Thursday, 21 December 2017

Mental Health over Christmas: Catrin

The Christmas and New Year period often involves pressure to indulge in wintery food or engage in New Year's Resolution health kicks. Catrin explains how she provides herself support and stability through difficult times in eating disorder recovery.
- Catrin Haberfield

1. What do you enjoy most about the winter holiday period?

More than anything, I love the distinct sensory aspects of Christmas: the smell of the tree in the lounge, how bright everything seems when it has snowed, and the smoky warmth of the house filled with candles. It’s crazy how certain smells or tastes trigger such specific memories or feelings of comfort and warmth and family. 

2. What do you find most difficult during the holidays?

Food is always more stressful for me at home than at university, and the winter period is definitely the hardest. Since I’m semi-catered at uni, I have structure imposed upon me for my meals; I have lunch at 12:30p and dinner at 6pm. At home, it’s entirely down to me to stick to a reasonable meal plan, not to restrict or binge or engage in any other disordered behaviour. To make matters worse, keywords like ‘binge’, ‘treat’, ‘cheat’ come hand in hand with Christmas festivities, while both companies and individuals use the New Year as an excuse to reinforce diet culture. Everyone, from friends to family to social media, is banging on about being ‘naughty’ for eating ‘bad’ food, or lamenting the loss of their ‘summer bod’. It’s chaos. Food is not inherently good or bad; it just is. Ascribing value to certain foods and placing more worth on smaller bodies is such a toxic way to view the world, and it’s almost impossible to avoid situations involving food at Christmas.

3. Taking some time out from all the festivities to look after yourself can be really helpful. What do you do to help your mental health during the holidays?

My best friend and I make a point to always be there for each other, and Christmas is no exception. If family time gets too much then I can just pop into my room and call her, and the same goes for her. I also try to find a balance between work, rest, and socialising – the latter two definitely aren’t the same thing! I have a massive amount of work this holiday, and I know I’m useless at working in the morning, so I try to take mornings off and work in the afternoons. 

4. What present would you give yourself over the holidays?

I’d give myself two gifts. Firstly, I’d clear out my entire wardrobe and donate all the clothes that don’t fit me anymore. There are some clothes that I still hold on to on the off chance that they’ll ever fit me again, though I know they never will. Donating them is one way to completely let go of the old, smaller, disordered me. The second gift I’d give myself would be some decent headphones; listening to music lifts my mood, but I know that when my depression gets worse I tend to isolate myself. I bought myself a Spotify subscription three months ago and listening to music on a regular basis has already made an amazing difference to my mood.

5. What are your New Year’s Resolutions?

I know that New Year’s Resolutions can be helpful for a lot of people, but I don’t believe that you need to wait for a new year to make a change. Even when you have a bad day, you don’t have to wait for tomorrow – you can restart your day at any point. I guess that if I had to have a New Year’s Resolution, it would be to continue the upward trajectory I’ve been on for the past few months. Recovery isn’t a straight line – it’s more like a scatter graph, and I want to keep the correlation positive.

Hi folks! I'm Catrin, a third year Medieval English Language and Literature student at Somerville College, Oxford. I've always been super vocal when it comes to mental health; I love pushing boundaries and challenging people's assumptions about mental illness. I live with mental illness, so I know how much both the illnesses and the stigma can affect your life, as well as the lives of others. I'm incredibly excited to be a Sub-Editor for Student Minds, and I can't wait to help other people share their stories!

Mental Health over Christmas: Tazmin

It can be hard to put yourself first sometimes, especially at Christmas. Tazmin talks about how she prioritises self-care, and deals with the pressures of gift-giving.

- Tazmin

1.  What do you enjoy most about the winter holiday period?

I love that it gives you a chance to connect with the people in your life, friends and family alike, who you may not have seen in a while. I always find that it’s the perfect time to catch up with old friends from school and college, and make new memories with your family. It’s also an opportunity to slow down from the busy world, which can get busier during the winter holidays, and connect with yourself – relax inside, cosy up with a good book or movie and have some time with you. It’s a very cosy period of time and there’s nothing better than a warm snuggle with yourself.

2.  What do you find most difficult during the holidays?

I find the pressure of the festivities slightly overwhelming in terms of finances and expectations. I struggled with money all through university and even though I’ve just graduated this is still no exception. Being surrounded by advertisements, Christmas markets, even daily emails surging into my inbox, I can feel a great deal of pressure to buy gifts for the people I love. I also feel like I’m a bad person if I don’t – but for someone who is in a difficult financial situation and trying to get out of it, this added stress must be ignored and put to one side. I try to remind myself that there’s more to this festive period than gifts and if the people in my life fail to understand that, it speaks more of them and nothing of me. This holiday is about spending time with people you love, playing in the snow like children again, laughing and enjoying the company of yourself. Spend time to reflect on the year and all you have achieved, rather than thinking you’ve come up short.

3.  Taking some time out from all the festivities to look after yourself can be really helpful. What do you do to help your mental health during the holidays?

The world is a busy place, especially during university, and there are always so many deadlines fast approaching or just flying straight past. Friends to see and catch up with, and family engagements to participate in. But sometimes it’s nice – and necessary – to have some time out: sit back, get cosy, and enjoy being you for a little bit. It can be truly uplifting for your well-being to be surrounded by people who you care for and love, but I’ve often found that once you’re on your own again the contrast can bring you down. Make time to bond with yourself in the ways that make you happy; like I’ve said before, I make friends with myself by getting cosy after a good day and spending the evening along with a great movie that I love, usually The Muppets Christmas Carol!

