Monday, 27 April 2015

Depression: Expectation vs Reality

- Tammy

I remembered when I was 17 I saw these posters at a local cinema with a lady in her 40s, palm in her face and with tears streaming down her eyes. The caption said something like “Your loved ones might be experiencing depression and you don’t know it” and beneath it was a help line phone number. I thought to myself that I would look out for people around me and get help when needed. Little did I know I was experiencing depression myself without even realizing what it was - all I can remember is that I refused to go out or participate in any social events for almost a year but I gave myself some excuses like “I have work to do” or “I don’t really know the people who are going to that party anyway”. What I expected and what happened in reality were total different things, I was in denial stage, I tried to protect myself from having any mental illness label. Recently a friend told me unless you know exactly what you are suffering from you can’t really find a way to cure it; or in my case, I refused to get better because I didn’t want to think I was anything worse.

Growing up in a traditional family with high expectations, I always feel the need to perfect myself, to make my parents proud, to be better. Since a young age I’ve never felt good enough, no matter what I do. Living with my elder sister was not easy because we are different people - she was short-tempered, loud and active and I was more like water that flows wherever it’s supposed to go. But no matter how calm I tried to be, when everything piled up I broke down and it was so hard to get up again. Some people let everything out and then go on with their lives but I dwell on things until it sinks into the deepest part of my brain. Those words they said were like rocks inside my chest and I didn’t know how to take them out. I cried every night, I locked myself in my room without eating or sleeping much; and obviously after a few months my sister noticed those strange behaviours and confronted me. I said I was okay, I was just tired mostly and that she didn’t have to worry. I sometimes escaped the house because she would come into my room and ask if I was doing fine every 20 minutes. I started wandering around town, staying at a bookshop for hours until it got dark and I went home. She thought I was at the library doing work. I wasn’t. I guess pretending I was doing okay somehow made me feel better about myself because I was convinced I was the person they expected me to be. But I was wrong; I should have opened up to her and faced my problems instead of running away from it.

When I was 19, I moved out and lived by myself for the first time. I thought I could do whatever I wanted but I just slept through the day and stayed awake at the night. I literally didn’t talk to anyone, even my housemate. She must have thought I was a ghost. I started to gain new friends from university and I got invited to a few parties. It was tough being at university but I thought this was a chance to be a new me and meet other people. I got a job at a local newsagent and having control over my finances was one of the things that made me proud of myself. But then, having too much money on my hand, I started buying unnecessary expensive items whenever I felt empty (which was all the time), I thought if I looked good I would feel better about myself. I picked up unhealthy habits; I went out every night, filled my body with intoxicating liquid and my lungs with nicotine. These new friends thought I was cool, and so I did too, at least for a while. But it was me still running away from my depression, I literally put all the bad things inside a box and promised myself to never open it. But in reality, there was no box and even if there was, it was made of glass, so fragile, so easy to break. I was feeling even worse going home after a night out with an empty stomach and alcohol in my bloodstream. I remembered in the middle of the dance floor with music so loud I couldn’t even hear my own thoughts, I stood in the crowd full of people and started feeling those rocks inside my body; they got so heavy after all these years of hiding and running. And that’s when I knew I needed to do something. I needed to change.

Here I am in my 20s, I have finally accepted depression to be a part of me but I am trying every day to fight, to get better. I know for a fact that it’s okay to admit to people that I wasn’t perfect, that I was broken once but I am still here today, that I somehow survived through all those terrible times, and that I should be proud of myself. My expectation wasn’t as high any more, I don’t call myself a failure on days I didn’t get much work done or that I cancelled on a fancy party invite. I sometimes still feel bad for lying in bed all day, but I know it was my expectation and not from my parents or anyone else. I started to take care of my body, I wasn’t afraid to admit to people that I have depression and that sometimes I needed time for myself and instead of all those curious questions, my friends would say “I understand”. Because they do, because they don’t judge me or my depression in a way I expected them to, they don’t think I was anything lower or less beautiful because of this mental disorder, in fact, surprisingly, many have opened up to me that they too suffer from depression. It is a sense of belonging, of empathy, of understanding more than just a pair of sorry eyes and judgments. I know it is scary to seek help or confess to people, but they would stay with you and help you realize it is not the worst thing anyone can be, it’s a state of mind and you are still as beautiful in their eyes as you were. And if f they don’t, you are better with them out of your life.

