Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Reflections on the past and how far I've come

Sophie writes about how the Christmas holidays can be used to reconnect with people who have supported you in the past...

- Sophie Rees 

It was a cold winter’s morning in the middle of December as I was walking the familiar road to the entrance of my old sixth form. I had just completed my first semester at university which had gone by like the speed of lightening and the Christmas holidays had just begun for me. Since my sixth form was also my high school, I felt it important to take a visit to let my teachers and the staff I knew how I was getting along at university. The school had but a week left until they were to take their own Christmas holiday for the season and the holiday vibe was present all around the school. I first approached the main office who had decorated their working area with shiny tinsel and a tall, homely looking Christmas tree. After going to university whilst living at home and leaving my sixth form days behind, this was all so wonderful to see again.

As I went inside the building, I signed in as a visitor rather than a student which felt quite weird but made perfect sense, the lady at the office instantly recognised me and gave me a beaming smile. She said, “Oh! It’s Sophie” and gathered the staff around her to see me. I explained that I was now at Cardiff University studying Journalism and English Literature and that I had come to visit before the school had broken up for the Christmas holidays themselves. Everyone was so intrigued by my visit and it made me feel part of the school again. It was lovely to have been greeted this way. I went around sixth form concentrating so much on my A levels and meeting my friends whilst recovering from my anorexia and didn’t realise how many people knew of me and cared about how I had been.
After this, I wandered through the school building in search of my A level teachers, hoping that they would be in the same rooms they had when I was taught by them. The building had a fresh new look to it with new painted walls, new student artwork and even the kids wore a new school uniform. 

Although these new things were now here, I still felt like I knew this place like the back of my hand. I peak through the door to the sixth form common room as I pass and nothing has changed there. I imagined all the times I would have been in that very room with my friends worrying over my university application or next essay result and yet here I was now as the accomplished student visiting from university. I eventually found all my teachers from A levels and they were all just as happy to see me as the office staff were. I could tell they were all super proud of what I was doing at university and that I had enjoyed my first semester, it felt great to finally see them and to share my gladness with them too.

In total I had visited for just under an hour but it felt as though I had been there for ages. As I exited the school gates, I left feeling as if a part of me was still in the sixth form. This visit was totally worth my time before Christmas and exams, it felt great to be remembered as a successful role model for the school. Education and studies is important at all stages to us as a person to develop our own footprint and memories that we have of ourselves, so that we can look back and be proud of what we have been through, overcome and have achieved.

Monday, 30 November 2015

Give the gift of self care this Christmas

Grace writes about how going home for the holidays can be a stressful, and the importance of self care. 

 - Grace Anderson 

Christmas; a happy time of year with lots of festive fun and a good time to be had by all. This is the view that is ingrained into us from a young age. Although, as the winter holiday season approaches some people may be anticipating a less than happy Christmas. Many people struggle with this festive time of year. Struggle with the countless events planned, socialising, affording Christmas presents and activities, unrealistic expectations, being sad in a time when everyone is expecting you to be happy.

All this pressure to be “merry” and “happy” may be too much for some, and can even lead you to breaking point. The holidays can be stressful and disappointing at the best of times for anyone, regardless of if you are experiencing mental health problems. However, these mental health problems may make the experience more difficult. If you are experiencing depression, the idea of doing festive things is beyond overwhelming. Attending many social events if you are experiencing anxiety may be terrifying.

If this person is you, then don’t worry you are not alone and I am sure that you are not the only one struggling with difficulties this Christmas. Don’t let the pressure get to you as holding the belief that you “should” be having fun can actually lead to you feeling worse about Christmas. So get rid of those “shoulds” that come with the holiday season. I give you permission to chuck them in the bin. Do what you want to do over the festive period. And most of all don’t beat yourself up about how you’re feeling, you're entitled to have those feelings.

You don’t have to attend every social event that you are invited to, because having to smile and pretend that everything is ok is draining; it’s ok to say no. However, locking yourself in your room and isolating yourself from everyone can make things harder. Try taking small steps to see one or two people, or even text or speak on the phone and gradually build up to socialising.

I've found that drinking too much alcohol can cause me to feel worse. The tip I'd give would be to keep it to a minimum over the holidays. Who cares if everyone else is drinking, you don’t have to. You need to look after yourself and how you are feeling and not try and fit in with others.

If leaving the house is difficult then buy presents online and have them delivered from your door, not only can you do this from the comfort of your own home but you also avoid the sheer number of Christmas shoppers. Cards can also be ordered online and websites like moon pig and funky pigeon do personalised cards for those people who mean the most to you.

Just remember the sheer stress of the holidays can be too much for anyone, regardless of whether you are experiencing mental health difficulties,  the holidays aren't always easy, but you are not alone.