4.  What present would you give yourself over the holidays?

I think the gift I would give to myself over the holidays is a meditative retreat somewhere beautiful in the world such as Spirit Rock in California; a chance to spend some time with myself, heal, and go on an adventure to see another part of this wonderful world. 

6.  What are your New Year’s Resolutions?

I understand the concept of New Year’s resolutions, that they can motivate people to change their lives or lifestyle for the better in the next year ahead. However, I make new resolutions whenever I feel the need for them to be made. I think waiting for the New Year to make a resolution prevents it from really coming true. If there’s something in your life you want to change, never wait – just do it. For example, if you are a smoker and say you’re going to quit smoking in the New Year, don’t carry the bad habit on until then, just start quitting now. Waste no time waiting. Do what needs to be done to ensure you’re happy now and for the future.

If you would like to get involved in our Christmas blogging series, you can find all of the details here.

Hey everyone, I’m Taz. My journey suffering with depression and anxiety has been and can continue to be a difficult one; but I would not be who I am today had I not accepted my illness and work hard to get better. I have recently graduated from Sheffield Hallam University with a First in Film and Media Production. I’ve been writing my blog Awareness for over two years and it has been truly rewarding for me. I write about the things many people fear talking about – our wonderfully complex minds. I wish to encourage anyone suffering through university and offer them a helping hand. Happy reading.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Mental Health over Christmas: Emily

As part of our Christmas blogging series, Emily Maybanks talks about the things she likes to do to relax and keep herself emotionally healthy during the Winter months.
- Emily Maybanks

1. What do you enjoy most about the winter holiday period?

I particularly enjoy writing Christmas cards for my friends and wrapping Christmas presents. I also love going home to spend time with my family and having cuddles with my cat, Marmite. There is a lot of good television at Christmastime, and I love curling up in front of the TV to watch the Christmas episode of EastEnders, or Call The Midwife, whilst reading a good book or doing some writing. 

2. What do you find most difficult during the holidays?

I always find it difficult to cope with my mental health during the winter, especially since my Dad passed away in 2012. Celebrating Christmas has felt slightly weird ever since. In the winter, I tend to find myself feeling more emotional, tearful, exhausted, and lethargic, as well as being less able to cope with University work and becoming physically ill with colds much more easily. 

3. Taking some time out from all the festivities to look after yourself can be really helpful. What do you do to help your mental health during the holidays?

I really love to write and I find it therapeutic, so I try to do as much writing as possible, as well as making sure that I meet up with friends while I’m home for Christmas. This year, I think I’ll be even more fortunate that Ill have the distraction of creating content for my University’s newspaper, for which I am both the Deputy Editor and Creative Writing Section Editor.

4. What present would you give yourself over the holidays?

Over the holidays, I think I would give myself some time to myself to really relax. Especially because I am in my final year of University and it has been a little intense and stressful at times during this semester. 

5. Anything advice for other students?

Christmas can be a really difficult time for many students for a wide range of reasons and that’s okay; make sure to give yourself a break, it can be more helpful to you in the long run.

If you would like to get involved in our Christmas blogging series, you can find all of the details here.

My name is Emily (Em). I am currently in my final year studying Modern Languages, Translation & Interpreting at Swansea University, where I'm also the Creative Writing Section Editor and Deputy Editor for The Waterfront - Swansea's student newspaper. I wanted to write for Student Minds because I have experienced depression and anxiety as well as other health issues, and I support friends who have also experienced mental health difficulties. I am also a passionate writer and writing has been important in my mental health experiences - both in helping me to cope with my mental health, as well as sharing my story in order to help others.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Mental Health over Christmas: Michael

Christmas can be a tough time of year when struggling with a mental illness, notably the pressure to 'happy'. Michael talks about how he looks after his mental health during the christmas holiday period.
- Michael

1. What do you enjoy most about the winter holiday period?

Everyone tends to come home for Christmas so I love catching up with friends and family that I don’t see that much during the year. I also enjoy the bit between Christmas and New Year where it is pretty much universally acceptable not to do much uni work, no matter how many assignments or exams you have to go back to in the new term.

2. What do you find most difficult during the holidays?

I think one of the most difficult things I find about Christmas (as ridiculous as it sounds), is the relentless pressure to HAVE LOTS OF FUN AND BE REALLY HAPPY!!! Everywhere you go, there is an expectation to celebrate Christmas and New Year in a certain way, all with lots of people. It is easy to feel very lonely and inadequate if you can’t live up to this, especially once exposed to all the photos, videos and programmes on social media of people being endlessly happy and seeming to have lots of fun together. If you are finding things quite difficult, this can also make it awkward to reach out for help and support. It can feel like there is no one to talk to, that everyone is too busy or that you will only drag them down. Uni friends might be miles away and most specialist support services are unavailable from home or closed over Christmas.

3. Taking some time out from all the festivities to look after yourself can be really helpful. What do you do to help your mental health during the holidays?

The winter holidays can be a pretty difficult time for students because there is often a lot of uni work (or paid work) to do before you go back. It can be difficult to balance everything and look after yourself at the same time. I find it really important to find time by myself, away from the family, for something other than work (even just listening to music works for me). Having said this, of course spend time with friends and family and talk to people about how you are feeling; Samaritans run a text or email service over Christmas. And I always try to make sure that even though my daily routine is a bit different over the holidays, I still get plenty of sleep and exercise.

