Saturday, 15 December 2018

Learning to cope when a mental health difficulty reappears

In this blog, Freya talks about how she managed when symptoms of anxiety reappeared after a long time of feeling well.

One of the hardest parts of dealing with anxiety for me was the fact that it came back. I think what so many people think – including myself – is that once you initially overcome these issues, they’re gone forever. But mental health doesn’t work like that.

When you overcome cancer you are in ‘remission’, you are not cured, you don’t have a lifetime guarantee of health. But, at least temporarily, you are not suffering the immediate effects of this disease. For mental health, I think it’s the same. Knowing that could help prepare you for the possibility that you will suffer from conditions and symptoms again.

When I started getting panic attacks again after months of feeling fine, I rang my mum, distraught that it could be happening again. Hadn’t I already been through this?

Although this time I had coping mechanisms which made my anxiety easier to deal with, it’s hard to feel in control when all that was going through my head was ‘not again, please not again’. Then you panic about the fact that you’re panicking. It’s a vicious circle of panic upon panic when, in actual fact, I knew I had the tools to deal with it. My counselling had been useful and effective, but I just felt this overwhelming shock that such panic could penetrate my life again after so much time feeling good.

It took me some time to accept the fact that my anxiety had taken a hold of my life again, but when I did, it was so much easier to deal with. I guess what’s important to remember is that there is no everlasting cure for mental health. That’s not to say that you’ll spend the rest of your life dealing with mental health difficulties. I just think it’s important to always be aware that there’s a possibility that it could come back. And if/when it does: remember to look outwards not inwards. Positivity over negativity. There’s nothing wrong with suffering; you are a stronger person for it.

Remember that the people around you are more understanding than you think, something I forget every time I feel awful. My housemates know I struggle with anxiety and they also know how to deal with it. Often people don’t naturally know how to help, so talk to the people you trust and tell them what you find useful. For example, I don’t need someone to ask me if I’m okay, I need them to list random things with me such as dog breeds. Let people in. Let them help you. 

Positive is definitely the last thing you are feeling when mental health issues recur. However, it’s probably the most useful emotion to have. I don’t really need to even feel that positive, I just need to tell myself I am. I’ll smile to myself or listen to a song I relate to a good memory and bring myself back to that positive mind frame that I know is never far away.

The challenge isn’t getting your life ‘back on track’ because it’s not off the track, it’s just taken a slight detour. So, take a minute or a day or however long you need and try to remember how far you have come since you first started feeling low. If you used to go for a run once a week or save time to watch TV with your house mates, then do that again. Take as much time as you need to get back into the routine you built for yourself.

Mental health, just like anything medical, takes time. It doesn’t help to beat yourself up about it and it doesn’t help to forget everything you’ve worked towards. Don’t pressure yourself to be okay all the time, and don’t lose hope. Onwards and upwards.

I am a journalism student at the University of Leeds, in my second year. Writing about mental health and reducing any remaining stigma is important for me because I have seen my friends struggle with mental health as well as struggling with it myself. Writing has always been a useful outlet for me and I want to help as many people as I can going through university. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

My Experiences with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

In this blog, Emily writes on her experience of trauma and PTSD
CN: discusses difficult topics. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be caused by a wide range of traumatic experiences, either through being involved in or by witnessing traumatic events. 

You can find out more about the causes, symptoms and treatment for PTSD either on the Mind website, or the NHS website. This blog is going to explain my personal experience with PTSD and how I have dealt with it. 

My PTSD has been caused by an incident I was involved in six months ago which has left me shaken and shocked and scared, but it also happened at the worst possible time. I was about a week away from taking my final exam at university and it was the day before the Swansea Student Media awards evening, which I had been looking forward to for months as it was my final opportunity to attend the annual event. Despite the incident happening six months ago, I have only recently been in discussion with my doctor about PTSD because I didn’t realise that the incident was still affecting me so much, because I’ve been so distracted with everything else. 

Looking back, I don’t think I managed my emotions effectively, shortly after the incident. Even though I am pleased with myself for not completely shutting down, I wish I’d taken more time to let myself feel a bit more. Saying that, in the days after the incident took place, I didn’t get through one day without crying at least once and I learnt that that is normal and completely okay. However, I was also so focused on my exam and what to do after university that I totally pushed the incident out of my mind. 

