Wednesday, 31 May 2017

My Anxiety, My Epiphany, and Me

This student suffered from anxiety their whole career, and studying for their PhD was no exception. They were able to move on after an epiphany, when they realised they been trying to please the wrong people.
- Anonymous

I’m a PhD student and, like so many others, I suffer from anxiety. I take medication to help me manage it, but sometimes that’s not enough and I experience panic attacks, episodes of irritability, anger, crying, and feeling utterly helpless. I often struggle to sleep, which amplifies things. It’s all made worse because I’m in my fourth year and no longer have an income through a stipend, but still have a family to feed and a mortgage to pay. My family are affected by my anxiety every bit as much as I am.

My latest episode of anxiety was because I had not been able to write for a long time, and I had reached the point where I had to write or I had to give up. I’m not lazy; people with anxiety generally aren’t. We’re anxious because we want to write but are afraid to. Writing is putting your ideas, a part of yourself, of your soul, out for scrutiny which, for someone with anxiety, is terrifying. And anxiety is reinforcing, so being unable to write increases your anxiety, which makes it even harder to write, and so on ad infinitum.

To people who are thinking, or have said, “can’t you just do it?”, no, I can’t. If I could ‘just’ do it, wouldn’t I have already done it? Please don’t say that to people; it’s not helpful. It’s much deeper than sitting down and making words appear on the page.

I am, and always have been, very sensitive to criticism. My rational self knows I can’t please all people all of the time, and my writing is no different. But my anxious/irrational self doesn’t let me think like this. Clearly everyone should be bowled over by the quality of my work. It’s not that I’m a narcissist or I want huge recognition, or think my work is better than everybody else’s. It’s just that it should be unambiguously right, and everyone should be able to see that.

I started my PhD feeling very positive, thinking ‘I can do this’. My problems started with my upgrade/confirmation panel. Instead of a constructive discussion, I was bullied. After the panel I had a leave of absence for depression. It took me two months to return to work. I had counselling for a year.

Even so, I didn’t really get my confidence back until a few months ago, two years later. I was talking to my partner about giving up or carrying on and I had an epiphany: I realised I’d been subconsciously trying to satisfy the upgrade panel. They were never going to be satisfied, and so it was an impossible task. I’d been afraid to write knowing, in my head at least, that I’ll fail and this has held me back for years.

My partner and supervisor have been telling me to forget all about the panel since it happened. They’re obviously right but, as anybody with anxiety will tell you, it’s really hard to let go of that negative voice because nobody should think you’re wrong. I need to get better at rejecting invalid criticism, but for now my confidence has returned and I’ve been able to write again.

Realising what’s happening has helped me to move on; you can’t begin to fix something if you don’t know what’s going on. Writing this has helped me to understand and articulate what happened. Writing for my supervisors who support me, rather than the panel, has helped tremendously. Most importantly, believing, truly believing, I have something worthwhile to say, even if some people criticise it (and they will) has been the thing that has most helped me to write again. Arguably I’m even in a healthier position by recognising that my work is not immune from criticism, rather than naively thinking I’ll scrape by unscathed, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

(I've submitted this anonymously because I don't think any good can come from identifying the institution and the academics, involved, and not because anxiety is something that should be hidden. Don't be afraid to talk to others about your anxiety.)

Monday, 29 May 2017

Mental Health Travel Guide

Olivia has written a simple guide on travelling abroad with a mental health difficulty.
- Olivia Shortall

It’s time to talk about mental health – don’t let it stop you from going wherever you want to go!

Travelling brings about some of the best memories of your life but it is important to recognise that for some people, it can be extremely challenging. Lack of familiar support systems, disrupted daily routines, language barriers, culture shock and unexpected situations can intensify stress levels rather than alleviate them. Being well informed prior to travel is the best way to prevent any issues happening abroad – the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) offer a range of advice all in one booklet to help you. The best option is to be as prepared as possible by following a few simple steps:

What mental health services are available in the country you are travelling to?
Understanding of mental health can vary extensively from country to country which is why it is important to carry out your own research before you travel to your destination and the mental health services that they offer. Try and have local contact details for any mental health services for where you are travelling to as a precaution.