4. What present would you give yourself over the holidays?

That I can’t really answer this question perhaps suggests that the present I really need to give myself is greater self-awareness of how to look after myself.

5. To conclude:

The winter holidays can, from my own experience, be a trigger point and a particularly difficult time if you are feeling depressed or alone. Please try to keep an eye out for the signs that someone else might be struggling. Be patient and sensitive if they seem a bit down and try to make yourself available to chat if/when they need it. Even just a smile could be enough to make a big difference.

If you would like to get involved in our Christmas blogging series, you can find all of the details here

"Hi, I'm Michael. I'm currently a prospective PhD student at Durham University and wanted to write for Student Minds about my own experiences of depression, anxiety and university life."

Monday, 18 December 2017

Mental Health over Christmas: Hope Virgo

Hope Virgo, as part of our Mental Health Over the Holidays blogging series, encourages us to slow down over this winter holiday period. 
-Hope Virgo

Although Christmas time can be a lot of fun, it can also be an incredibly tough time of the year too. Therefore, we want to bring this to light and ensure nobody feels alone.

What do you enjoy most about the winter holiday period?

The holiday period allows me to switch off and rest. This is something I really struggle with most of the year when I dash from place to place, pushing myself further and further to the edge. But Christmas gives me time to restock and recharge my batteries. What is great about Christmas is that I don’t get the normal guilt I feel when I slow down as I know everyone else is doing the same. I absolutely love allowing myself to relax. Giving myself lazy mornings in bed, time laying on the sofa and the slower pace of life.

What do you find most difficult during the holidays?

The food - although this has been much less of a problem over the years and I feel more able to relax around it. But there is still some general anxiety. ‘Will I eat too much?’ ‘Will I have enough?’ 

All these questions flood through my brain and I have to use techniques I learnt when I was in treatment to calm my mind. The thing that I have found really helps is to talk. I will tell those who I am with for Christmas if it is getting to be too much for me. The other thing I do is reassure myself that I don’t have to eat all the food that is there. Yes, when there is so much food around it panics me, but no one is making me eat it all and I can now trust myself to have the right amount.

Anorexia shouldn’t ruin my Christmas anymore!

Taking some time out from all the festivities to look after yourself can be really helpful. What do you do to help your mental health during the holidays?

On Christmas day I always make sure that I go for a walk on my own just for 30 minutes or so to get out and about. It gives me time to reflect on the day and to think about how far I have come in my recovery. For me it is really important to have that little bit of me time. 

What present would you give yourself over the holidays?

Shellac – this is one of my favourite self-care activities. A pricey but good treat. For me, when I am struggling with my mental health the first things I stop doing are washing my hair and painting my nails etc. As I find Christmas stressful sometimes it is important to put me first and give myself an incentive to take care of myself.

Reflecting on last year:

Something that hit me last year at Christmas was the support on social media that I receive. It was the evening of Christmas Day when I posted a tweet:

“Congrats to all who have had/ have an ‪#eatingdisorder‬ for surviving Xmas! if you are stressing tomorrow ‪@beatED‬ helpline is open from 4-8PM”

I was congratulating the 725,000 in the UK with eating disorders, and the millions of people around the world who were fighting their own mental health issues. I was amazed at the responses I got, and I felt blessed that there were so many people uniting across the world. Millions of strangers standing together to fight the stigma of mental health issues and supporting everyone who might be struggling. I know that social media can be dangerous at times and that people can use it in the wrong way. But posting that tweet reminded me of the amazing support I get on twitter from some incredible people.

I feel confident that this Christmas I can relax that little bit more, get that little bit less anxious about the food. Each year is a step further forward to beating anorexia and not letting it ruin Christmas.  If you are struggling I wish you the best of luck this Christmas and remember to take care and treat yourself!

If you would like to get involved in our Christmas blogging series, you can find all of the details here.

Hope Virgo suffered with anorexia for over four years before being admitted to hospital in 2007. She lived in the hospital for a year, fighting one of the hardest battles of her life. Since being discharged, she has fought to stay well. Hope Virgo Hope recently published her book; Stand Tall Little Girl.  She now wants to use her experiences of mental illness to champion the rights of others, inspire them to get well, and to help break the stigma of mental health difficulties. You can see what she is up to here.

Why seeking help now is vital

A positive message about seeking help at university (from experience), and why you shouldn't give up on your dreams.
- Mai Behmber

Hi, reader! My name is Mai, I am a bioscience student at Swansea University, and this is my story of how I attempted to make my way through university without seeking help to manage my mental illness.

From as far back as I can remember, I have had an obsession with the sea and all its creatures. I have killer whale, dolphin and even octopus cuddly toys from when I was little, and more books about the sea than I can count. But I have also, for many years, experienced a heaviness that I couldn’t quite explain. I can only say that it feels like a black hole in my chest that varies daily in size. Some days, it completely sucks me in, and all I can do is lie helplessly in bed. Other days, it’s tiny and barely noticeable. The black hole was still very much with me when I started university in September 2016. I was, as I am now, on a foundation biology course to then go on to do a degree in marine biology. In doing this, I am working towards my lifelong goal of becoming a marine biologist.