Recently, I was triggered by something so badly that it was as though that incident happened yesterday, and I was more shaken up by reliving the whole thing all over again. 

Being diagnosed with PTSD has meant that I’ve had to learn to acknowledge what my triggers are and then how to calm myself down if I experience a trigger. This is by no means easy, but it’s a learning process. Not having the focus of university or the support that I had at university has been something that I’ve found difficult with this whole experience. However, one thing that I have found that helps me is to explore the topic of PTSD through creative writing. Furthermore, confiding in people about my struggles and about the incident also helps. 

What I recall from the blurry days after the incident, one of the things that really got me through those difficult, emotional days was the support of people around me at university. I almost considered not attending that awards ceremony but I had people there who made me feel comfortable and safe which I will always appreciate. I also had support and belief from those around me that I could push through and do my final exam and while I didn’t do as well as I wanted to do, I passed and at my graduation in July, I was able to say that I didn’t let that incident get in the way of my goal of graduating. 

This experience has changed my perspective on life significantly. Not only has it taught me that I can get through almost anything, it also taught me who my real friends are. I also learnt that after a traumatic experience, one’s emotions are likely to be all over the place for quite a while afterwards. Like with any mental health difficulty, PTSD takes time to get through and you may find yourself experiencing triggers and flashbacks years down the line. It’s important to recognise these triggers and to know how to deal with them. 

My name is Emily (Em). I have recently graduated from Swansea University with my BA degree in Modern Languages, Translation & Interpreting; I was also passionate about and dedicated to Swansea Student Media and the University students’ newspaper – Waterfront. I blog for Student Minds because I have experienced mental health issues as a student and now as a graduate, as well as other health issues, and I support friends who also have mental health difficulties. I am a passionate writer and writing has been important in my mental health experiences – both in helping me to explore and to cope with my mental health, as well as sharing my story in order to help others.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

5 Reasons Why You Should Write for the Student Minds Blog

In this blog, Carys, one of our sub-editors, shares the reasons why she writes for this blog and reassures those considering blogging for us…

1. Blogging is powerful:

A lot of people who are struggling with their mental health find comfort on the internet, where they can research symptoms and read stories of personal experiences without anyone knowing. The Student Minds blog is an enormous hub of information about pretty much everything to do with student well-being (if there’s something you feel is missing… write about it for us!). We know a lot of students and recent graduates find comfort and reassurance in the work we publish, in addition to the relevant signposting to other charities or services that they might find beneficial. 

2. Blogging is rewarding:

Furthermore, blogging for us is so rewarding. By sharing your personal story and experience on the “biggest blog dedicated to student mental health and well-being”, you are certainly helping at least one other person to get the help they need or to manage challenging situations. We all know how it feels when university isn’t really the time of our lives like everyone said it would be. The Student Minds blog gives us a platform to help someone else in their recovery. It is so fulfilling. 

3. Blogging does not require you to have a diagnosed mental illness:

Mental health and mental illness are two separate things: everyone has a mental health but only some people have a mental illness. Here at Student Minds we talk about mental health as a continuum, which means we recognise our mental health as fluctuating constantly and as incredibly personal to an individual. Needing to have a mental illness to write for us is a complete myth! Student mental well-being is such a broad subject area that affects all students and we welcome posts from all perspectives. Check out the blog for ideas and examples of titles. 

4. Blogging is for everyone:

Honestly, if you’re interested in contributing to our blog, we want to hear from you! Even if you’ve never blogged before or are not sure about your topic being relevant – I bet if past-you would have found it useful, it will be for someone else too! 

In addition to our blogging guidelines which contain loads of blogging tips and rules, there is the blog editorial team. There are 9 of us in total and we are just ordinary student volunteers from across the UK - not professional writers or famous bloggers – so the pressure’s off! After you’ve sent us your draft blog via the Write for the Blog web-page, one of us will be assigned to work with you to make sure that it is trigger-free and typo-free before uploading it. We will always make sure you’re happy with the edited version before we publish. Lots of you may be worried about “writing the wrong thing” – a concern we hear a lot. The role of the editorial team is to make sure things are appropriate to publish and we are trained to spot these “wrong things” and change them. 

Finally, an average blog post is 600-800 words – not a lot at all! It’s not as time consuming or difficult as you might think. We also are not just all about blogging: this year we are wanting to expand the blog to include vlogs! If writing isn’t your thing but the camera is, why not give it a go? 