So my advice is, don’t be afraid to let people in, don’t be scared fill yourself with love and encouragement from within and from others. Because you deserve it, you earn it from being the awesome person that you are. After all, expectations and reality are not so different now that you are comfortable yourself and others too.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Let's ditch the "stiff upper lip" and recognise mental health difficulties

- Annie Zimmerman

I love being British. I love our unanimous love for tea and biscuits. I love the mutual understanding with passers-by that we will ignore each other. I love that the weather is something we all find interesting. I love that we feel the need to apologise for everything that has ever happened. I love our sarcasm, that we can laugh at ourselves and our total inability to say what we mean. I don’t love our ‘stiff upper lip’.

In Britain, having a stiff upper lip can be seen as a desirable attribute; the ability to ‘stay strong’ and hide your emotions in the face of adversity. But in reality it can be a dangerous trait, suggesting that expression emotion is a sign of weakness and encouraging us to mask how we feel. A great article in VICE magazine entitled ‘A stiff upper lip is killing British men’ highlights the risk on physical health, but I want to mention how it can impact mental health.

We have to recognise that we are human – anger and sadness are an important part of life, and experiencing and accepting these emotions is critical to our mental health. In fact, it is likely that negative emotions developed as a survival mechanism to help focus our attention on certain issue. Research suggests that suppressing emotions can have negative effects on psychological health. When we don’t deal with our feelings, emotions come out in different ways, such as alcohol or drug addictions, anxiety, panic attacks, depression and eating disorders. For example, one study found that suppressing negative emotions could spawn more emotional overeating than simply recognizing and accepting them.

Another major issue with the stoic, British stiff upper lip is that it encourages stigma against mental health difficulties. We are encouraged to think that having emotions is a weakness or makes us crazy. The rate of mental health difficulties is steadily on the rise. Unfortunately, many people don’t ask for help because they are afraid to be considered weak or laughed at. People have become so scared of talking about emotions that they find it difficult to even acknowledge psychological problems that friends and family may be having.

Actually, our emotions are completely warranted and everyone has ups and downs. If you find someone who doesn’t, you can safely assume they are a robot. If someone broke their arm, we would ask them how they were feeling. It should be the same with mental health difficulties. If someone is suffering we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it. Fighting the stigma against mental health is a complex battle that cannot be won without shifting out cultural norms and gender stereotypes. Encourage open discussion about emotions with your friends, regardless of their sex. Accepting and talking about our feelings can not only help our own mental health, but can help others to seek help and feel more comfortable with their problems. Although it may not seem like a big deal at the time, simply talking can have far reaching effects in helping to break down the stigma associated with mental health.

Annie Zimmerman runs her own blog exploring the relationship between food and psychology, at

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

A portrait of anxiety and depression

- Rebecca Down

A portrait of anxiety and depression

When I try to explain what it's like to live with anxiety and depression, I say that it's like being continually confronted by two bullies as you try to make your way through daily life. Almost any event can set one bully off screaming at you: "How dare you try to enjoy yourself, look what happens when you do - you ruin everything for everyone else," and in the other ear the second bully shouts: "I can't believe you just said that, how could you not realise that it actually meant this, now everybody who heard will hate you. Do you see how inherently bad you are as a person!? You're a burden and a waste of money, food, time, space. You're never going to make a meaningful contribution to society; you can't even be a valuable sister, daughter, friend. You're useless."

Only I wish living with these mental illnesses actually was like having two bullies shouting at me, because then I could scream back and run away. When this attack is instead happening entirely within the confines of your skull, there's nothing you can do to get away from it, or make it stop. There is so much pressure in your head it physically hurts; you want to take your brain out and hurl it at a wall, but you can't. The options appear to be to either shout and scream back (less appealing), or to try and ignore the abuse and distract yourself (more appealing). You settle for the latter and force yourself to carry on with the rest of the day as planned. However, the bullies follow you around, shouting at you every now and again so that you can't forget they're there, patiently tormenting you. 