Keep an eye out for the next Mind Matters email about how to manage mental health during the holidays. 

Why it's okay to make mistakes

Making mistakes is a part of  life, and can really shape your university experience, but it's not all bad...
- Thom Sobey

When I went to university, I had not even considered what I would do if I started to have mental health difficulties. It was something that was not on my radar. I am sure many of you know how I was feeling: I had just finished school, had got into university with some good results and was on a high of leaving home for the first time.

But then some things happened that I wasn't used to: I started to make mistakes. And that is what I want to talk about.

I want to be clear: it is not a reflection on ourselves if we make mistakes that lead us to have mental health difficulties. It is not our fault that we make mistakes sometimes. Life is a long learning process that each of us does individually; we encounter our own challenges and problems.
When we make mistakes, it can be very hard to recover from them, and it can be even harder to admit to ourselves that we have made mistakes. It was a very long and difficult process for me to admit to my own mistakes, and took even longer for me to talk about them to the people who cared about me. But what I didn’t realise is that there are lots of other people who have made mistakes too.

So I started talking about my mistakes. To my family, my friends, even strangers who I had only just met. And the more I talked, the more I found so many people like me who had made mistakes as well.

I began to find it easier to accept my mistakes. And, in turn, it also greatly increased my capacity to accept other people’s mistakes and understand what may have led them to make them. And in turn, they accepted me. Or, more specifically, I felt that more people understood and accepted me for who I was.

The mistakes we make are, a lot of the time, not our fault. University is a very challenging time as we undergo so many changes, the world opens up and things happen that you never expect to. And, it’s okay to make them.

But it’s also okay to talk about them, and the more we do, the more we let ourselves be accepted by other people and, most importantly, ourselves.

Since I have left university I have been thinking about how I can help other people, specifically students, recover from the mistakes they may have made. A huge part of the way in which I was able to accept myself was the people on the other end of the conversation. They listened to me and helped me understand who I am.

They also gave me the understanding that, if I want to help you, one of the best things I can do is listen to you. And I want to thank everyone who I have ever met who has taken the time to listen to me, and who has helped me on my journey to understanding who I am. You really did make a difference and helped me a lot. I am sure there will be many more out there.

And, I guess, that’s all I really want to get across to anyone. That when someone starts talking about mistakes they have made, we listen and try to understand what they may be going through so we can try and help them recover. We should never underestimate the power of a simple conversation and the limits of their comfort zone someone may be going to so they can talk about their mistakes.

One in four people in the UK will have mental health difficulties each year. So when someone, anyone, starts talking to me about their mistakes, I hope that I listen with an open mind and try to understand. And maybe, just maybe, I can help too.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

I'll be there for you: The importance of friendship & support in looking after mental health

Sophie writes about how supporting someone to get through the toughest times of their eating disorder is one of the most rewarding feelings. 
- Sophie Rees

It was the summer after finishing my GCSEs when my Mum and I mutually agreed to go and see a doctor about my eating disorder. Up until this point I had felt as if I had done nothing to harm my health and that I was perfectly fine. After seeing my doctor I had realised that I had enrolled myself into something quite serious and something that I knew would take a considerable amount of time to get out of. Writing this fully recovered four years later, I can confidently say that is was the support of others around me that got me through my recovery. I cannot thank everyone who had helped me enough for their understanding, their patience and their strength. I found that it was the simple, little things they could say or do for me that made me believe I could go on to help myself out of my eating disorder. My little sister’s smile would be of graceful welcome whenever she saw me, my friends would always be there for me whenever I wanted to talk about my problems and even the people I had studied my A levels with who weren't close friends of mine would show that they cared by including me in their conversations and not making a huge fuss about what I was going through.

Whilst I was recovering during my A levels, a close friend of mine had just began a serious stage in her eating disorder and it made me see exactly what I had done before having to motivate myself to recover. After some time in hospital, my friend was back in sixth form and was still battling her eating disorder whilst trying to study. She wasn't as open as I was with other people when she returned so she and I had developed an empathetic bond in our friendship which allowed her to express what she had sometimes felt about her disorder and I explained how by letting others support was what had helped me. Gradually throughout our sixth form years, after I had gone to university and she had taken a gap year, my friend had recovered excellently through the help of others and building of her own motivations to go to university herself. It made me so proud of everything she had achieved and overcome. What is amazing is that only took some time and support from others to set things straight again. In both gaining support for myself and offering it to my friend, I strongly believe that good support can get people through the toughest of situations and motivate them to never give up.​

This December Student Minds is looking to raise £28,000 through public donations to fund a new university peer support programme - Supporting Supporters, which will help students to support friends experiencing self-harm.

We're teaming up with the Big Give to take part in the Christmas Challenge 2015, meaning any donations received on the 4th & 5th December will be doubled. 