Before coming to university, I had been in treatment for a year trying to recover from my undiagnosed mental illness. However, about a month in, and a second medication change later, I stopped attending lectures as my paranoia grew worse and the black hole became completely overwhelming. I felt scared and alone. My thoughts were no longer safe, and I couldn’t escape to dreamland as my mind felt plagued. Instead of reaching out for help, I tried to combat it myself. I didn’t open up to my parents, I didn’t seek counselling. All I did was ask for another medication change. Although being on the correct medication is an important step to some people’s recovery, it isn’t complete without the help of your family, friends and professionals.

Halfway through the academic year, the head of course called me in and told me that the university felt it was best for me to suspend my studies, and to try again the following year. At first, I was devastated. I thought I had messed up my future and my dream career. Thinking about not going to university made me feel like I had no future. Then the university let me know that they had no doubt about me being able to achieve getting my degree. This gave me hope that I still had a shot at getting everything I ever wanted.

Suspending was the best decision that could possibly have been made, as it gave me a chance to seek the help I truly needed. During the six months away from university, I managed to find the right combination of medication and counselling with the help of my family.

I have restarted the foundation year and I couldn’t be doing better. My grades are great, my attendance is what it should be, my family are in the know with what is going on in my head, and the university have, in the best way possible, wrapped me in bubble wrap. It feels as if the black hole is still there but other people are helping me keep it manageable. There’s no way I can fall backwards without someone catching me, and for the first time in years I feel confident and supported. I am overwhelmed with the support I have been able to get from the university. I couldn’t be in a safer place.

Hi, I’m Mai! I am a bioscience student at Swansea University, and suffer from an undiagnosed mental illness. I wanted to write a blog for Student Minds to let students know that they’re not alone in
their difficulties.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Mental Health Over Christmas: Lauren

Lauren talks about how she copes over the Christmas holidays and what she does to help her mental health.
- Lauren Brooks

Although Christmas time can be a lot of fun, it can also be an incredibly tough time of the year too. Therefore, we want to bring this to light and ensure nobody feels alone.

1. What do you enjoy most about the winter holiday period?

Personally, for me, I really enjoy Christmas as it’s the time of year when you can get time off from school, university or work and spend some quality time with your family, which is great, especially for someone who’s very family orientated like I am. Also, I enjoy being nice and snug inside, especially during occasions when it is snowing or icy outside, there’s no better feeling than having your heating on full blast during winter!

2. What do you find most difficult during the holidays?

I think one of the most difficult things about Christmas time is that when I got really ill with my OCD and Depression, it was during the Christmas period about two years ago, so it is always at the back of my mind, thinking that it could happen again, and that Christmas could prove to be a trigger for it all to come back again. Also, I think I struggle without routine, as if I don’t have some sort of structure in place, then I find my Depression creeping back on me, so holidays are difficult for me to try and stick to a routine.

3. What do you do to help your mental health during the holidays?

One of the most vital parts, I think can really help is basic self-care, especially for Depression sufferers, as I often find that a pyjama day may be harmless for others, for me it can seriously lower my mood and affect it for the rest of the day, so its really important that I get dressed so I set myself up for the prospect of doing something. Also, setting myself a routine can help immensely, as if I’m constantly doing things then I’m not giving my mood a chance to sink. Additionally, I think exercise is a great help, as I tend to feel better especially when I’m in a bad mood after a bit of moving around.

4. What present would you give yourself over the holidays?

I would give myself a nice holiday! Just over the Christmas holidays whilst I’m off university or during Easter, so I could give myself a chance to relax and refresh my mind, for me, holidays are especially important for my own mental well being as they give me a chance to just let go of any pressures or stress at home.

If you would like to get involved in our Christmas blogging series, you can find all of the details here.

"Hi, I'm Lauren, I am a first year student studying Social Work. I suffer from Depression, OCD and anxiety, I am writing for Student Minds to try and help others."

Male Mental Health Month with Loughborough HeadsUp

Our student group Loughborough HeadsUp discuss their events for Male Mental Health Month.

-Hannah Timson

This November is National Men's Health Awareness Month and HeadsUp are focusing on communicating the importance and necessity of encouraging all men to be more open about their mental health. We want to fight the idea that men feel as though they must carry their mental health alone in silence and deconstruct the ideas of masculinity and the tough guy image of how we believe we should be acting.

Throughout the month we have been hosting a number of events and activities for everyone to come along and get involved in. These have ranged from a Meet and Greet with our committee where people were encouraged to come down to a sociable evening of pizza and games and discuss their ideas surrounding our work and future events; two Mindfulness Sessions in which an external speaker came into the Union to deliver short workshops on how to stay in control of your thoughts when stress becomes difficult to deal with, and a taster Kickboxing Session.

We also hosted a discussion panel surrounding this issue in which we put a series of hard hitting questions to a panel of strong and successful men who have themselves suffered with their mental health either in the past or the present. It was a highly interesting and informative event which incredible insightful and moving at points were shared.

Hi, my name is Hannah and I am currently in my final year studying English Literature at Loughborough University. I have suffered with panic attacks from a young age and was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression shortly after starting university. I set up my own blog as an outlet and started writing about my experiences in order to ensure that people knew that this wasn't a diagnosis to be ashamed of and to help others to come out and talk about their own struggles with someone they could trust. This year, I am working as Communications Officer for Loughborough Heads Up, the university's student led mental health awareness group who run campaigns around campus to raise awareness and work towards breaking the stigma surrounding Mental Health once and for all.

Monday, 11 December 2017

What does it mean to be a man?

Our student group Loughborough HeadsUp discuss the importance and necessity of encouraging all men to be more open about their mental health.

