways to get help: your GP; your university's student support service; your local peer-support group; and online peer support through websites such as Big White Wall.

Finally, a quick message to any student struggling with an eating disorder: getting this at such a pivotal point in your life can feel like being dealt a rotten hand in a high-stakes card game. Just remember there are always people willing and able to help. In spite of everything you can achieve remarkable things. This doesn't have to define you. It's within your power. Good luck.

Why Peer Support?

~ Elisabeth Gulliver

Have you ever been to the dentist and heard the words ‘I’m afraid you need a filling?'

Unfortunately, I have. In the moments after being told the in’s and out’s of my upcoming procedure by the dentist, I immediately picked up the phone and called my Mum. Why? Well she’s had to endure one or two dental procedures in the past and I wanted to hear her experiences, as well as her advice on how to get through it.

Peer support, or in other words the help and support that people with lived experience are able to give to one another, is important, comforting, and encouraging. No matter what experience we extrapolate this to, be it a sky dive, a medical procedure, dealing with heartbreak or becoming a parent, I’m sure we would all agree that speaking to someone who has lived through a similar experience to us has enormous value and provides us with a deeper level of encouragement and support. Don’t get me wrong, professionals are important. The dentist fixed my tooth in a way that my mum couldn’t, but my mum gave me the encouragement and support I needed to get through the event.


Unsurprisingly we’ve found that when facing mental health problems, students are most likely to turn to their friends or peers for support with over 90% of students surveyed saying they would turn to their friends and over 80% saying they would access peer support (Student Minds research 2012). Not only can students access that deeper level of support from their peers, but they can talk to others without fear of judgement or ignorance, confident in the knowledge that others in the room have had similar experiences to themselves. There’s an informality and vulnerability to peer support which makes it an easier context to share personal stories and experiences. Another benefit of peer support is that it’s a two way process - it allows us to speak and listen, to give and take, to be the encourager and be encouraged.

Why peer support? Because peers are facing similar life challenges and stresses, because peers can offer insight and understanding that others may not have, because peer support makes us feel less alone and quite simply because talking changes lives.

Time To Talk About Student Mental Health

~ Seb Baird

“It’ll be the best time of your life,” we are told by our misty-eyed older relatives. Going to university comes to hold a kind of mythical status. While at school, it represents an ideal of adulthood; for adults, knee-deep in a nine-to-five, it’s a rose-tinted memory of carefree freedom. When you’re in the thick of university life, it can feel like something else entirely. We have to contend with fluid new relationships and isolation from our stable, old ones. We have to cope with the spectre of student debt and a fresh set of intellectual challenges. We have to deal with a flood of new pressures and expectations around our appearance, sexuality and social behaviour.

It’s no wonder, then, that the pressure sometimes gets to us.

Mental health among students remains an incredibly important issue: according to a report by the National Union of Students, 20 per cent of university students report suffering a mental health problem. That’s one student in every shared house of five, or ten in every lecture hall of 50 students. Yet, mental health is not given the attention it deserves; too often we pretend it does not exist at all.

About a month after I was diagnosed with depression in my second year, I talked to my friend Meg about it. I spoke to her about the negative thoughts and lethargy, the constant feelings of detachment and dejection. I couldn’t see beyond the oppressive feelings - the light at the end of the tunnel was not yet visible to me. Alongside the sadness and heaviness, I also felt a strong sense of shame - “I’m a smart guy,” I thought. “I’m young, and I’m studying at one of the best universities in the country. This is supposed to be the time of my life!”

Meg was two years older and studied the same subject as me. I looked to her as a sort of older sister. She was one of the most energetic and enthusiastic people I have ever met, and treated everyone with a singular respect and kindness.

Sharing my depression with Meg was a revelation. She listened to me, giving respect to the way I was feeling while reminding me that my emotions were not inseparable from myself. More crucially, though, she told me about her own experiences of depression - that she, too, had suffered an episode of depression about two years before. Her tale lifted a great deal of weight off my shoulders: I no longer felt alone; I knew there were others who had been in this fight too.

For me, one conversation about depression made me feel more connected and more positive than I had in months. It taught me that there is truth behind the cliche, “a problem shared is a problem halved”. It taught me a life lesson that I should not be ashamed to share how I was feeling. I started to tell my story: to my friends, to groups of people, on blogs. I co-founded the Mind Your Head Campaign, which aims to combat mental health stigma among students in Oxford. The more I told my story, the more people I met who told me, with a great sense of relief, that they had been through a similar experience but had never been able to tell anyone.