To find out more about how you can get involved click here , or check out our video below: 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Managing Your Mental Health on Your Year Abroad

Kirby reflects on managing anxiety and depression through keeping a travel journal, and developing other personalised techniques to deal with mental health whilst on travelling. 

- Kirby Moore

So far this year, I have travelled around Spain, worked as an Au Pair in Madrid, Seville and Rome and chosen to spend my year abroad in Mexico.

La Finca, Seville
Using my experience, I would like to share some useful travel tips for maintaining a healthy mind, when travelling.

Firstly, I would say that having the diagnosis allowed me to accept myself for who I am. Part of the treatment, was to understand the illness and in doing so, I developed small but effective techniques to manage the irrational thoughts.

Not wanting to be defeated by my illness, I was eager to challenge myself and in Easter, I spent three weeks travelling to Barcelona, Mallorca and spending a few weeks, working with an amazing Spanish family, in Seville and Madrid.

This was my first voyage away, for a while. Although a little apprehensive, my treatment had taught me to focus on the here and now, living in the moment and not thinking about what may or may not happen.

I began to write a travel journal, in order to record not only what I had been doing each day but the thoughts, feelings and emotions I was going through, at the time. Dedicating a time in the day to jot down my thoughts, proved to be an effective way of dealing with any issues faced during that day, allowing me to move on.

Walking around Rome with so much to see

Summer 2015, I found a willing family in central Rome, where I would spend the summer. This was a life changing experience, yet I still had some difficult times with my mental health.

My travel journal continued to clear the mind as well as keeping busy and filling my day. Luckily, Rome is a city full of wonderful adventures to have and even when I was alone, usually the most difficult times, I was able to explore the many streets and historical sites on foot, which helped to lift any negative thoughts.
Taking time out to read a book in piece, is something that I struggle to do because my mind gets distracted easily, the words are ignored and my attention turns to the anxious thoughts.

People from around the world that I met in Rome
I have realised that with the right book, this struggle can be controlled.
Being a social person, I rely heavily on the company of others as a way of dealing with my illness. I surrounded myself with friends, spending the mornings at a language school and the evenings in bars and restaurants, meeting more and more people, from all over the world.

My decision to spend the year abroad in Mexico was one that raised a few issues. One of the reasons why I chose to study at the University of Southampton, was due to the opportunity to travel to Mexico. I was not going to let this dream of mine be compromised by my illness, however, getting permission by the University to travel here, was full of many hurdles.

I had to meet with various senior members of staff, from the faculty, get written permission by my doctor and have written reports submitted by enabling services. In some ways, I felt like I had to prove to the university that I was mentally stable to go to Mexico. 

The unbelievable scale of Mexico City
Choosing to study or work outside of Europe, seems to require a lot more investigation and meetings than deciding to stay within the safety of the EU.
My risk assessment, completed by all students going on a year abroad, had to include steps to take in case of an emergency, concerning my illness. This was useful as it allowed me to investigate the local health services in Cancun, which I would advise to do before departing.

Living day to day, with every sunset comes a new day
Travelling to Mexico, there are potential problems with accessing medication. The best bet was to speak with my doctor, who gave me what I needed in terms of  medication and wrote me a doctor’s note to explain the medication, including the dosage and the diagnosis.
Now I am here, I have continued to write in my travel journal. I have started my blog which allows me to reflect on my time in Mexico, as the weeks go by. Being able to talk to the right people is important and I keep in contact with the university as well as my mentor, back in Southampton.
The prospect of travelling can be nerve-racking for anyone. At times, you can feel very isolated and the temptation to return to the comfort of your own country, can be very attractive. It is extremely important that you understand your mind, before leaving for a trip.

For our Student Minds guide to a year abroad for yourself or a friend,  click here 

Friday, 6 November 2015

The lessons I learnt by taking medical leave from University

Andrew writes about the experience of deciding to take time out of university, and the valuable lessons he has learnt. 
 - Andrew Read 

Deciding to take time out from your studies due to a mental illness is an incredibly difficult decision. Firstly, you have to admit to yourself that you have a mental illness, which for many of us is something that is incredibly hard to come terms with. Perhaps this is due to the stigma, or perhaps its because mental illness has a funny way of convincing you that it doesn’t actually exist, but too often we are guilty of blaming our struggles on a ‘weak character’, or some ‘innate personality flaw’, as if we are not entitled to the official label of an illness. 

Secondly, and maybe even more challenging is justifying to yourself that your illness is serious enough to warrant time away from study – its far too easy to persuade yourself that you are taking the easy way out, when in reality its an incredibly brave decision to make. The problem with medical leave is that, actually, it’s not something any of us want to take. To walk away from your friends, degree and a university you worked so hard to get in to, can easily feel like a position of failure. But being strong enough to put yourself and your mental health above your studies can only ever be considered a success: your health is with you for the rest of your life, so look after it.