-Hannah Timson

"To be a man is to be honest and to be human" 

What does it mean to be a man? This is a question that I've always been puzzled by. Sweeping gendered stereotypes aside, is there really any difference between the answer to this and what it means to be a woman? Surely the real question here should be; What does it mean to be human? And the answers to that question could not possibly be condensed into this blog post. So instead I'll just give you a few:

Strength. Humility. Integrity. Love. Pain. Truth. Honesty.

Sounds fair? But the issue comes when you split these terms down into Gender. Society has conditioned both men and women to believe that they should act and behave in a certain way. This is why when the majority of men are questioned about the qualities of a man, they will reply with words associated with power, strength and action as opposed to emotion. Why is it considered "unmanly" by society to hide your true feelings behind this facade we have constructed surrounding men?

We have also be releasing material surrounding the campaign on a daily basis. This has included a leaflet about Male Mental Health which has been circulated around campus; the daily release of a photo of a famous figure who has suffered with their own mental health, a list of their successes and a famous quote, and finally a campaign video featuring some of the most reputable names at Loughborough talking about the stigma behind Male Mental Health. We have been overwhelmed by the incredible reaction we have had to the video and you can find it here to see for yourself:

One of the men we interviewed as part of the video was Loughborough Students Union President 17/18, George Etherington. We have been speaking to George throughout our campaign as it is something he feels incredibly strong about and is very close to his heart. This is what he had to say in another interview earlier in the campaign:

"We need to teach people to redefine their definition of masculinity. We need young boys to grow up knowing that it is ok to be exactly how they are and to feel how they feel, not needing to "man up"and not needing to "be a man about it" ... To me, putting on a brave front isn't bravery. To me, bravery is being open and honest. Be vulnerable, let people see your emotions. I can't think of anything braver than allowing someone to see you for you."

Mental Health affects everyone, regardless of race, religion, nationality, colour or gender. So why do men feel so ashamed, why have they developed this unconscious belief that it is manly to hide what is hurting you?

Suicide is now reported as being the biggest cause of death for men under 35, with 1 in 8 men in the UK are experiencing a common mental health disorder, yet it is a significantly lower number whom actually declare this to anyone.

We have been raised surrounded by this masculinised social construct that men should not cry; that they not meant to feel insecure or vulnerable; that emotion and worry are wrong and that the strong minded and unempathetic archetype of men portrayed in films and the media will lead to success. That it makes them weak. They are not ashamed or affected because of it because the majority sought the help that they needed.

You are not going to make it through life untouched by moments of misery or sadness or fear. But these unwanted emotions are what make us unequivocally human. It is ok to be vulnerable. It is ok to feel. And it is ok to reach out for a helping hand. It makes you brave, not weak to do so. We should never be ashamed to be human.

Hi, my name is Hannah and I am currently in my final year studying English Literature at Loughborough University. I have suffered with panic attacks from a young age and was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression shortly after starting university. I set up my own blog as an outlet and started writing about my experiences in order to ensure that people knew that this wasn't a diagnosis to be ashamed of and to help others to come out and talk about their own struggles with someone they could trust. This year, I am working as Communications Officer for Loughborough Heads Up, the university's student led mental health awareness group who run campaigns around campus to raise awareness and work towards breaking the stigma surrounding Mental Health once and for all.

Friday, 8 December 2017

My First Counselling Experience

Ella writes first-hand about her first counselling experience and the benefits she has encountered.
-Ella Garrett

Ever had someone read you like a book? One that is ‘well-thumbed’, loved and read over and over until you almost know it off by heart?  That is pretty much how I felt after my first counselling session last week.

I was nervous. I had no idea what to expect; if I was going to be thought of as ‘well enough’ to not require a chat with a professional and whether I would find opening up to a stranger easy. These concerns weren’t massively far off. One of the first questions I was asked was whether I was “successful” last year. This threw me. I have seen many people who are academically successful suffer mentally – I would go so far to even suggest that sometimes the more academically successful you are, the more you are likely to have a mental health problem.

After this hurdle I was increasingly nervous about what was to come. This first meeting was an initial assessment, so it ultimately resulted in me providing her with a summary, rather than a synopsis, of my life. She provided brief interjections, pressed me for more information on difficult topics to discuss and went down the typical ‘counsellor’ type routes of questioning. Did my parents neglect me too much or love me too much? Did I have a strong support network? What did I want from counselling? I had no hobbies, so had I tried yoga? 

Although I was slightly unimpressed with my lack of epiphany over the usual assessment questions, the session seemed to simultaneously provide clarity as well as completely scrambling my brain on things that I have held close to me my whole life. Where I had considered myself a ‘closed book’, hard to read, and mysterious about how I felt; this woman stomped all over that belief and summarised me very easily. Well, so much for that Bond style mystery! For starters, she immediately realised that I struggled with developing a balance in life, on many aspects, something that I had never connected myself. What previously had felt like doing a dot-to-dot without any knowledge of numbers soon linked up into creating a clear picture – not the best analogy but you get my drift. 

After the session, and being booked in for another in 2 weeks’ time, I could only describe the scenario as very sobering. Things that I have never discussed with the closest of friends and family, due to either lack of trust or fear of judgement, were freely discussed in a 35-minute discussion. I felt like I basically gave up my whole personality to assessment in such a short time, which is what felt weird. It is undeniable that she made me feel better about certain things. She confirmed that parts of my life, past and present, were not how they should be, and that I wasn’t wrong or troubled for feeling a certain way. But just the concept of someone knowing everything about me is kind of terrifying.