Who would be able to help you if your mental health deteriorated whilst abroad? How would you contact them?
It is good to always have at least one person who knows where you are and you can contact when you are travelling abroad. Have their number and details on your phone or on your person at all times. Try and make friendly with whoever you are travelling with – don’t be afraid to let people know if you have any mental health issues. Having people aware can really help out if you ever get into trouble.

Remember, if you ever get into difficulty abroad, you can contact the nearest embassy wherever you are for free and reliable advice and information. They can put you in contact with relatives or contacts in the UK if you have some sort of trouble whilst abroad. It is useful to make a note of embassies which are nearby to where you are travelling to.

Is your medication legal and available in your destination?
Not all medication (including prescribed medication) from the UK is legal in other countries. It is essential that you check this out with your doctor before you travel. The FCO advises that you should also check with them which vaccinations or other health precautions you need to take for your specific destination.

Does your insurance cover your mental health condition?
It is essential that you get comprehensive travel insurance before you go – this covers any type of medical conditions you may have, as well as any activities you plan to undertake abroad. Failure to do so could result in having to pay for the cost of any emergency yourself, including medical bills – which could cost thousands of pounds!

If you are travelling in Europe, do you have an EHIC card?
An EHIC card covers any medical treatment necessary whilst abroad due to either an accident or illness in Europe. You can apply online for your free EHIC at

If you take medication, do you have enough for the duration of your trip?
Ensure you have the correct amount of medication for your trip – it may be useful to have more than necessary just in case there is any issues. Make sure you keep a copy of any prescribed medicine that you have.

For our Student Minds guide to a Year Abroad for yourself or a friend, click here.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) offer a handy checklist for anyone who wants to travel abroad with a mental health condition. It’s also worth checking out the FCO website for any relevant and specific information on where you are travelling to so you can ensure you know before you go!

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Being diagnosed as disabled while at uni

Beth shares the challenges of being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome while at uni - and how to overcome them

- Beth Wrightson

I'm a realist, so my initial denial of my diagnosis of myalgic encephalomyelitis (aka chronic fatigue syndrome) was quite out of character. I received this diagnosis during my placement year of my Psychology undergraduate degree, and didn’t know where to go from there. I had been given a name which explained all my symptoms, and it placed me in a category of people suffering from an invisible disease. It allowed me to explain to those close to me why I withdrew from going clubbing and university life, but the understanding I had hoped for didn't materialise. People shrugged it off as laziness and just being tired. Time and time again I would be told "I'm tired too". Friends stopped asking me to meet up, as I'd often have to cancel due to a relapse of fatigue. I had never thought my diagnosis would come with a side order of stigma from society.

Experiencing a sudden isolation, I became depressed and stopped listening to the warning signs my body was giving me about needing rest. I withdrew from my placement, work started to pile up and I became increasingly stressed and low. I stopped telling people about my diagnosis, fearing questions and misjudgement.

Shortly after my diagnosis, my estranged father came back into my life for a short period before deciding to disown me, I was helping a friend suffering from PTSD, I loathed the degree which I’d once loved, and my flat-mate suffered from an eating disorder which caused her to withdraw from our friendship. Instead of coping, I withdrew. I used to silently stare up at my ceiling for hours on end. Everyday actions like washing and cooking became too much. Nine months after my diagnosis, I finally went to my university and asked for help. I broke down in my meeting at Disability Assist. I had accepted that I had been diagnosed as disabled and that I felt alone, and fed up with a body I didn't understand. The denial didn't just dissolve from that meeting; it's taken almost two years for my denial to lift completely. Receiving therapy allowed me to discuss my own feelings about my diagnosis and the other aspects of my life which had become overwhelming.

If you feel depressed, whether it's about a recent diagnosis or another factor, I urge you to talk to someone. I was trying to deal with a combination of different factors in one go and couldn't do it alone. After waiting for therapy with the NHS for two years, I finally experienced the release of stress and tension I needed. Sometimes talking to a stranger is better than talking to a friend or family member as you can be more open, without fearing judgement. Looking back, I think ringing a helpline would have allowed me to discuss things I needed to, whilst waiting for the NHS.

Talk to your doctor to see if there are any treatment routes which could help your disability. I went to my GP several times about my depression, and was offered anti-depressants that I declined, due to personal preferences. However, going to the GPs did help me accept my diagnosis; it also helped me improve my condition.