I first considered taking medical leave 10 months ago. I was struggling with a relatively new battle with depression, and my Oxford finals were fast approaching. My senior tutor was a bubbly Scottish lady, the kind who thought that a cup of tea and a biscuit could solve anything; with an uncanny resemblance to Mrs Doubtfire but without the winning charm. She discussed with me the benefits of taking time out, and the freedom to be able to do whatever you want. I remember the immortal phrase: “somebody spent a year doing a baking course” – as if we’d all love to drop out of university to develop our culinary prowess. But whilst her wise words weren't the best advertisement for taking time away, my doctors & I decided it necessary, and I trudged off to rural England with my parents, my dog, and a few cows for company.

At first, all you feel is isolated - incredibly alone. All you think about is what you had, and now what you don’t have. It’s a horrible experience, but in hindsight I can’t imagine it was any worse than struggling through my finals whilst battling depression. One of my close friends constantly reminds me that all I did was moan about how the year was going to drag on, but looking back I cannot believe how quickly its passed, and how many lessons I’ve learnt from it.

Some of these were literal lessons: I learnt to drive. Others were more figurative: I travelled for a few months and learnt to be more reliant on myself; I realised that I didn’t need the support of others to make myself happy. I learnt to accept that I have a mental illness that might never go away, and that there are certain ways you can cope with it in every day life. I used the time to do some work experience and fill in applications for next year after I return. Whilst the year was certainly tough, and indeed horrible at times, you’re blessed with a freedom to put your academic life on hold, which I hadn’t had the opportunity to do since the age of 4. It’s important to see how you can use the time to better yourself in other ways, even if it is learning to bake.

I’m now on the verge of returning to my studies. Most of my friends have left university and I’ve been out of a science related degree for 12 months, having forgotten everything. It’s scary. But more importantly, I feel more able to deal with my depression, and I have the necessary support at university to be able to complete my degree. I’ll have 6 months to make new friends, and live a whole new experience of university life. 

Whilst medical leave is not a decision to be taken lightly, and requires careful consideration, in hindsight I’m incredibly glad that I did, and have certainly benefited from the time off. Putting your mental health first is an incredibly brave decision to make, and can only ever be a success.

If you are in the process of making a decision about whether to take time out of university, talk to student services or your personal/academic tutors. 

If you are feeling low mood at University - The Positive Minds course has been designed to give students the skills they need to keep low mood at bay. If you are interested in learning new ideas to help you keep your university experience a positive one, this course is for you! Find out if the course is right for you: here

You can find more support here

Monday, 2 November 2015

How I manage my stress at University

It’s National Stress Awareness Day on Wednesday 4th November. In light of this, one of our bloggers writes about how stress is a common part of university life, and how it can be helpful to know how to manage it.  
                                                                                                                                    - Sophie Dishman

Stress is something that we all go through whether we are in university or not. It can be exacerbated by university - deadlines, assignments, having a social life and doing extra-curricular activities - not being organised…they can all take their toll and lead to a bout of stress that no-one wants. Things can build up and without talking about it, it can become a challenge and turn into a breakdown.

But there are many ways I've found that have helped me deal with stress:   

1.    Be organised. Organisation doesn’t stop me from becoming run-down but it certainly helps me keep on top of things at university and in my personal life. 

I write things down in my diary and use coloured sticky notes for different things. Blue if I need to contact someone, green for tasks for university or things I’m involved in and purple for remembering things – e.g. buy equipment. The best thing is that I can move my sticky notes around, so I don’t feel like I have to do something on a certain day. If something comes up, I can be flexible. If something has a date next to it then unfortunately it has to stick permanently.

This way I am aware of deadlines and what’s coming up so I can plan other commitments around them.   Since using this method, I haven’t become stressed. I used it in the third semester of university and from September this year since starting my new journalism course. I now feel organised and as if I am able to manage my time effectively and know that I won’t burn out.

2.    Don’t take on too much. Many people tell me this, I understand it can be hard to hear as a I have a lot of commitments but it’s important. If you take on too much then you can become stressed because of the expectations that you ultimately had control over in the first place. There’s a word that you and I should use - the word “no”. This word is very powerful and can stop you from feeling overwhelmed. You don’t have to take an opportunity right now - it may come around again. If it isn’t meant to be - then it isn’t meant to be.

3.    Talking to people helps. Communicating when things are getting a bit tough can stop the situation in its tracks. You can stop it before it gets worse. You can talk to people who can give you advice on what to do.

4.    It’s all about time management. Maybe start that assignment earlier instead of going out? Plan your essays ahead of time, get books from the library before the assignment is due to be planned. Work out the way of managing your time that suits you best.