I think it is definitely very easy to disregard counselling, turn to medication or ignore a problem and allow it to continue to be detrimental to your wellbeing. Medication was not effective for me and letting something gnaw away very quickly became too much. I know of friends who are scared to speak to someone, maybe the fears of trust and judgement that I mentioned fuels this for others too, but it’s just not the case. I already feel like I will make real progress here. I would recommend counselling to anyone who needs to talk openly about what’s going on in their mind.

If you or somebody you know is struggling with mental health at University, check out the Student Minds page on finding support for further information here.

Hi, I'm Ella. I'm currently in my third year at the University of York where I am studying English Literature and Philosophy. In my first year, I was diagnosed with Atypical Depression and have made it a personal mission ever since to encourage discussion and raise awareness around the subject - leading to my desire to write for Student Minds!

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Flying with Anxiety: Four tips to prevent your phobia from disrupting your travel

Laura shares her tips on easing anxieties associated with flying, so that you can enjoy your travels.

- Laura Williamson

Flying is a common phobia, with 1 in 10 people in the UK experiencing it to some extent. For some, it can be the flight that causes the overwhelming majority of anxiety regarding the trip, even if they have a huge travel adventure organised. For others, flying is so scary that it stops them from travelling abroad entirely. So, as someone who loves travelling as much as fearing flying, here are some of my tips on how to make it (a little) easier:

1) Book the seat you want 

It’s worth making sure, if you can, that you have booked a plane seat that will cause least anxiety. For example, if turbulence has you white knuckling it the whole way, the seats in the middle of the plane, over the wings, usually experience the least turbulence and with back experiences the most. Some people prefer to be sat by the window where they can see where they’re going, but to others that’s a nightmare situation. It can be pricey but also invaluable if it’ll definitely put you at ease. Sometimes, if you tell the flight crew, they can move you if it’s possible.

2) Let the flight crew know 

This may seem embarrassing but, if you’re flying alone, letting plane staff know you’re anxious is worth it. They’re literally paid to keep you safe and happy, so a quick chat as you’re getting on the plane is no bother to them. Usually, they’ll make sure to keep an eye on you; it’s surprising how much a quick chat or “hey, how are you doing?” from someone who flies for a living can help alleviate your anxiety, especially if you have no one else to talk to.

Image Description: Plane flying off into the sunset

3) Understand why things happen the way they do 

Ever been sat on a plane and a weird noise or vibration has put you in a cold sweat? Planes are supposed to make weird noises, and pilots expect minor turbulence and these things can’t bring down a plane. Very few injuries are caused by turbulence, and generally only to flight crew who aren’t wearing seatbelts. Doing research before the flight may help you to understand why things happen the way they do, so there’s no panic about losing the ‘left phalange’.

4) Prepare in advance 

Sometimes the airport can cause more stress than the flight itself. Preparing well in advance can be the best way to alleviate this anxiety; you don’t want to be flustered that you have the wrong visa when you’re already stressed about the flight. The Foreign Office offers information and checklists of essential documents needed for every country. Once you’ve made sure you have your passport, the correct visa, and know what you can and can’t bring into the country, and then you can focus on chilling out for the flight. 

You can follow the FCO on Facebook and Twitter @FCOtravel and on Instagram under @ukforeignoffice for further information and travel safety advice.

Hey, I'm Laura and I'm a history student at the University of Edinburgh. I'm writing for Student Minds to contribute to the conversation surrounding mental health.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Coping with Stress

Erin shares how she copes with stress using a technique called "PAGE"
- Erin

Stress – it is a term that we use very lightly. But do we as individuals really know how to come to terms with stress, so that it doesn’t affect our day-to-day lives?

Living with multiple mental illnesses, stress is something I have to continue to fight with on a daily basis. Not just stress from external environmental factors, but also the stress that I am faced with through my mind and thoughts.

Stress is an example of our body’s way of coping with “Fight, Flight or Freeze”. It is a survival mechanism that is embedded into our bodies to allow us to handle tough situations. However, when you are trying to overcome simple tasks, this stress can also inhibit you from thinking rationally. For me, If I don’t come to terms with my stress and use the tools I have learnt to relax my mind, my stress turns into anxiety and for me, this can very often turn into a downwards spiral.

When you are in a stressful situation, there is no point in overthinking the stress, although this can be easier said than done. You need to practise techniques that allow you to calm your thoughts. The more you overthink the thoughts of the stress, the less you will be able to face the problems head on and overcome them with reasoning.

One mechanism that I have learnt through continuous and deep therapy over the last couple of years, is “PAGE”. It is a simple strategy that you can use at any time and in any situation.

One simple way I use this exercise is during rush hour. Packed against people on the underground, squashed face-to-face in a confined space makes me very anxious. My mind starts to tell me that I can’t do it and to escape at the earliest moment. I feel myself struggle to breathe and I can feel my heart rate beginning into increase - this is body reacting to the “flight, fight or freeze” response, and eventually I will find myself in a panic.

However, (1) Pausing my mind, (2) Acknowledging my breathing, (3) Gathering my thoughts, and (4) noticing my Edges reminds me that I am okay and that I can cope with any situation I am faced with.

It seems so simple, but only with practice has my mind become in the routine of listening to this exercise and actually using it to it’s full potential.