5. Blogging is awesome:

The blogging community (you guys) is really the heart of the blog. So many contributors from many different walks of life all come together to make this blog a reality – it could be you too! I personally love the mini biography and photo at the end of each post, as it really helps give some personality to the blog and show that we are all just students helping other students. In this section we are more than happy to link your personal blog or website too if you’d like! 

However, we understand writing about mental health can be a sensitive area and sometimes you’re not quite fully ready to share. Of course, you can publish your blog anonymously – we just won’t put this part at the end, nor your name in the blurb – either giving you a pseudonym of your choice or simply being called anon.

Behind this blog are 9 amazing volunteers who give up our time to make this a reality and be a huge source of information for students and recent graduates across the UK. We all really hope to see your work in our inbox and online very soon! If you have any questions you can tweet or DM us @StudentMindsOrg and we’ll get back to you! 

I'm Carys, a 4th year Modern Languages student at Durham University. As well as my passion for languages and travel, I love talking about mental health and I am one of the Student Minds editors this year. Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments about my work - I love hearing from you!

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at University

In this blog, Emily shares tips she’s learned through experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at university

For some, the idea of the coming winter months fills them with warmth and joy. Cosy nights in with blankets and hot chocolate and Christmas movies sound welcoming. However, for others, the winter months fills them with dread. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is sometimes referred to as “Winter Depression”, is a type of depression which typically arises during the winter months, when it gets darker and colder. 

You can find out more about the symptoms and causes of SAD either on the Mind website, or on the NHS website.

My experience:

Before starting university in 2013, I had never heard of SAD, but since losing my Dad to cancer in early 2012, I had been aware of a pattern of my mental health getting worse during the winter months. During my second year at university, I went to speak to my GP because I was worried at how the upcoming colder and darker months would affect me at this important time of the year for my studies. This was because, in my first year, I had missed several lectures before Christmas because my mood was low, I was feeling exhausted and generally had very little energy or motivation to do anything. A year later, I was diagnosed with SAD. 

Each year, I still dread the winter months. My mental health is significantly better in the summer when the weather is generally nicer, there are more hours of daylight and I have more energy and motivation to do things. 

Since being diagnosed with SAD, I have learnt and developed some techniques that help me to cope better during the winter months. From November onwards, it’s a particularly stressful time for students, with essay deadlines and the upcoming exam season after the Christmas break. Coping with SAD (or any mental health difficulty for that matter) on top of assignments and revision is even more stressful and challenging. 

It’s important, if you do suffer with SAD, to acknowledge that you’re not always going to have the energy to do work, and that’s okay. There are certainly support services at university who you can speak to if you are struggling. You can speak to a tutor, a doctor, anyone you feel comfortable talking to. Talking to your friends about how you feel can also help. I remember in my final year, one day when I was desperately struggling with SAD and assignments and other deadlines, my friend came over to make me dinner, which was a real help. Cooking healthy meals either by yourself or with your housemates can really help at this time of year too. 

Another good idea is to get as much natural daylight as possible. At Swansea, I was really lucky because I could just go for a walk on the beach or in the park. If your university has any nice parks (or a beach) nearby, then get out into the daylight each day if possible, or even walking into the town centre. Taking a walk in the daylight also means that you’re getting some exercise too. Another thing that can help with SAD – but is difficult as a student – is to avoid stress. In this case, from my own experiences, I have found that it helps to take some time each day to do something that makes me happy, usually writing or watching a favourite TV programme. Whilst I was at university, I ensured that I had one day or at least half a day off from university work each week to just relax. 

If you do suffer with SAD, it’s important to remember that the winter months are temporary. Spring and summer soon come back around. There are so many things you can do to help yourself get through the difficult winter months, however, if you’re finding it really difficult, speak to your doctor for more advice. 

My name is Emily (Em). I have recently graduated from Swansea University with my BA degree in Modern Languages, Translation & Interpreting; I was also passionate about and dedicated to Swansea Student Media and the University students’ newspaper – Waterfront. I blog for Student Minds because I have experienced mental health issues as a student and now as a graduate, as well as other health issues, and I support friends who also have mental health difficulties. I am a passionate writer and writing has been important in my mental health experiences – both in helping me to explore and to cope with my mental health, as well as sharing my story in order to help others. 