You try to do some reading for an essay: "You're never going to understand this, you're just not good enough. You'll always be a failure." You have a chat with a friend: "You have nothing valuable to say to them, why are you trying when you’re just going to get everything all wrong. They're not going to like you now." You go to have something to eat: "You don't actually need to eat that. Now you're greedy as well as stupid and hurtful." Eventually it all gets too much and you end up curled in a ball on the floor, praying with every piece of your being that the bullies are wrong, and that everything will become bearable again very, very soon.

At this point, which occurs perhaps a few days into this disastrous affair with self-sabotage, you realise that in order to find some reprieve from the barrage of abuse, you have to fight back. You don't want to, because you know that the bullies are going to retaliate with more and more sinister things. When they do this it's terrifying - they convince you that they know you better than you know yourself and the self-doubt that this creates is debilitating. You begin to shake. Tears roll out of your eyes, but you can't cry. You stop being able to feel your limbs and realise you have become paralysed. Then, you become suddenly and acutely aware that you aren't breathing. You gasp for air, and begin to feel your body again.

You know immediately that the bullies are still there, but they seem to have backed off a bit to figure out a new way to destroy you. You are physically weak, like you have literally just fought in a battle. So so weak that you can't move your newly-rediscovered limbs. But you know that for now, you're okay to stop fighting. You fall asleep, exhausted.

Something, somewhere - a deeply-ingrained survival instinct I guess - gets you out of bed the next morning, and allows you to slowly but steadily prepare for the new day. However, you feel totally disconnected from your body. You wonder how your legs are walking you around, and you are amazed at your ability to talk to people. You are surprised by how bright and bubbly you sound, how you appear to have so much energy to give to the world. You might even feel a little bit better for a few moments; someone makes you laugh and for a split second the pressure eases.

However this life doesn't feel real, and always present in your consciousness is a deep fear that one day this little, instinctive warrior - fighting to propel you through the motions of life - will give up on you. While it still takes you to lectures, demands and demands until you can think of nothing else but that you must go and feed it, and engages you with other people, you have ammunition against the bullies; you have at least some purpose you can fight them with. If you keep working towards your degree, maybe one day you will be able to do a useful job. If you carry on eating, you are showing the bullies that they can tell you all they like that you're a waste of space, but you’re strong enough not to let them control you. If your warrior gives up on you, you will have to give in to the bullies.

Depression tells me that if I died, it would be fairly inconsequential. People would move on with their lives perfectly okay without me. The world wouldn't miss me. The only thing that keeps me here is the hope that if I stay around, I might be able to prove it wrong. I might be able to achieve things that make myself proud, and I might be able to reach out and give back to my family and friends some of the love, encouragement and faith that they have given to me. Where there's life, there's hope. That's depression’s weakness. That's what I'll use to defeat it. And those are the days I'll live for.

Exam Survival Tips - Keeping sane during the exam period

- Grace Anderson

Exams; even the word makes me feel uneasy!! The stress, the pressure, the fear of the unknown... However I am sure we have all taken exams before, we know what we need to do and kind of even what to expect.

But I often ask myself: how come all this experience still dosent help? You still feel as anxious as you did when you sat your first exam. I know I should be telling you how exams aren't bad and paint a positive picture, but I have to be honest, yes exams do suck, they are difficult and this isn't going to change anytime soon!

However, you can follow some tips to help make exam periods that little bit easier, and essentially to make sure that you keep your sanity!!!

1) Time management - make sure you construct a revision time table to stay on track

2) Relaxation - don't forget to plan time to relax and have fun as well; you can't constantly work, our brains aren't built for this and you need something to look forward to each day; be it a cuppa tea and biscuits, watching a movie or having a laugh with friends 

3) Get outside - don't keep yourself locked up in your room, get outside and enjoy the sun, walk in the fresh air, keeping your body active means keeping your mind active.

4) Support from friends and family - don't forget you have your loved ones, don't be afraid to let them know if you are struggling, get them to test you on your revision or even teach them one of your topics to help you remember everything more easily, just remember your loved ones are there for a reason and will do anything to help you through exam time.

5) Healthy diet - I understand that juggling your time to fit in cooking, let alone cooking a proper meal is hard but this is important; eating rubbish will make you brain feel rubbish (don't get me wrong you can still have treats - your revising, you 100% deserve your favourite snacks).