Now, I am not a psychologist, nor a doctor. This is just something I have learnt from the many books I have read and the many therapists I have worked with. You can choose to use it or not, but for me it is very beneficial and allows me act in a collected manner when stressed.

The PAGE exercise;

To start with, when practising PAGE, I did it in a quiet environment, using it two or three times a day. However, once your mind gets into the routine of following the exercise you can then bring it into any day-to-day context, as frequently as you wish.

PAGE stands for: Pause, Acknowledge, Gather, and Edges.

First, pause, sit in a comfortable position and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. On your out-breath, say to yourself “PAUSE”. Fall into your body and feel the muscles become loose and relaxed. As you do this, focus your attention on the movement of your stomach, and ACKNOWLDEGE the breaths, in and out. Let the thoughts in your mind flow, do not engage with them and do not talk back to them. Just acknowledge that they are there and leave them to come and go. Continue paying attention to your body’s movements as you breathe in and out.

As you do this GATHER your thoughts. Rationalise them and let yourself know that you are fine. You are living, you are breathing and you are going to be okay. Now bring your attention to where you are sitting. Notice the EDGES of your hands on your legs, the edges of your legs against the chair, the soles of your feet on the ground (apply this to the position you are currently in) and breathe.

When you feel you are more collected and calm, you can go about your normal tasks that you need to carry out. Although, now you can do it in a calm and collected manner with your mind being more steady and your thoughts being more rational.

Hi, my name is Erin, I am currently in my final year studying Design Management at UAL in London. I have suffered from my mental health from the age of 10 years old. My diagnoses are still ongoing but suspected of; Depression, Anxiety, Autism, Bipolar and Borderline personality disorder. I began writing for Student Minds in order to share my own experiences of my journey with mental health. The aim is to increase awareness and to decrease the stigma attached to mental illnesses as a whole.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Why I decided to shave my head for Mental Health Charities

Amelia shares her journey to making the decision to shave her head for mental health charities.
- Amelia Hartley

I recently created a video, posted on YouTube, sharing my story behind choosing to shave my head on the 3rd December this year to raise money for Student Minds and the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).

Despite writing about my motivations on my fundraising page and in emails to friends and family, writing and filming a video to be posted online for the world to see was an incredibly daunting process. It took a lot of courage: courage I didn’t know I had. It showed me how far I have come and how much strength I have – we all have so much strength.

I’ve experienced some heightened anxiety over the past couple of months. Tackling a big fundraising goal is £2500 isn’t easy. I’ve had fears of not reaching my target, nobody attending the event, being laughed at or judged once the hair goes, friends not supporting me…the list goes on! However, I have had plenty of individuals express their support and encouragement.

Shaving my head for charity has become so much more than just trying to raise money for the causes. It’s also about showing people that it’s okay to talk about mental health and that recovery doesn’t happen overnight. It’s about reducing the stigma, as we all have mental health and we should all respect it like we do with our physical health. It’s about raising awareness of two amazing charities who are supporting thousands of individuals across the UK and will continue to support thousands more. I never thought I would one day be able to talk openly and honestly about my mental health, but here I am.

I was 14, and living in Sydney, when first diagnosed with depression. I felt like the only person of my friends, year group, even school, who wasn't 'happy' all the time. I thought I shouldn't feel like this because nothing had happened to trigger how I felt. I was looking for an excuse, and hoping that excuse would provide a solution to becoming better.

My methods for feeling better weren't healthy; I was self-harming, drinking and isolating myself. I had suicidal feelings. I started taking anti-depressants but I didn’t want anyone to know, or they'd know that something was wrong with me. I’ve realised now how helpful they are to some people, including myself. I still take them, but I’m not embarrassed or ashamed; having depression isn’t shameful.

In September 2010, my best friend died and my world completely fell apart. This was my first experience of 'suicide'. It was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we will never know whatever led him to that point. A life taken at 18: he had so much more to do, and we had so much love and hugs still to give him. Sometimes things are buried so deeply that nobody can help at the crucial moment. I would do anything to bring him back, but since I can’t, I want to try to help fewer men take their own lives. This is why I have chosen the Campaign Against Living Miserably, the male suicide prevention charity, as one of the charities to raise money for. In 2016, 76% of all suicides in the UK were male, and this has been the case since the early 1990s. It is the biggest killer of men under 45. However, CALM prevents over 250 suicides every year. They offer a helpline, website resources, and support, tackle stigma through massive national campaigns and increase the awareness of male suicide rates. Just a £7 donation can pay for a potentially life-saving call, so giving a little can do a lot.

I have personally seen that suicide is preventable – another close friend of mine, who had a suicide attempt, has come far and is alive and well today. I am so thankful he had the right help and support, and am pleased I could support him too.

In 2011, I moved back to England and took the opportunity to improve my academic work and my mental health. Despite lots of ups and downs, I did well in my A levels and went to study Physics at university, excited by the opportunity to continue learning.

Three months before moving to Southampton, from nowhere, I felt a massive dip in my mental health and began drinking and caring very little about myself. Starting university, I didn’t feel in control and was very vulnerable, and then my uncle suddenly passed away over the Christmas holiday. Jon was like a father to me, who I had hoped would be at my graduation and walk me down the aisle at my wedding. I felt like a part of myself had been brutally and abruptly ripped from me. 