If you have been diagnosed with a disability, tell your university straight away. By meeting with Disability Assist at my university, I was able to get extra time during my final year exams, which allowed me have a few spare minutes to rest throughout the exam. It also gave me a safe place to talk about my symptoms and condition without judgement. Having a friendly face understand my condition helped me and allowed me to realise that, while having a disability comes with its limitations, it won't stop me from reaching my goals in life. I'll never be able to walk up Kilimanjaro with my fatigue, but I never wanted to anyway!

Beth is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing at Plymouth University. By being the Editor of the Student Minds Blog, Beth encourages others to talk about mental health openly. In her free time, she writes on her personal blog on topics from disability to beauty reviews.

Over-attaching and Fears of Abandonment

Fiona shares her experience of over-attaching to people in her life, and gives advice on how to deal with this in a healthy way.
- Fiona Perriss

“Don’t leave me”

“Everyone always abandons me; they all leave eventually”

“People always get sick of me, it must be my fault”

“I need you”

These thoughts go round in my head on a daily basis. I don’t know why. All I know is that I seem to have this intense fear that everyone around me will leave and I’ll be abandoned.

Believe me, I wish I didn’t become so attached to people to the point where I pin all my self-worth on them. It’s exhausting. I wind up idolising one specific individual, I want to be their favourite, I get jealous when I see them talking to other people. If I message them and they don’t reply instantly, I start thinking that I’m annoying them and that they’re ignoring me on purpose. Of course, this is probably not the case, but I still take it personally. I obsess and I cling on to them. They become my go-to person for when I’m upset, or when I’m having a panic attack. I don’t go to my friends or family and I can’t seem to self-soothe, even after having built up a list of coping strategies through countless therapy sessions. It has to be this one person.

I can’t figure out why this only happens with certain people. I just feel it happening and warn myself “oh, be careful now, it’s happening again, you’re getting too attached”. I cling to anyone that shows any inkling of kindness towards me - teachers, guidance counsellors, tutors, doctors, therapists. I know how much pressure I put on the other person. Then the guilt, the depression and the anxiety come in. It’s like a never-ending spiral. And then I become too much for that person. I put all my problems onto them. I can feel it building up, and then I ultimately explode and spit out all my problems and fears and insecurities. Then they leave and I’m alone and I’m left with all my problems and fears and insecurities, but worse. Their leaving hits me like a train. Deep down, I know they don’t mean to hurt me. But I do take it to heart and the abandonment thoughts start to creep in. It hurts. It really hurts.

What suggestions do I have for anyone who recognises these things in themselves or in people around them? Well, if you know someone who has similar behaviours, please be patient with them. Choose your words carefully, because a throwaway comment that might not mean much to you can cause a lot of damage. Be consistent; if you’ve said you will meet them or call them at a certain time, stick to it.  People like me can be very sensitive to sudden changes of plans. Please don’t make fun of or belittle the situation, and don’t turn around and say “why are you so obsessed with that person?” Chances are we know we are being irrational/clingy/obsessive, but we can’t always help it.

If you’ve put someone on a pedestal, I strongly believe that honesty is the best policy. Tell them you sometimes feel you get too attached, and encourage them to talk about their feelings about the situation. If they’re a genuinely nice person, they will hopefully have some level of understanding and empathy. From my experience, those who freak out and leave aren’t the sort of people you want in your life anyway.

Also, it doesn’t have to be such a negative thing! You feel a connection with that person because you think they’re awesome! Another key point to remember is that people leave: they move away, get new jobs and may not stay in your life forever, however much you want them to. You are not a bad person, and they are not leaving because of you, despite what you may feel. Yes, attachment and feelings of abandonment are hard. But you WILL get through it (cheesy as it sounds!)

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Losing Someone to Suicide

Erin discusses the difficulties in coming to terms with death, and how to cope with a loved one taking their own life.                                                                                   - Erin Cadden

Losing any family member or friend is difficult. Dealing with grief is the hardest thing you’ll have to face with in life. But losing someone to suicide - this can be even more heart destroying. 

People say that those who take their own life are selfish. The people saying this are na├»ve in thinking that it was the individual’s choice to make this life-ending decision. Mental illness controls your brain and your thoughts – thoughts so consuming and loud that sometimes you lose track of the fact it’s not you talking, but your mind.