6) Vitamins - make sure you get all your vitamins, be it through getting 5 a day, going out in the sun or by taking tablets to ensure you reach your bodies optimum levels (Grace's tip: cod liver oil - it's great for the brain!)

7) Speak to those who aren't stressed - those people on different courses to you with different exam dates, those perhaps who have none at all, these are the people who might be able to restore your calm and create a better atmosphere for your revision breaks !

Most of all remember to stay positive and keep in mind that you have done exams before and passed, believe you can do it and you can.

For more tips about managing exam stress, check out the Student Minds Guide to Exam Stress, which has lots of tips and links to all the best external resources!

Stress - AHHH, everything feels overwhelming!!

- Ruth Beacon

So, you’re probably in the middle of revising for exams or mid essay/dissertation writing and thinking ‘will this ever end?’ (yes it will!). Have you ever felt overwhelmed with university work? or overcome with pressure? So much so that you find yourself hiding away, not socialising, troubles with sleeping or using unhealthy ways of coping. If so, I hope this post if helpful to you.

Ok, so everyone needs a bit of stress in their lives, it helps you get stuff done- basically it gives you motivation. Otherwise you would not get anything done- so that means that those dreaded deadlines are useful! Stress causes emotions to be released which lead to either a flight or fight response, these emotions then calm down after the pressure has been lifted.

According to the NHS stress is when someone feels under too much emotional or mental pressure and feels unable to cope. Mind, the mental health charity, describe stress as a thick cloud of fog that you cannot see beyond. Stress becomes a problem when it hinders daily and normal life

How do I deal with stress?

There are several ways of keeping yourself stress free and everyone has different coping mechanisms. But here are a few ideas:

1. Compartmentalise: When you have a list of topics to revise you don’t do them all at once, do you? You spilt them up into smaller sections to make things more manageable. Compartmentalising is really useful to do if you feel overwhelmed with work. By splitting a task into smaller chunks, the task in hand becomes more achievable and does not seem as stressful.

2. List, list, list! I’m a big fan of lists (this blog post is a list) and linking to the first point above, lists help you break down a task. Plus, when you have completed something on your list, crossing it off feels extremely satisfying.

3. Stick to a routine: It is easy to be thrown off your daily routine when you feel stressed, you just want to solve the problem that is making you stressed out. But planning out your day and sticking to it will help you be productive in your ‘work’ times and relax during your ‘non-work’ times.

4. Eat regularly (and continue with your meal plan if you have one): We often struggle to maintain our normal routine when stressed! Eating a balanced diet can have a huge impact on helping maintain a sense of wellbeing so be sure not to underestimate its impact. This is especially important if you have struggled with your relationship with food. If you are aware that at times of stress you may struggle with maintaining your usual eating routine, talk to someone you trust and come up with some strategies to help.

5. Mindfulness: This is a big thing in mental health at the moment. Mindfulness enters around being aware and concentrating on the present moment, not becoming overwhelmed. It allows for a focus on our surroundings (smells, sounds), thoughts and emotions. You can do this anywhere- taking a walk and listening to the sounds, breathing in the smell of freshly cut grass or by lying down and listening to music and focusing on your breathing.

6. Exercise: This is a well known solution to stress, the release of hormones when you exercise can help you think more clearly. Again, if you have struggled with an addiction to exercise through an eating disorder, do not consider this one as it may bring up previous problems.

7. Have some ‘me’ time: This is something I am passionate about. Spending time on yourself is extremely important, be kind to yourself! You are doing well and deserve a break so go on that meal out with your friends or spend an hour watching your favourite show.

8. Be positive! This is self explanatory but the shift in attitude will help you see things differently - you may find yourself finding pleasure in small things.

I hope that you find these tips beneficial!

Some information was gathered from NHS choices and Mind.

For more tips about managing exam stress, check out the Student Minds Guide to Exam Stress, which has lots of tips and links to all the best external resources!

10 Stress-Busting Tips for the exam period

#eurovision #eurevision

- Becky McCerery

Spring is a daunting time for any student. The sun may be shining and the birds may be singing but stress can turn all of that loveliness into a perpetual shade of grey. Exams are coming. Here are my top 10 stress busting tips to help you ACE those exams!