I spiralled. I couldn’t concentrate in lectures or sit exams without crying. I didn’t feel I could talk to people; it seemed no one would understand the grief or pain I was experiencing. I couldn’t pretend to be ok and couldn’t be rude, so I isolated myself. Feeling outside of myself, I was watching ‘me’ go through each day without any control. There were times when I couldn’t picture the next 24 hours. I was scared of myself. 

I had to start recovery. University was still the route I thought I was going to be taking, so I stopped drinking and started taking care of myself. I went into second year with a positive frame of mind but my mental health still wasn’t great, even though it had improved.

I found that university was making things worse. Opportunities I’d found in university were the things that were keeping me going such as running a Student Minds peer support group for students experiencing low moods. The programme I was facilitating, and subsequent support network, kept me going through second year and allowed me to leave university knowing I’d made the right decision to drop out. Student Minds saved me – I don’t know where I’d be without them. The mental health of university students would be at a crisis point without the peer support, staff training, campaigns and sector influence that Student Minds offers. This is why I have chosen them as my second charity. Their work is hugely recognised, and it is an honour to now work for the charity.

You can’t always see depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. You don’t always know how much someone is struggling. It doesn’t always show outwardly; they might not talk about it because they’re worried about others’ reactions. If I tell someone that I have clinical depression and anxiety or have experienced suicidal thoughts, they might change how they behave around me or panic. It’s not necessarily an illness with an easy diagnosis and treatment, where people wish you to get well soon and celebrate your recovery. Mental health difficulties and suicide affect millions of individuals across the UK. For that, I will do my bit by shaving my head and raising as much money as I possibly can for the Campaign Against Living Miserably and Student Minds.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, please donate if you can, please share this as much as possible. We can all share our stories and they can have more impact than we ever imagine.

Watch the video here:

Hi, I'm Amelia and I am the Training Programmes Manager at Student Minds. I previously volunteered for the charity, and love now being part of the staff team. I've had lots of ups and downs over the years, but have found Oxford a beautiful place to live and work, and the countryside certainly helps my mood! We all have mental health, let's keep fighting the stigma.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Supporting Someone with Mental Health Difficulties

Jackson shares his experiences living with anxiety and how it affects his relationships.

-Jackson Miller

After receiving plenty of supportive feedback for my first anxiety post, I wanted to write this second post without hesitation. I was asked what advice I'd give to the loved ones of those suffering from anxiety or any other mental difficulty.

This article contains details of my own relationship and the strain anxiety has placed upon it. I also give advice to those who are family, friends, or partners of someone with a mental illness, from the perspective of that person. Friendship, family relationship, or romantic relationship - this content applies to all.

My Relationship

I'm currently in a relationship with someone who makes me smile brighter than anything else in this world. We share the same values and thrive in our relationship as it's suffused with trust and honesty.

We've been together for two and a half years and, like all relationships, we've had some tough times. But we've had an exceptionally strong relationship; whenever the few arguments we've had did arise we always handled it maturely and supported each other.

My Relationship + Anxiety

Now that you have a little insight into my relationship and its stability, let me tell you about how my anxiety has affected the relationship. There have been many major effects that my anxiety has had on my relationship:

* Being unable to travel
* Being unable to eat at her house
* Being unable to do events with her family
* Being extremely clingy at times
* Putting pressure on her as my supportive anchor
* Constantly leaning on her when my anxiety drained my own strength
* She had to be there with me during anxiety attacks
* She had to watch for years as my anxiety ate away at me
* She had to explain to people why we didn't attend certain events

She Became My Anchor

My girlfriend is now the one thing in the world that takes my anxiety away. Of course, it still does occur - but it lessens when I'm with her and even when it does resurface she helps me through it.

If you become a grounding force for a person you know with a mental illness, there are a couple things you need to realise:

* They will depend on you, probably more than anyone else in their life
* You'll take on a significant responsibility
* At times, they'll feel like a burden to you
* They will need you, especially when you're away from them

We Can Be Burdens - And We Know It

I'm not going to rant about how I feel sorry for myself for being a burden, but I will address this truth: my anxiety makes life for me and everyone else more difficult at times. 

If you are involved with someone with mental health difficulties, understand that they will feel guilty. They are aware of the pressure they bring, and they sometimes think you'd be better off without them. This can affect their self-esteem; they won't show it all the time and often won't even admit it, but it can exacerbate their low mood.

I'm saying this because it is important to be aware of the way they view your relationship. Look out for when they try to distance themselves from you just to spare you, as these are the times when we need support the most. While it's difficult because we don't want to cause you pain or stress, it's never good for us to push you away.

I've learned that trying to deny being a burden isn't healthy, but growing engulfed by it is even worse. Everyone has their imperfections, and we continue to love each other anyway.  

How Can You Be Supportive?

If you have a relationship with someone who suffers from mental health difficulties,
* Support them as much as you can
* Learn about their situation
* Remind them of the positives, not the negatives
* Be there to help them when they are down. Paradoxically, giving them space can be key. If you can't help - and often, the only one who can help them is them - then just be there for when they need you. 

For the full-length article and more on the subject, visit

Hi, I’m Jackson. I’m a first year business student attending Humber College with a deep passion for reading, writing, and inspiring others. I’ve suffered with two mental illnesses for several years now and understand how much helpful information can improve your situation. Mental illnesses have a major impact on relationships, friendships, academic performance, careers, and basic living. After experiencing the struggles a mental illness can cause, I decided I wanted to write for Student Minds and share what I’ve learned from my personal experiences to help those in similar situations.