I was 8 years old. It was 2006 and my Dad was only 40. I remember coming home from a sleepover with a close family member and entering the living room to my mum in tears. As an 8-year-old you don’t think losing a parent is something you’ll have to experience. In fact, at this age it’s something you can’t even mentally process. How is anyone this young meant to understand that someone who was supposed to love you so much has taken their own life? How are you meant to understand that you’ll never again get the opportunity to hear their laugh, to feel their hugs or see their face? It was, and still is, soul destroying.

The movement of tectonic plates could not compare to the shift in reality that had happened for myself and my family that day. We not only had to mourn the reality that we had lost the most important man in our lives, but we had to come to terms with how it happened. I’m now 19 years old, and if I’m completely honest, I still don’t fully understand the passing of my father. 

In cycles, I went through the different stages of grief. To this day I still do, trying to come to terms with the fact my father left us. Some days, I get angry. I blame him for it all, blame him for ending his life, for leaving my family, and for making us have to live life without him. Sometimes I just feel sad and empty. Sad about the fact that I never really got to know him. About the fact he will never watch my sisters and I grow up or walk us down the aisle. 

But sometimes I’m happy knowing that I experienced him, even if it was for a very small amount of time in my early childhood. I’m happy to remember the small memories I shared with him, and I’m happy to know that wherever he is, he’s no longer suffering. There’s a massive hole in our heart that will never be filled by anyone. Dads are one of a kind. But my Dad was someone incredibly special.

My father’s death raises a lot of anxiety for myself. You can’t blame people with mental illness for taking their own lives, because it’s not themselves that make the decision, but the illness itself. The fact I now suffer with mental illness means I can empathise, and go some way to understanding what drove my dad to do what he did. It wasn’t his fault. The darkness just overcame him.

Those who take their own lives don’t make that decision themselves. Don’t blame the person, but the illness. You can’t take anything for granted. You can’t know what’s going to happen in a year, month or even hour. All you can do is live life to the fullest, loving and being loved.

Friday, 19 May 2017

We love being on the Student Minds Blog Editorial Team!

The Student Minds Blog Editorial Team have spent the past year editing and publishing students' stories about mental health at university. Meet the team, and apply to join the new Editorial Team for 2017-18.
- The Editorial Team 2016-17

In my role I’ve enjoyed meeting and working with new people; this includes the sub-editors, Student Minds staff and the inspirational bloggers. Being on the team for a year I’ve learnt lots of different skills from making the newsletters to working better in a team. I’ve loved being the Editor for the Student Minds Blog mainly as I’ve enjoyed reading and sharing our bloggers’ posts. I can relate to the isolation and stigma which comes in hand with poor mental health having experienced this during my time at university, the blog removes this stigma and helps people realise they aren’t alone; I look forward to this continuing with our new team. - Beth (Editor)

Being on the editorial team has affected me in ways I didn't expect. People shared close, personal stories with me, and whilst editing them well felt like a lot of responsibility, it was incredibly eye-opening and I found myself being repeatedly inspired by the journeys people had undergone. Bloggers were often so grateful - so being an editor, being able to publish their stories, really felt like I was making a change to someone's day. Not just this, but I've noticed my editing skills have improved dramatically, and I feel much more accomplished as a writer - which certainly came in handy during the last year of an English degree! - Rhiannon

Although I’ve only been a part of the Editorial Team for a short time, it has already been a great experience. I have really enjoyed reading the brilliant blogs which people have sent to us, and having the opportunity to edit them and get them published is such a privilege! Furthermore, editing other people’s work has given me a greater understanding as a writer of the decisions that editors make when they edit my work. To top it all off, the existing Student Minds team made me feel very welcome when I joined. - Jasmine

I have thoroughly enjoyed my role as a sub-editor for Student Minds! I am grateful for the opportunity I had to use my experience of mental health to help others, and make something that was so negative into something positive. I have enjoyed interacting with others and being part of this inspiring project! - Chloe

Want to join the Editorial Team and help students write about their experiences of mental health? We're looking for students to join the Editorial Team for 2017-18 - apply here by 28th May 2017!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Sophie's University Mental Health Q&A

When Sophie started university in 2015, she struggled from the start. Since starting she has developed anxiety and depression. Watch her vlog to find out how she copes at university with mental health issues, as she answers questions from friends online.