1. Stick to a revision timetable
Making a revision timetable is priceless, and it could possibly be one of the best things you ever do in exam season. During times of stress our brains have a really tough time remembering things such as deadlines and mental revision schedules so it’s much better to get it down on paper (or Word doc), print it out and take each day as it comes. A revision timetable will take the weight off of your short term memory, and you can focus a good hour on making sure you’re working longer on subjects you find more difficult and organise yourself around assignments and exams. 

2. Get outside
It really is a lovely time of year and no one wants to be bogged down revising ALL day, so make sure you allot some time to get outdoors and get some fresh air. Taking time away from all of that work for a few minutes to a few hours can really do you the world of good. It’ll help you focus your mind and get a bit of clarity. 

3. Take time out with friends or family
Just because you have deadlines doesn't mean you can’t have a life! As well as assigning time to get outside make sure you have social time too. I'm the first to hold my hands up to being guilty of letting my relationships slip during stressful times, but with good time management there’s no reason why you can’t have the best of both worlds. 

4. Know what is expected of you
One of the biggest sources of exam season stress is not knowing what is expected of you. You’re not quite sure on how to answer those exam questions the way the examiner wants or maybe how to layout your final presentation, poster or essay. The best thing to do is ASK. It’s perfectly okay to ask for help, and at the end of the day this is your degree and your grades so you’re going to want the best for you! Your lecturers should be happy to help where they can, and asking for clarification will only show you’re an enthusiastic and passionate student.

5. Get some exercise
Exercise is one of the best stress busting activities and many people swear by it. Exercise and keeping fit is probably way at the bottom of your to-do list but combining it with getting outdoors or socialising will help keep your time management on point too. Taking part in a sport society can be a good place to start, you could also try something like climbing and bouldering with a friend to stress bust and socialise or even try a completely new sport like surfing or snowboarding (my personal favourites).

6. Cut down on the caffeine
This may seem counterproductive, and I know energy drinks have a cult following among students but replacing that energy drink with a big bottle of water will give you more; sustainable energy, hydration and you’ll avoid the dreaded caffeine and sugar crashes. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep so as to not need those dreaded energy drinks. 

7. Learn to say no to nights out
We all have that one friend who will not be put off from a night out by ANYTHING - “exam tomorrow? Let’s party!” Going out once in a while during exam season is fine, you’re letting off steam and it can be part of your social time but if you have a deadline or exam soon and you think getting lots of rest leading up to that is the best thing to do (it is), then just say no and ask to take a rain check. 

Oh my, I cannot express enough how important sleep is! If you want your memory working at its peak performance or to be on top of your game for essays and presentations, then you should usually be aiming for around the 8 hour sleep mark. Much less than that and your brain is going to take a serious nose dive into the lazy and delirious phase and your stress levels will skyrocket! Everyone knows sleep is good for you but not a lot of students practice it. I encourage you to try a new sleep schedule that will get you 8 hours of sleep a night and log how you feel - you’ll see a huge difference! More sleep will also mean less need for caffeine (see point 6).

9. Don’t overdo it
Set an alarm or timer for fifty minutes and within that fifty minutes focus solely on the work at hand. Once the minutes are up, take ten minutes away from work and relax. This will keep you focussed on the task at hand, and knowing you only have to work for fifty minutes will be a lot less daunting. The 50:10 rule is practiced a lot in business and has a cult following in professionals and students. This rule can be difficult to jump straight into so I would advise editing the 50:10 rule to suit your current focus levels and build yourself up over time, just make sure during your allotted minutes you don’t start checking your phone or social media or you won’t see the same results.

10. Know your deadlines
Everything may seem like it’s due all at once but by keeping a diary and updated calendar you can keep track of all the looming deadlines. Work your revision schedule around all of your due dates and if you’re unsure of anything drop your lecturers an email to check. Try and get any assignments in early so you can focus the rest of your time on exam revision, making sure your revision timetable reflects the dates of each exam.

For more tips about managing exam stress, check out the Student Minds Guide to Exam Stress, which has lots of tips and links to all the best external resources!