5.    Have some “me time” everyday, if you can. At best a few times a week. This may be going out for a run, to the gym, out with friends or watching Netflix. I usually do some yoga, meditate or read a book (not the ones for my course!). Having time for yourself can help you relax and rewind and make you energised. You are taking a step back and helping yourself.

What do you do to minimise stress? Student Minds is running #StudentChats on our Twitter on National Stress Awareness Day with Anxiety UK, On Wednesday the 4th of November at 7pm. Get involved to share & learn tips on managing stress.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

One student's quest to put herself first: Finding the routine that works for you

Do you find that your uni work is taking over your life? A writer from our Blogging Team, Sophie, shares some useful tips about how to prioritise your wellbeing in your study routine, and make time for yourself.  
- Sophie Rees

During my GCSEs I felt like I had 101 different things going on at the same time and that there was no time to myself. Everything worked around coursework due dates or the next exam. Due to this busy and rather stressful time I unfortunately put my studies before my health too often and I eventually developed an eating disorder which led me to suffer from anorexia by the time I finished my GCSEs in year 11. During my A levels I gradually recovered from my anorexia with the help of my friends and looking forward to my dream of studying at university. 

As a second year undergraduate now looking back on that experience, I regret not looking after myself properly during my studies and realise now, that stressing and just overworking yourself will do nothing for you. Putting your well-being and happiness first is really important in achieving success in your studies.

University involves a lot of focused time and attention and takes up huge amounts of mind and bodily energy. Looking after yourself will definitely help a sustained and healthy focus during your studies whilst having a good, organised weekly routine that allows you to get your studies done in good time and of good quality. The point of having a weekly organised routine is so that your studies revolve around you because without you they cannot be achieved, so it is of utmost importance that your well-being comes first. 

Here are some good organisation tips to keep you and your studies on track.

Have a weekly timetable for each semester:

This may sound simple but it is honestly the best way to plan how you are going to go about your studies each week. Create a timetable that covers the whole week (Monday-Sunday) and fill in the times of when your lectures and seminars take place, from there you will be able to work out which pieces of reading, revision or coursework you need to prioritise on and complete first. Once you have worked out the priorities you have to meet in your own time outside of lectures and seminars, you can then work out a routine in which to do your independent work throughout the week. 

Keep a calendar or diary:

A calendar or diary with dates is a very useful tool of organisation to have during university. You don’t even have to go out and invest in a physical calendar or diary as most mobile phones have their own calendar or planner on them. These are very handy to use for important notes like keeping track of deadline dates, extra-curricular activities, and term dates, as well as simple everyday notes like shopping lists, meeting friends or checking your emails. This means you can keep the balance between you time and study time controlled whilst putting your well-being first.

Find the routine that works for you: 

Being organised like this doesn't mean everything has to be so regimental and stupidly strict. Having an organised timetable and planner for the week is designed so that you can relax and not have to worry about what you have to complete next. The timetable and planner are there so that you know what you have to do or where you have to go during the week and they are set out in a way that suits you and how you go about your week. Working a sensible amount of time to get your work done on time and to the best of your ability is the correct way to achieve what you wish in your studies. It is important to remember that the studying will only get you so much of your achievements and that the rest is about you and how you go about your studies with a healthy sustainable focus.

Student Minds is running #StudentChats on our Twitter on National Stress Awareness Day, On Wednesday the 4th of November at 7pm. Get involved to share & learn tips on managing stress.

We also have a guide on dealing with exam stress which you may find helpful! 

If you are experiencing an eating difficulty have a look at our resource, for further support. 

Monday, 5 October 2015

Racing To Support Student Minds

Throughout 2015, Liv, one of our supporters, will be fundraising for Student Minds by taking on at least 1 official race per month culminating in a Half Iron Man and Marathon. 
This is her story!  

- Liv Bryom 

In August I embarked on my first triathlon, in typical Liv style (run before I walk) my first race was a 70.3 half iron man. 

This involved a 1.9km swim in a wet suit - open water, followed by a 90km bike ride finished with a half marathon - SO much fun! 

Aiming for about 6 hours 30, I think those dragged along to watch were quite pleased when I finished in 5 hours 10 despite a downpour and the run route turning into a mud pit!

Next up is Bristol Half Marathon, prior to my first ever Marathon in October, the Bristol-Bath. Training has involved various shorter races - I even made the leader board in one! 

The open water swimming may need a tad more practise and a few tumbles on the bike haven't helped the confidence at times, but its been great fun along the way.

I've met some fab like minded people - who understand why we give up every weekend to hours of cycling and running. For those that think we are taking it too far and ask why - my best reply is 'because I can!' 

Student Minds is a charity very close to home. It has grown over the past years with many projects in many universities, its filled a much needed gap. 