Sophie explains how Student Minds helps her and other students like her whilst at university. Sophie runs a lifestyle blog and YouTube in which she speaks about her mental health, university/life updates and reviews!

MHAW17: Surviving and Thriving on your Year Abroad

For Mental Health Awareness Week, Gemma shares the simple tips she learned while she was away, so you can have a year abroad to remember!
Gemma Sowerby

Ever heard the myth that ‘your year abroad is the best year of your life’? Don’t worry if you’re filled with trepidation and stress rather than excitement and calm. Your year abroad is not always about thriving: sometimes it’s just surviving. However, if you do your best to stay on top of your mental health, make the most of your time abroad, and take each day as it comes, you can have the most enriching, rewarding, and eye-opening year. Here are some simple tips that I learned while away, so you can have a year abroad to remember — for all the right reasons.

What’s the plan?
Planning is the key to any successful year abroad, especially if you have mental health difficulties that make dealing with unexpected challenges or setbacks even harder. You’ll need to take copies of all your personal documents, especially if you’re working or studying abroad in mainland Europe, where the paperwork can be overwhelming. Do as much research as you can on your destination in advance, such as which areas to avoid, how to open bank accounts, and finding accommodation, to make the move as smooth as possible.

Broaden your horizons
Even if you’re teaching or working, use your weekends and down time wisely – try to visit as many new places as possible. Cheap rail or bus travel is easy to find, especially if you can profit from student rates, and it’s well worth a rocky bus ride for a glorious trip to the sun, sea, sands, or slopes! Check out trips organised by your host university or any societies in your local area. If your friends are more far-flung, why not take solo voyages to bustling cities or tiny towns, and soak up the culture while you can (as well as wowing your friends with your glorious Instagram feed).

Health and safety
If you have regular medication, make sure to plan with your doctor in advance how much you’ll need, especially if your medication isn’t available in your destination country. You should also make your home university aware of any conditions, so they can help should any issues arise. Make sure you have an EHIC card and appropriate travel insurance in case you fall ill abroad — there’s nothing worse than feeling unsafe or on edge about your health and safety. You’re there to enjoy yourself after all, so take precautions.

Escape your comfort zone
The most important thing to make sure you thrive on your year abroad is to try new things and meet new people — it’s no good sticking to what you know when the whole point of your year abroad is to experience a new way of life! Try out the local cuisine, look for any festivals or events run by the local community, or find a tandem language partner to meet new people and improve your lingo in a fun environment. It is daunting moving to a new place, but the only way to overcome the fear is to take part and escape your bubble in a way that feels safe and fun.

For information on visas, laws, vaccinations, and local travel advice for 225 countries around the world, make sure you check out the FCO’s website at, and sign up for email updates to get the latest straight to your inbox.

For our Student Minds guide to a Year Abroad for yourself or a friend, click here.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

From Perfectionism to Positivity

Katherine writes about how striving for perfection affects her mental health, and how being open about her experiences has helped her to think more positively about the future.
- Katherine Wood

During my first year at university, I experienced severe weight loss due to anorexia. Fortunately, I recovered, and for the last three years my weight has remained relatively stable. I am now able to sustain high levels of training as a competitive endurance athlete.
While I no longer consider myself to have an eating disorder, I now experience depression with anxiety despite, on the face of it, being a very successful 21-year-old. I am high-achieving academically; I have a supportive boyfriend and a caring family; I am in the top handful of endurance runners in the UK for my age and distance; and anything I put my mind to, I excel at.

But these seemingly positive things are major driving forces for my mental health problems. I am a perfectionist, pushing myself hard and only accepting being the best at everything. While this could be perceived as a good thing, it means I can never be truly satisfied with my achievements because either I only attain what I expected, or I don’t do as well as I believe I should. 

Furthermore, my social anxiety has become progressively worse, meaning that my automatic answer to social invitations is always “no”. This often leaves me feeling lonely and isolated. I feel ashamed of the excuses I make to avoid social occasions or anything that might put me out of my comfort zone. I feel the need to be in control, so when anything outside of my power occurs I find it very hard to deal with, leading to feelings of panic. 