Friday, 10 April 2015


- Joycelyn Asare

Expressing your feeling in a way that allows people to understand you, what you’re about, and where you’re coming from does not necessarily require you to physically speak to them about it.

A lot of people in general find expressing their emotions to be one of the most challenging things they can do. But those that suffer from a mental health difficulty may find it somewhat more challenging. People in general tend to want to avoid conflict and potentially stressful situations. People find it easier to avoid talking about something that they think is going to be controversial or difficult for others to understand.

Personally I find speaking to people a challenge, even those that are my best friends or family members. How do you know that by telling a person what or how you’re feeling, they will actually understand what you’re trying to say? That’s a hard thing to judge. I believe that it could be because it’s hard to tell if the person is really listening to what you’re saying. Listening is one of the most important aspects of effective communication. When communicating something difficult, it’s essential that who you’re communicating to is able to listen well - without it, understanding can be hard.

Some people feel that verbal communication is the best way for someone suffering from a mental illness to express their emotions and feelings about their experiences - but that’s not necessarily the case, and there are many other forms of communication that work so much better in terms of showcasing a person’s emotions and experiences. Non-verbal communication is one example: body language, gestures, how we dress or act, even our scent are all important elements of non-verbal communication. Written communication is another example and this can be done through letters, magazines, the internet or other media. And then there are visualizations in various forms of art. Those that find it hard to convey emotion through speech tend to find it easier saying what they feel in a journal, a personal blog, a piece of art, or in their personal sense of style. Personally I tend to express my emotions through the way I dress. I feel that it’s the best way to tell people how I feel on the day because the colours, collaborations of pieces and patterns that I wear all have meaning behind them.

Art is an amazing form of communication: the colours, shapes, lines and the movement on the page can change turn a blank canvas into something that can change your perception of a person, and can help you understand a person’s troubles and what they’re going through.

Music can also act as a form of communication. Music is something that most people turn to when they need a break or need to calm down and it helps because it gets this new mood inside of you, shifts your mood over and replaces it with another mood. Singing along to your favourite songs, or playing a musical instrument, is another way of expressing yourself, as well as writing lyrics. The lyrics of a song combined with the music behind it can convey any emotion you want it to. It can tell a story of a struggle or an achievement - it’s all up to you.

Ultimately, communication is an amazing thing. It comes in many forms, of which speech is only one, and you’re the only one who can determine how you express your emotions and life experiences. Always remember: “The less you open your heart to others, the more your heart suffers.” - Susan Jeffers

Saturday, 4 April 2015

100 Hours of Silence

- An interview with Ellie Besant

The 100 Hours Challenge was launched this year, and is a challenge to groups to raise £100 in 100 hours for student mental health. Dozens of Student Minds groups, RAGs and student accommodation halls took part in the challenge, and with lots of creative money-raising ideas coming out of it, Vicky from the national Student Minds team interviewed Ellie from Liverpool Mental Health Society to see how they tackled the challenge. We hope this gives you some ideas for future fundraising efforts!

Vicky: Hi Ellie, a huge thank you for taking on the 100 Hours Challenge to raise £100 in just 100 hours. Could you tell us a little about yourself and what motivated you to take on the 100 Hours Challenge?

I am currently in my second year at the University of Liverpool, having moved from a small rural town. As someone that has experience of mental health issues and those of people around me, I feel that it is really important to create a supportive peer network for helping each other, either as an alternative to or alongside other methods of help. A friend of mine recently founded our University’s ‘Mental Health Society’, which I feel fortunate to work with, and this had made me realise just how many students experience mental health issues and how there’s such a great potential to help each other! I have been motivated by our University’s eagerness to push mental health issues to the forefront, so wanted to help out in any way I could by raising money for the work of Student Minds.

Vicky: So let us in on the secret, what did you do during the 100 hours?

I somehow managed to get through a sponsored silence and keep my mouth shut for the duration of the challenge! It seemed like an idea that would hopefully encourage people to donate and I also knew it would be a challenge.

Ellie smiling, because you can smile silently 

Vicky: That sounds tough, a huge well done! I can’t begin to imagine what that must have been like. How did you find it? Did it show you anything that you weren’t expecting?