Every penny donated will help the great work Student Minds does - thank you for your support!

How can I get involved? Become a fundraising champion

Friday, 25 September 2015


-         Grace Anderson

Booking to attend the Student Minds Festival, I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. I honestly did not know what to expect and was really worried about staying somewhere for 3 days on my own without knowing anybody else attending. However, after being asked to assist in one of the talks, I bit the bullet and thought why not, what have I got to loose. I found myself carrying the biggest bag in the world (nearly falling over and knocking out people several times!!) containing all my camping gear on a train to Oxford. Then at Oxford station cramming myself and three other girls I had never met into the back of a taxi with barely any space to breathe. Upon arrival I realised that I was going to be okay. I was going to have a super fun few days; everyone from Student Minds was really friendly, greeting us, making us tea and helping us assemble our tents.

Spending a very long time attempting to put our tents up successfully, blowing up air beds with no pump, trying to take a successful group picture, we didn’t care that we were soaked from the rain. Luckily it didn’t take long for it to brighten up (obviously only rained when we were putting out tents up, sods law!), the sun glasses game out and we sat outside chatting and introducing ourselves to each other, whilst hopefully getting a bit of a tan (one can only hope!).

Once we were settled in, we attended a large array of sessions over the duration of the Festival including; a talk from The Loss Foundation on being more compassionate to oneself and others in the context of grief. In this session, Kirsten discussed what to do and what not to do when speaking about bereavement. Grief “is not personal, its universal”, thus is an issue that we will all come across at times in our lives. We also attended a talk from Action for Happiness in which we explored our own happiness by looking at what we have seen that is wonderful, what we are thankful for, what we are looking forward to, who or what do we really love and what positive changes we are going to make. This was all filled out on flashcards and really made us think how lucky we all actually are, with many of us keeping the cards as reminders for when we need them most and Sórcha Haverty the VP Welfare from the University of Derby, putting hers up on the wall in her office (something that will stay with us after the student minds festival is over).

The Student Minds team also put on some very informative sessions consisting of; effective campaigning, how to measure impact, building resilience, using social media for social good, a fundraising masterclass, safeguarding and a super fun session on creating your own wellbeing tool box (consisting of lots of stickers, glitter and colouring in!!!). We also got the chance to attend sessions on our graduate options and employment advice including sessions on building a career in the third sector (Worthwhile), top tips on completing applications and assessment centres from Think Ahead and an informative session on the journey to become a clinical psychologist from Dr Felicity Cowdrey.

My favourite session was a talk Emma from It Gets Brighter delivered. We learnt about the campaign which is a video based web platform and watched some of their collection of inspirational videos, in which people spoke openly about their experiences and reassured us that it can and will get brighter. Following this, I was lucky enough to speak in The Power of Sharing Stories session. Seb, Vicky and Student Mind Bloggers, myself and Rose held a question and answer session on our experiences sharing our own stories; the good and the bad and what worked for us and what we would suggest to other people thinking of doing the same. This was a very powerful talk that really highlighted why I do share my story through blogging for Student Minds and we received such a heartfelt response from all the students there. This was all reinforced again when I shockingly was awarded student minds blogger of the year (2015).

To continue, we were also lucky to find out about interesting campaigns such as Ripple - Student Minds new campaign against depression which seeks to promote the idea that small acts can have a ripple effect in creating wider positive change, therefore encouraing students to create positive ripples in their lives. #BestNightEver is another campaign that from Tuesday the 6th of October Student Minds are inviting you to post a picture on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook of your night in which the hastag: #BestNightEver this is because all to often on social media we only post photos of our ‘exciting times’ such as parties and nights out but fail to share photos of our evenings in such as a night watching films with friends (which may I add can be just as fun!). Therefore, showing that going out is not everything and having a night in does not mean that you are missing out and can sometimes be just what you need.

Right on to the fun part (kidding I loved all the sessions), despite the sessions and talks being informative and inspirational and something I will take away with me, my favourite part of the Festival was meeting all the other students that attended. Enjoying sitting around the camp fire roasting marshmallows, cramming 12 of us into the same tipi to sleep, playing games, going on a walk in the pitch black to find a shop, watching a film with hot chocolate and snacks, having meal times all together and just generally having a laugh and speaking to like-minded people. Funniest part being Soti (another student at the festival) and I being asked millions of times if we were from the same university and if we already knew each other… We didn’t and no we weren’t ‘best friends’ as many people asked, we had only just met! Just goes to show that it doesn’t matter whether you know anyone. If you are to attend a similar event on your own, please don't feel fearful of doing so because you will be lucky enough to meet some amazing people.