Ironically, while I want to be in complete control, the reality is that sometimes I’m not in control at all. I do everything to excess and lack the self-confidence to accept that I’ve done enough. Running a marathon doesn’t daunt me, but going to the pub with a group of people does. Every “fresh start” I’ve promised to make, whether that be at the transition from school to university, or simply a decision to challenge my restrictive behaviour in some way, has seemed to end in disappointment. So perhaps I ought to modify my original statement – I am a very successful 21-year-old in all things except for being kind to myself.

Being open helps

One thing which has made a huge positive difference is opening up to others about my situation. My tutor knows about my mental health difficulties and has been extremely supportive, guiding me through applying for alternative examination arrangements to make exams easier to cope with, working with the catering team to help me through my eating disorder, and generally being someone to talk to. For the first time, this academic year, I registered myself as having a disability with the university disability services. Through this, I have received a lot of advice and support, such as “check in” emails to make sure I am alright, and workshops to manage stress and depression. This has encouraged me to acknowledge my disability in my PhD application, ensuring that by the time I start there will be a support network in place. Over time, I have realised that I won’t be penalised for having a disability which isn’t necessarily visible. Being open about such matters can only help by ensuring that there are measures and people ready to help to guide me through the darkest times. I know recovery is a long process, that I won’t just wake up one day with the depression gone, but I also know that it is possible. I used to mourn the happy-go-lucky, smiley girl I was as a child, but now I know that she is still somewhere inside me, and maybe over time, with the right treatment, she will return. 

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Meet our Fundraising Champions: Jessica

Fundraising Champion Jess writes about her experience as a fundraiser and why she decided to get involved with Student Minds. 
- Jessica Mell

My name is Jessica Mell and I am currently studying Nutrition and Public Health at Sheffield Hallam University. Like most people, my life has not exactly been the smooth ride that I hoped for, but I have not let that get in the way of pursuing the activities that I love such as travelling and spending treasured moments with friends and family. When I say that my life has not exactly been the smooth ride I hoped for, at that difficult time, I never anticipated that it would shape the career goals and personal ambitions that I find myself striving for today.

Why did you choose to become a fundraiser for Student Minds?
When I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa in January 2015, I did not think that the suffering I was going through would lead to such positive outcomes that I am benefitting from today. Some people like to forget about difficult moments in their life, which I can completely understand, but for me it has led to activities such as blogging about my eating disorder, founding Sheffield Hallam SU Student Minds, volunteering for Healthwatch and now being a Fundraising Champion for Student Minds!

What do you enjoy the most about fundraising?
Fundraising has always been an activity I have enjoyed throughout my childhood. The idea of organising an event, bringing together communities and raising money for worthy charities in order for them to continue supporting those in need is something I find incredibly rewarding and worthwhile. Therefore, when I saw the opportunity to become a Fundraising Champion for Student Minds, I could not type out the application quick enough. I have used the charities online resources since starting university and have been overwhelmed by the support they have available- and I wanted to help them continue that fantastic work. 

How did you feel after your first fundraiser?
My first fundraiser as a Champion was taking part in Student Colour Run Sheffield 2017. It was so much fun! Although, I am still scrubbing my shower tray in my accommodation to remove the engrained purple tint! Receiving donations from my amazing friends and family to take part in the event and watching the funds creep up was so pleasing. It has given me the encouragement I need to organise another event that will encourage involvement from the public to ensure that everyone benefits from my fundraising activities and has a bit of fun! 
"Jess post Colour Run"

What are you planning on doing for your next fundraiser?
I am planning on hosting a Quiz Night at my local pub and possibly a coffee morning over the summer. Hopefully I will be sharing some successes in the near future!

What would your top tip be for someone who is thinking of fundraising for Student Minds?
My top tip for fundraising for Student Minds would be to share your passion for the organisation. If people know how much this charity means to you, they will support your events! But most of all enjoy it! Fundraising is such a great thing to do and develops so many skills- push your boundaries and get stuck in! 

Our Fundraising Champions are volunteers who actively fundraise for Student Minds, champion the importance of fundraising for student mental health and raise awareness. Find out more about our Fundraising Champions here.

Want to get involved with fundraising for Student Minds? Check out our page here.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

It's never Wednesday forever...