Monday, 19 November 2018

Understanding negative thought process - and reclaiming control

In this blog, Romana describes different types of thinking processes that can have a negative impact upon your mental health, and explores ways in which we can manage them.

Earlier today when I was walking through town, I felt my nose tingle. Immediately I thought: “Oh my God. I’m going to sneeze. This could cause a nosebleed. Here, in public. I won’t have any tissues and I’ll make a huge mess. I might even faint and have to be taken away in an ambulance. I’ll be stuck in hospital and won’t be able to make my meeting tomorrow.” Upon reflection, this is arguably one of the most ridiculous thought processes that I’ve ever had. But at the time, the threat and the fear felt very real to me.

Every day, many of us get stuck in negative, unhelpful thinking patterns like this. Thoughts that drive fear, panic and low mood. Thoughts that, if we stepped back and actually considered, are doing more bad than good, and might not be entirely reasonable.

The type of thinking that I have described above is called catastrophic thinking: taking a small situation and blowing it out of proportion. This thinking pattern is very common in those of us with anxiety disorders. Another common example for me could be when I struggle with a coursework question, and I will immediately think: “I can’t do this. I will fail this coursework, and then the whole module. My degree grade will slip, and I won’t be good enough to get the graduate job that I want.” With this completely skewed outlook, it’s no wonder that we begin to feel anxious and panic.

Another negative thinking pattern is black or white thinking: an either/or mentality, where we fail to see that there are grey areas in-between the black and white. This kind of thinking involves a lot of ‘never’ and ‘always’ statements: “I am never comfortable in social situations” or “I always fail at essays”. Everything is negative or positive, and we fail to see that there is a middle ground. For me, my black or white thinking is paired with depression. On my least productive days I will think: “No way will I get a first-class degree, I am going to fail”. This leads me to feelings of helplessness and hopeless, not recognising that there are grades between first-class and failure.

There are lots of negative thinking patterns like this. Unrealistic expectations: “I need to get a first in every exam, nothing less is good enough”. Self-blame: “My housemate seems irritated, it must be something I said”. Disqualifying the positive: “My grade was good, but I probably just got lucky”. These distorted thinking patterns are all linked to mental health disorders, so it is worth researching them and finding which ones you can recognise in yourself. This way, you are in a position to change your thinking and reduce your anxiety.

What we really need to do is catch these thought processes and challenge them. Question them. Ask, “What is my evidence for thinking this way, and is it reasonable?” I have found that learning more about distorted thinking has been very helpful in understanding my anxiety. It makes me feel in control, which is something that many of us with anxiety feel we are lacking.

So, if you haven’t already, I would encourage you to learn more about and become engaged with your negative thinking – you may be able to understand and help yourself much better.

My name is Romana, and I am a fourth year Maths student at the University of Exeter. I have never been one to open up about my struggles with mental health, but I have decided to write for the Student Minds blog as a way to express and understand what I have been going through, as well as to hopefully bring reassurance to others who are feeling as I have.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Mental Health is Fluid

Rosie shares why it's important to recognise how experiences of mental health can change and fluctuate.
- Rosie

In recent years, one of the most important changes in attitudes to gender and sexuality has been the recognition of fluidity. To my understanding, fluidity means two things. It means recognising that people do not fit neatly into labels: everyone who identifies with a label will experience it slightly differently. It also means that an individual’s experience isn’t static, but can change over time. What if we started to think of mental health in these terms?

Labels can be important and liberating; they can give people the language to express their experiences and access support. Yet it is essential to recognise the fact that mental health does not exist statically within these labels. It changes person-to-person, day-to-day. Personally, two very different stages of my life have taught me how these two aspects of fluidity apply to mental health.

1: Everyone’s experience is different. Let’s rewind about two years. I was slowly acknowledging my struggles with food when I noticed a change in my social interactions. Looking back, what I was experiencing might be described as social anxiety. But, at the time, I never spoke to anyone about it, despite the fact that I was gradually open up about my problems with eating. The main reason for my silence on this particular struggle was that my experience didn’t match up with the symptoms I’d heard about. I never had panic attacks or heart palpitations, for instance. In hindsight, I wish I had known that my experience didn’t have to echo everyone else’s for it to be valid, real, or worth talking about. I may not have ticked all the boxes associated with social anxiety. But why should that have meant I didn’t deserve to talk about feeling physically sick when I bumped into people in the supermarket? 