Too many of us still feel as if a mental illness is something to be ashamed of, whether that feeling emanates from ourselves, our peers, the media or broader social norms. A survey by Time to Change indicated that for 60 per cent of people, the stigma surrounding their mental illness was as bad or worse than the symptoms of the illness itself. Stigma stops us from seeking support, from our friends, our families and mental health professionals; it stops us from taking the steps that can help recovery and positive mental health. Dealing with the symptoms of a mental illness is difficult enough without having to worry about what your friends, family or tutors will think about you.

Stigma comes in many forms. There’s the ignorance and prejudice that comes along with comments like “pull your socks up” or ”get over it”. There’s the carelessness of saying “I’m a bit OCD,” or casually referring to someone as a “psycho.” Although not rare enough, in my experience, the worst forms of stigma are few and far between. Most students, even if they don’t have a deep understanding of mental health, at least respect the gravity and legitimacy of mental illness.

What’s way more common, and so much easier to fix, is the perceived stigma: the fear that others will judge us for having a mental health problem. If no-one talks about emotions, if we’re afraid to broach the subject depression or anxiety, then it’s understandable that those with mental health problems will start to feel ashamed of their condition, even though there’s no reason to do so.

Talking is the only way to fill the pervasive silence that surrounds the subject of mental health. Whether it’s sharing your experience on a blog, talking to a friend about what you’ve been through, or simply asking a friend how they’re doing, we each have a responsibility to contribute to a positive discourse around mental health. Whether someone comes to university with a mental health problem or whether they’ve just come from their GP’s office with a fresh diagnosis, they should know that their community is ready to support them and not to judge them.

Crucially, though, mental health isn’t relevant only to that one in five with a diagnosis and in treatment. None of us is mentally perfect.  In that same NUS survey, more than 40 per cent of students said they felt feelings of anxiety weekly, and nearly half of students reported feelings of worthlessness once a week. Whether it’s exercise, taking a break to read the newspaper (if you’re a perfectionist) or making an effort to plan your revision schedule (if you’re a serial procrastinator), there’s something you can do to improve your wellbeing.

Everyone can benefit from thinking and talking about mental health. If you do anything this week, make a commitment to yourself and those around you to take a stand on mental health. It could be something simple, like asking a friend how they’re doing and really listening, or taking time out with them to do something positive for your mental health. It could be something more complicated, like resolving to join a mental health campaign and to tell your story. Through thousands of resolutions, big and small, we can make a real difference to student mental health.

It really is time to talk!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Charity Feature: Mindapples

Mindapples logo

What’s the 5-a-day for your mind?

Mindapples encourages people to think positively about the health of their minds.

The “5-a-day for your mind” campaign was created for mental health to achieve what the 5-a-day campaign has done for physical health: to make taking care of our minds a normal, natural thing for all of us. We all have mental health, and actually, we can all do simple things to maintain it. Recent studies suggest that around 40% of our mental wellbeing is down to our outlook and activities: the choices we make and the actions we take.

Mindapples started as an online campaign in 2008 to crowdsource the answer to the question: "what's the 5-a-day for your mind?" Five years on, Mindapples has brought mindapples trees to universities, music festivals, workplaces, public events and gathered over 50,000 mindapples suggestions.

Starting a conversation about mental health by asking “What’s the 5-a-day for your mind?” is a simple and effective way of engaging people to reflect and consider what they can do to take care of their minds. Mindapples have spread to 30 universities, encouraging students to consider what works for them and to share their ideas with others. University can be a challenging time for many and it is important to support and encourage students to create habits of self-care.

Integrating 5 things into our daily lives can act as breathers and restorers [1] helping us to maintain our mental wellbeing in a preventative way. Simply telling people what to do doesn't work for mental health. It's too personal, and in any case the evidence suggests taking prescribed actions to boost our wellbeing doesn't really work.

To help increase awareness and understanding, join in this year’s University Mental Health and Wellbeing Day and share your 5-a-day.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Charity Feature: Bipolar UK

Bipolar UK

Are you or is someone you know experiencing extreme mood swings?

We may be able to support you!