Sophie talks about the power of mindfulness, and remembering how important it is to take care of yourself, as well as others.
- Sophie Johnston

The dreaded second year, the notorious year of the mental breakdown. Better make that plural for me - I've already had countless! One of my lecturers perfectly described second year as "being stuck on a Wednesday", which in my book means it's not party time yet! 

Second year is like being caught in limbo – we’ve come so far, yet still have a long way to go. But no matter how long it may seem to take, the weekend always comes around eventually. 

Which brings me to thinking… Is it all in the mind? Is second year only tough because we’re told it is, and it becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy?! Does second year have to be as bad as previous students make out? With that in mind I've spent the last few days pondering (and procrastinating) on this idea.

On placement I’m often told I’m a very calming person. I always make sure I’m engaged and smiley, because at the end of the day, who wants a sad or grumpy nurse looking after them? But it’s made me realise, I do tend to push myself to one side, pretending to be OK, when sometimes I'm not. 

After this dawned on me, I began to think about how I treat patients (procrastination continues). Cummings (2012) devised the 6C's of care, outlining the values nurses should display. I started to question - why am I limiting this to my patients? Care, Compassion, Commitment, Communication, Courage and Competence can all be applied, not only to my nursing life, but my personal life too. How can I fully care for a patient if I’m not taking care of myself? I’ve started, therefore, caring for my mental health.


 My tutor gave a lecture on mindfulness, allowing us ten minutes of meditation. I won’t lie; I was so against the idea. I’m stubborn, and was convinced that it wouldn’t be of any use. Reluctantly, I joined in. 

Not only did I love it, but I learnt an important lesson; give everything an open mind. As I write now, I'm a member of the meditation app Headspace, and I'm currently on day 46 reaping the benefits. Mindfulness also has a place in nursing. It’s made me calmer and able to handle stress in a productive way. Being aware of the present moment, focusing in on what you are doing and how you are feeling only benefits practice. 

Nowadays I find it easy to remember, it’s never Wednesday forever. Maybe some Wednesdays feel longer than others, but the weekend’s never far away. For anyone struggling through second year, recognise the steps you could take to make that week a little easier on yourself. It’s OK not to be OK - but you can do something about it, and that self-care can influence the care which you deliver.

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Fear of Relapse

Erin writes about the reality of relapses, and how they can actually be used to change your outlook on life.
- Erin Cadden

Relapsing, it’s a frightening one to comprehend. You don’t think it is possible at a time when things are good. After my last relapse, I didn’t think I could fall as low as I did, again.

One year ago, on May 1st, I had an episode in which I was hospitalised in a mental health facility. This was a turning point for me - a time when I knew I had to seek professional, long-term help.

I’ve struggled for the past 10 years or so with my mental health and my recovery is still ongoing. But only in the past year, after the relapse in May, have I been taking the right steps towards it. While it’s been a difficult journey, it’s also been life changing. I’ve participated in group therapy, private CBT, talking therapy, and hypnotherapy, as well as mentoring and reading self-help books, all to get to know how my brain works.

So I thought I was in a good, healthy place. I’d have my down days from time to time, but I sought comfort from friends and family in order to pull through. But this latest relapse was different.

About a week ago, feelings that haven’t surfaced for a long time came flooding back and my brain, at the time, didn’t seem strong enough to handle it. I tried to end my own life. The police were called and my mum drove over 40 minutes to my rescue. It’s upsetting, knowing that as I type this I feel remorse for that person who came so close to ending her suffering, because that was not the same Erin that is typing this today.

What’s scary about dark thoughts is that they can consume you. They can block out everything that is going on around you and can hone in on the negatives in your brain. At my time of despair, strangers surrounded me trying to help, but all I could hear were my own thoughts. I wish at that point in time, someone could have removed the dark cloud that was overshadowing me, because only then would I have been able to see the bright blue sky.

The greatest realisation from my recent relapse was that no one can help you as much as yourself. There was something inside of me that was determined not to let my self-destructive mind win. I have so much potential, ambition and determination for life. But in that split second, it could have all been lost. I’m not deceived; I know I’m still in recovery and may be for a long time. My journey has not finished yet. But I’m fighting that voice telling me to stay in bed, to ring in sick to work and to not face contact with society.