Leaving the Festival, I have not only met some really amazing people, whom I hope I’ll stay in touch with, but knowing I have built my knowledge around mental health further, learnt the things I can do to promote positive change and have been equipped with the skills to have the biggest impact when doing so. Most importantly the ability to promote my own wellbeing and having the confidence to succeed this year.

Final statement on my time at the StudentMindsFest; it was ‘intents’, please say I am not the only one who found this joke a little bit too funny. I hope to return to the festival next year and see lots of new faces and of course those of the hilarious people I met this year. If you choose to come too, please wrap up warm, bring any blankets you can find as the tents do get really really really cold at night. The first night I could actually see my breath, but I guess it made the whole trip an experience to say the least.

My reflections on starting university...

- Grace Anderson

So you've just got a place at university, well done! Everyone you know is telling you that you are about to start 'the best time of your life'. Maybe you’re feeling a little fear and apprehension, the change is all a bit too much. You feel you should be excited, you feel you should be acting a certain way, is this normal? Yes of course you’re bound to be nervous, going to university is exciting but it is something new which I understand can be pretty overwhelming. So in short terms, the answer is there is no set way or "normal" way to feel...

I remember how I felt going to university all too well. At first I was extremely excited, buying everything I possibly could; things for my kitchen, decoration for my bedroom, photos to make me feel at home, essentially everything but the kitchen sink! However, once all this was sorted, I was like WAIT, I am actually leaving and going to an unknown town, where I won’t know anyone. This excitement then led to fear. I wouldn't be surrounded by my family and friends. I would have a new home, with new people, whom I didn't even know yet. 

For me personally the hardest thing transiting to university was the fear of the people I would leave behind and the thought of having to make new friends (would they like me? would they think I was weird? would we have things in common?!). I knew my family would always be there but the people I had been to school with for the past 7 years, the people I saw every single day at school, wouldn't be in my life regularly any more. This scared me, I felt that they would forget about me and our friendships would be over. I didn't want to change and I didn't want them to change. However, after an evening at our local with lots of tears, reminiscing and dancing, it was time to say goodbye. As each person left, hugs were given, fears exchanged. It was a beautiful night which made me feel like I was ready. Not only was I scared, they were also scared, I was not alone in this transition and it was something that we all had to get used to.

The next day I started on my journey to Plymouth, university here I come! Being crammed in the car, with barely enough space left for me to sit and a nervous Mum and Dad the journey began. Arriving into Plymouth I was greeted by a nice student who directed me to my halls, showed me the ropes and then left. After climbing the many stairs, 100s of times to move my stuff in, why did I think I needed so much stuff?! It was time to say goodbye. Waving my Mum and Dad off, the door shut. WOW this was it I was on my own and I needed to go and socialise and try and meet people. With all my nerves I actually threw myself into this, talking to everyone, putting on a brave face. Seeing one of my flat mates crying once her family left made me realise that she is in exactly the same position and no one should be embarrassed to be upset about saying goodbye to their loved ones. This is normal, EVERYONE IS IN THE SAME BOAT. This was the start of our friendship.

As someone who enjoys going out I through myself into this, maybe a bit too much. I would advise being careful in freshers week because it is only too easy to burn yourself out. Make sure you eat properly, are careful with your alcohol intake and please try and get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is enough to impact anyones wellbeing. Be aware of when things are too much. It’s ok to say to your flat mates that you want to slow down, maybe organise a film night or a night chilling and drinking copious amounts of tea (my favourite kind of night!). You'll be surprised to find out that they too quite fancy a night in and are very happy with this idea.

If you don't drink or going out isn't your scene then this is ok. Do not be scared thinking you will be the only one, because you won’t be. There will be many other people in the same situation, trust me. You don't need to go out to meet people; you will meet people within your accommodation, when out exploring the city your university is in, at events the university will put on during the day. Also, don't forget to join sports clubs and societies - it gives you a chance to meet like-minded people. Even if you haven't tried a certain thing before, why not join, you may be surprised how much you enjoy it. 

University does seem scary and it is a big change but think about all the thousands of students who are moving to university this year. All are likely to be feeling similar to you, all scared about meeting people and leaving people behind. After a few weeks of being at university the apprehension will die down you will meet some amazing people. Yes, you will not get on with everyone but I've met some of best people I know and I don't know what I would do without them. For me, this fair outweighs the people that I do not get on with. Even though I am going into my fourth year, I still make friends all the time, the process of university is amazing, everyone is so friendly and you will meet people from all waves of life, which I have really enjoyed. 

