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.

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