We need to realise the world is much greater than just our minds. What we’re told by our brains is just a spec in comparison to the extraordinary potential in the world. We can pull through at dark times, and while there’s no guarantee they won’t return again, each time we get stronger. Each time we learn a little more about how our brains work, and each time, recovery from painful relapses is that little bit easier. I’ve realised that ending pain and ending a life are two separate things. When the dark thoughts consume you, it might seem that ending a life is the only way to end the pain. This is not the case. There are many ways to relieve the pain of all mental illnesses. You just need to make that first step to getting help.

It’s important not to get caught up in the negative stigma surrounding mental health. I am not afraid nor embarrassed of it. No two brains are alike; people cope with and handle life in different ways, and this goes for treatment too. Some need a little more support, be that medication, mental health professionals or a simple shoulder to cry on.

Your mental health is a part of who you are. This isn’t always an easy thing to comprehend. After my relapses, I learnt that this mind, my mind, is what I’d been dealt with in life. I could either resist and live my life in pain, or accept and love myself. I am not resisting and fearing relapse. I am growing with it.

Help! Coping with exam stress - only one month until my first exam!

Abi writes about how best to live and work through the exam revision season when you've only got one month to go.
- Abi Bennetts

I stared at the date with horror when I woke up this morning: IT IS NOW ONLY ONE MONTH UNTIL MY FIRST EXAM. 
For most students, exam periods are the most stressful few weeks of the year. Whilst some pressure can motivate us to achieve the best we can, too much can cause severe stress and low mood, both during and beyond exam season.

Here are some tips to deal with stress throughout the exam period:

Look after your physical health 
If you’re already feeling anxious and overworked, eating poorly, not being active enough and not getting enough sleep will not make you feel any better, and will affect your performance in exams. Stay hydrated and try to eat as healthily as possible. Why don’t you spend an afternoon before a busy exam week batch-cooking healthy meals that you can refrigerate or freeze? Your body (and your mind) will thank you for it. Microwaving your nutritious meal after a long day at the library leaves you less tempted to buy ready meals and takeaway. 

Schedule in some time to get active. We all know exercise relieves stress. Plus, it lets your brain focus on something other than your module contents. While it’s tempting to spend revision breaks crawling into bed and catching up on TV, being active for an hour or two might do more to boost your energy levels. Whether it’s a gym session, a walk with friends, a swim, or a team sport, exercise will keep your mind and body energised, and make it easier to get those recommended 8 hours of sleep!

Keep in contact with friends and family
Exam season shouldn’t force you into five weeks of solitude. Keep in contact with your friends and family, as they are your biggest support network. My mum still receives a teary FaceTime every time I’ve got an upcoming deadline or exam, but I always feel better after voicing my concerns to her. Your friends are likely to feel just as stressed as you, so spending time with them sharing will often make you feel better. You could plan trips to the library together, or revision sessions at each other’s houses. If you revise better on your own, you could plan joints revision breaks for a walk, a film, or a (much needed) coffee. In my first year, all my friends and I would sync up our planned revision breaks, and congregate for tea and biscuits in one of the flats in our halls. Those tea breaks with everyone were the highlight of my days, and made life feel a little bit more normal. 

Be organised (and realistic)
Four weeks ago, I’d made a highly detailed revision plan, and expected to be completely on top of all my deadlines. Good intentions, right? But revision was delayed by my part-time job, time with friends and family at home, and a general feeling of ‘CBA’. It is essential to be organised to achieve exam success. However, it is important to be realistic whilst organising your revision plan. Some people may have a part-time job, sports practice, a doctor’s appointment, or a friend’s birthday. Your revision plan needs to fit around this. You also need to include planned, regular revision breaks, and some power naps/early nights. Figure out when you work most effectively: some people work better in the evening, and some are better in the mornings. Feeling more in control of what you’re learning and when you’ll learn it will help you feel more on top of your progress, and less stressed.

I wish everyone the best of luck in their exams. It’s so important to remember that exams aren’t everything. Exam results do not define you as a person. Employers won’t just look at exam scores and, for the sake of your mental health, they are not worth getting super stressed and low about. Remember to take care of yourselves (and your friends), and I’ll see you on the other side…..

For information on exam stress and studying click here.