I am also still in touch with my friends from home. We have changed, but I would like to think that we have all changed for the better and are developing into the adults we are about to become. I could not be prouder of all of their achievements and even though sometimes it feels like we are growing apart, this is also bringing us together. As one of my friends sent to my home group chat yesterday - "shout out to my low maintenance friends, the ones you don't talk to for months, because you are both living your lives, but when you meet up, there's nothing but love. This is so true and no one will be able to take away the friendship you have had. Despite the time and distance apart, they will still always be there.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Welcome to Freshers’

 Sophie writes about how she overcame the challenges of meeting new people during freshers’ week whilst still living at home. 
 - Sophie Rees

It’s that time of year again. It is mid-September, everyone is settling into their accommodations, getting their first lecture timetables, and having masses of fun meeting tons of new people wherever they go.

Freshers’ season is upon us and it is all super exciting around every university. For me, freshers’ was one of the most important and exciting weeks of University life. I got to know the people I would be studying my subject with for the next three or more years.

Of course, everyone will have a unique experience of this season as a new student, in a new place, often living away from home, and taking all responsibility of looking after yourself and your studies.
Freshers’ can be a good opportunity to make new friends who share your thoughts and opinions. This way you can all bond and help each other out whilst you’re settling in, talk to each other about your studies, and enjoy uni life together.

As a student living at home whilst studying, I found the experience of freshers’ both exciting and daunting. Everyone else seemed to already know each other from living at student halls either with or near each other, which therefore meant they also knew their way around the university better than me.

What was really helpful was that my subject school were hosting a welcome party for first years to meet one another, personal tutors and module lecturers.  After being invited to this rather welcoming event, I decided to part from my usual shy and quiet self in order to meet the amazing people I now study my favourite subject with.

I remember approaching the doors to the room of the event and hearing the buzz of everyone talking.  Feeling unbelievably nervous, I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t have the guts to go up to any of the already blossoming friendship groups and start to join in. I then thought ‘No, I’d like to get to know these people. They all seem so friendly and interesting.’ and so I quickly walked in and went straight to the table of food, allowing myself time to adjust to the busy atmosphere.

As I finished serving my plate full of delicious food, I had a quick look around the room and I almost thought I didn’t know anyone. However, I looked slightly to my left where a group of girls were sat on café stools and recognised one of them as a Facebook friend I had just made prior to freshers’ week, because we were studying the same subject.

I remembered that I had actually got on quite well with her during our Facebook chats when we were both preparing for this week, so I walked over and said hey. All of a sudden she recognised me and said ‘Oh!  You must be Sophie!’ and I received a huge comforting hug from her. It made me feel instantly welcome and she then immediately introduced me to a large number of other students. Within an hour we were laughing, seeing if we were in the same lectures as each other, talking about where we’re from, and even exchanging phone numbers. We were having an awesome time and I didn’t want it to end. I felt like I could have talked to them all night and I eventually went home, feeling happy, welcome and ready to begin a new chapter of my life at university.

For more tips on starting uni, check out our website

Monday, 31 August 2015

Your results do not define you

With A-Level and GCSE results coming out over the past few weeks, lots of people will be processing their results and thinking about what comes next - take a look at Olivia's brilliant blog on getting perspective and remembering that your results do not define you...

- Olivia Niblock

So your results have sunk in and maybe you’re disappointed…

Your results do not define you.

I thought I might just start with that because a) it’s true, b) not a lot of people believe it and c) neither did I until I got my A level results 3 and a bit years ago.

When I was doing my GCSEs, everything went pretty well. I worked really hard and managed to get 13 A*-Bs and I was fairly happy. I convinced myself I wanted to study medicine at university and become a doctor. Trouble was that I didn’t really want to do that at all. I wanted to help people – certainly! I still do. But there are other ways of helping people other than being a doctor and being stressed to the point of implosion.

So I chose my A Levels and unlike many, I chose to carry on with 5 A levels to A2, because I wanted to make my choices for universities and subjects as diverse as possible. I applied to UCAS (I truly feel for you guys that still have to do it!) and I applied to a handful of Medical schools and one course I truly wanted to do – Medical Genetics.

I didn’t do as well in my A level results as I wanted to – and I threw all my toys out of the pram because I thought that was the thing to do. I thought I was a failure. And then Queen Mary, University of London got back to me on Track. I had been happily accepted onto the Medical Genetics course and was expected in September.

It was then that I allowed myself to accept that I didn’t want to study medicine. I wanted to be a researcher - to help people out in a different way. My ‘failure’ in A-Levels turned out to be the biggest success I’ve ever had.

University was great. I had family and medical circumstances that weren’t great, like 6 family deaths and the diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), but university itself was so good, and so supportive. They (the university and my friends) completely embraced the fact that I had GAD, the fact that I may need a bit more time to process things and the fact that I was grieving for 4 close relatives.

I didn’t graduate with a first, but to be honest, I don’t measure my success by the grades anymore – I made it through incredible adversity, and it was like I had won the lottery. I am a proud Medical Genetics graduate, interning at a place that helps people in need.

Just remember: your results do not define you!