The first couple of days were quite “relaxing”, but by the weekend I was finding it really tough! I was surprised by how many day-to-day things were made difficult by not talking (such as getting stuck at the self-service checkout!) and it turns out I’m very bad at miming/ interpretative dance. However, it definitely made me think about people who either physically cannot speak or struggle to express themselves, and how difficult it must be for them (in general, but also when it comes to talking about how they feel) with this huge obstruction in front of them. Everyone was very supportive and my mum in particular turned out to be a very talented lip-reader!

Vicky: And the question we’ve all been waiting to hear… How did you get on, did you manage to reach the £100 target?

Thanks to everyone’s very kind donations, just over £200 was raised. I definitely did the easy part and I just wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone for their generosity. 

Vicky: Thanks so much for doing something so challenging to raise money for us!

Thank you for putting on the Challenge and for accepting our donations! Good luck with all of your work!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Why I set up Student Minds

- Nicola Byrom, Founding Director of Student Minds

At the start of 2015 I received the Queen’s Young Leaders Award (completely blown away). The award came with a request that I reflect back on why I launched Student Minds. In many ways it is simple: student mental health is important for good academic success, a decent quality of life and a promising future. The university environment is not always supportive; moving away from home, living independently, having an unstructured timetable, etc. can all lead to students feeling lost and lonely. When there are simple things that we can do to help people talk to each other and break down this loneliness: it’s simple – we should be doing all of the simple things! 

Founding Student Minds was motivated by my own experiences. At university I became aware of many students who were struggling and felt that no one talked enough about these struggles. However, I was not just aware of other people’s struggles. I struggled. I found the unstructured schedule, the pressure to do well and to conform to the “student stereotype” challenging. At the time, I thought I was managing university okay. Looking back, it is clearer now that, university was difficult.

There is a chilly winter morning which sticks in my mind. I was up before dawn (not difficult in a British winter!) to go for a run with my uber fit housemate. We’d do this run several times a week, early in the morning, around the lake at the University. It was great running with her; she paced me. I digress. That morning, she realised that I had been self-harming.

It is hard to explain why anyone would self-harm. I think I felt that it calmed me down, but it is a bit more complicated. I was stressed and lonely, something I know now is mind-blowingly common among students. The lack of structure and limited feedback from lecturers and tutors leaves most students wondering whether they are doing the right work, enough work, well enough etc. Throw in just a slight touch of perfectionism and you have a nightmare scenario. With only four contact hours a week, it was very easy to spend the large majority of the week alone. I wasn’t a complete recluse. I ate lunch and supper with my housemates and occasionally met friends for tea or a drink. I put in appearances at parties. But the reality is, for many students, that work means sitting at a desk alone and this makes university life is inherently lonely!

I saw stress and loneliness as failings. I was good at beating myself up mentally about these. This mental self-abuse would build up, you might expect me to say, until I physically wanted to hurt myself. It wasn’t quite like that. The mental self-abuse was so exhausting that I wanted an excuse to be kind to myself. I rationalised that if I was physically hurt, I could be kind to myself.

(If you relate to this… it is okay to be kind to yourself, indeed, it is practical, sensible, productive and, well good for your mental health… today I do Yoga, go for walks, how a bath, play with the strange cat that comes visiting from I don’t know where, watch T.V., cook, talk to friends, I’ve event learnt how to knit… all these things really do work!)

That morning, I did not talk to my housemate about the self-harm, but from that day onwards, I didn’t need to talk to her about it either. She knew. She also knew that she was way out of her depth. We both knew that it didn’t matter. I didn’t need to talk and explain why I was self-harming, I couldn’t have explained even if she’d asked – I didn’t know. She was comfortable not talking and just spending time with me being my friend and this really helped!

(See our Fantastic Look after Your Mate guide for 100’s of ideas on how to do this – both the talking and not talking bit!)

I know that friends make the world of difference to our mental health. University was challenging for me because I’d moved away from old friends and established support networks. I had to re-build my support network anew. I wish it had been easier to talk to my peers, to talk openly, because when the self-harm was out in the open, the urge to self-harm faded and the stress became manageable. My motivation in setting up Student Minds really was simple: University life can be very difficult, but it doesn’t need to be lonely.