Bipolar UK is the national charity dedicated to supporting individuals with bipolar, their families and carers.  Bipolar, sometimes known as manic depression, is characterised by significant mood swings including manic highs and depressive lows

We provide a range of support services, which include:

Our services are free and confidential. If you would like to discuss issues or related questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

Tel: 020 7931 6486

Monday, 10 February 2014

Brain Over Binge

~ Abigail Legge

Kathryn separates the ‘Rational brain’ (the sophisticated, logical part of your brain, which seeks fulfilment and prizes self-control) from the ‘Irrational brain’ (the instinctive, illogical, driving force in your brain, conditioned to produce base urges -- hunger, tiredness, etc.) She sees binge eating and bulimia as arising out of a conflict between the two brains, where the Rational brain tries to restrict food intake; the Irrational brain picks up on this restriction and reacts by producing urges to binge. So without even realising it, it's easy to enter into a cycle that looks something like this:

  • The Rational brain decides to restrict the body’s food intake.

  • The body is deprived of essential nutrients and sends panic signals to the brain.

  • The Irrational brain picks up on these signals and produces urges to binge.

  • The Irrational brain wins out over the Rational brain (it's linked to the basic human survival instinct!)

  • You binge and the Irrational brain is (for the moment) satisfied.

  • The Rational brain tries to regain control and ‘atone’ for the binge; this can be through a ‘purge’ of some description, or through a pledge to ‘start over’ in the morning.

When someone repeatedly deprives their body of essential nutrients, the Irrational brain gets used to producing binge urges. The brain is very adept at developing habits -- and that’s exactly what bingeing becomes: a habit. The person will then feel urges to binge even when they’ve eaten an adequate amount, when they haven’t over-exercised, when they’ve had a generally happy day. Sometimes binges don’t necessarily have to be triggered by anything. Your brain has simply got used to regularly sending out urges to binge, and continues to do so even when you’ve stopped restricting.

In her book, Kathryn shares some of the things that helped her through her recovery: when she felt an urge to binge, she found it helpful to do the following:

  • Find a quiet place.

  • Understand that the binge urges are produced by your Irrational brain. You cannot reason with them. They are just urges and they cannot make you act. Only your Rational self can do that.

  • Sit quietly and distance yourself emotionally from your Irrational thoughts. Observe them, acknowledge that they are there, but do not act on them.

  • Wait for as long as it takes until the urges go away (be prepared: this could take an hour or two!)

The key is making sure you distance yourself emotionally from your Irrational urges, and understanding that only you, your Rational self, have the power to act. So try not to act on the urges and have faith: they won’t stick around forever!

What’s really interesting is that, right at the end of the book, Kathryn explains that recovery isn't about trying to solve everything at once. She’s still a perfectionist, still suffers from low self-esteem sometimes and doesn’t always wake up happy and motivated and raring to go every single morning. But that's ok. She didn’t have to transform herself from the inside out in order to recover from her eating disorder. Kicking bulimia out the way has helped her gain a sense of proportion in her life which she never possessed before and her issues are now infinitely easier to deal with than when every day was overshadowed by her eating disorder.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Finding Support at University

We all have mental health and there are things that everyone can do to improve their wellbeing, whether they have a mental health diagnosis or not. 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem, where we may need help from a mental health specialist. It’s important we all know about the support services available to us and make sure to get help when we need it.
Universities have a range of different services to support your wellbeing. Visit your university’s website to find out what help is available, including counselling, student advice services, support networks and other resources. You can also visit your local GP, who will be able to explore different treatment options and refer you to local support services.
Remember that it can be helpful to talk to your personal tutor so that they are aware of your circumstances and can support you in managing your academic work. Hall wardens and senior tutors will also be able to put you in touch with services offering specialist help.
Useful Contacts
  • NHS Direct is a national service providing information on all health issues and NHS services. Take a look at their website or give them a call on 0845 46 47.
  • Student Minds support groups are run by trained student volunteers and offer a confidential space to talk and to listen in a safe and supportive environment.
  • PAPYRUS is the national charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide in the UK, which operates a national helpline known as HOPELineUK. Contact HOPELineUK by phone: 0800 068 4141, SMS: 07786 209 697, or email: from Monday - Friday 10am-5pm and 7pm-10pm, or on weekends 2pm-5pm.
  • Nightline is an anonymous listening and information service run by students for students from 7pm-8am during term-time.
  • Samaritans provides confidential non-judgemental emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair. You can contact them by phone, email, letter or face-to-face.
  • A blog by students for students, Students Against Depression is a website offering advice, information, guidance and resources to those affected by low mood, depression and suicidal thinking. Alongside clinically-validated information and resources it presents the experiences, strategies and advice of students themselves.
For more information on accessing support at university, take a look at our website here.