2: Every day is different. By last year, as I had been recovering for some time, I no longer associate myself with the terms “eating disorder” or “body dysmorphia”. But in the stress of finals, I found myself experiencing some of the thought processes that I thought were long behind me. One of the scariest but most valuable lessons of this time was mental health can change day by day, minute by minute. Just as experiences of social anxiety vary person to person, recovery is not a permanent, unchanging state: it is complex and personal, with peaks and troughs. I still sometimes have days when I struggle with my body. But no more am I repulsed by myself to the extent that I can’t even look in a mirror. By recognising the fluidity of my mental health, I realised that any struggles I experience from day to day do not negate how far I’ve come. If anything, they highlight the progress I’ve already made and remind me of the importance of continuing to care for and monitor my mental health, regardless of my stage of recovery. 

So if you find yourself comparing your mental health to other people, or to your past experiences - you are not alone in that experience. But also know that you don’t have to think of it in those terms. I wish I could tell past Rosie that she didn’t need to meet any set of requirements and her feelings were and always would be valid. That labels were there only ever to help her express what she was feeling, not to limit or define her experience. That recovery didn’t mean she wasn’t allowed to have bad days. That mental health was fluid, and that it would be ok. 

Hi! I'm Rosie, and I'm doing an MA in interpreting and Translating in Bath. Mental health is very close to my heart, and I hope sharing my experiences will help others in similar situations.

Friday, 2 November 2018

When Molehills Become Mountains

Katherine shares her tips on how to deal with overthinking. 

- Katherine Lund

I overthink EVERYTHING. I worry all the time. I worry about what I said, what I didn’t say, whether to go to a party or stay in and watch a film, what to wear, how to act, how to be and what to say. I ask myself so many questions. I think of the what-ifs and should-I-have’s. I over-analyse and I self-destruct. I make mountains out of molehills. But I can’t help it. Or can I?

Over the last few years I’ve come up with ways to stop myself overthinking.

They’ve helped so much that now I am able to stop myself, pause, and have more control. So here are my tips…

I stop comparing myself to other people.

I used to do this especially around my sister. Now, I say we’re completely different people. We’ve had different experiences. I’ve had various issues I’ve had to deal with and those have been massively important in shaping who I am today. Everyone is different. What might be your strong suit might be your best friends’ weakness and vice versa. Don’t compare when you don’t have a reason to compare.

I stop thinking about the worst that can happen, and start thinking about the best outcome.

When I get into that horrible mindset of thinking about all of the negative things that could happen, I shift my focus to what could go right. It’s all positive.

I try not to be a perfectionist. 

It’s great to be ambitious. That’s fantastic. But perfection is not going to happen. It’s like ‘fetch’ in Mean Girls… It’s never gunna happen. Just face it. Tip: Mean Girls is a great film. Watch it.

I found friends that love and support me for who I am.

They help me challenge that inner critic, so I can be a more confident, and less self-deprecating human being. Choose your friends wisely. A good friend is someone that appreciates you for who you are, not who you pretend to be.

I try not to think about the future too much.

I find that instead of making me feel good, it makes me anxious and worried. Live in the present. The ‘here and now’, as my therapist used to say. If you’re constantly thinking about the future, you’re not spending enough time focusing on yourself now. And what’s going on in your life now. Or what’s making you happy now. Live in the moment. Try not to look ahead too much. It’s tiring and isn’t actually that productive in the long run.

When I find myself overthinking something, I ask myself how much it will matter in the next few months, or days, or even hours.

Usually, it doesn’t matter in the slightest. Something like which biscuit to buy at Tesco – yeah I might not have the best type of biscuit for dipping in my tea, but does it really matter? Will it ruin my day? No. You can dip any biscuit into tea. It’s still going to be yummy. Next time you’re worried about overthinking something, take a step back and work out how much it will affect you in the long run. I bet it won’t be as much of a deal as you thought it was.

Finally, I don’t think about plan B, because that makes me feel rubbish. 

Instead, I tweak plan A a little. In fact, I screw plan B all together.

Hi I’m Kat! I’m a mental health blogger from Norwich, and current university student at UEA. I write about everything, from student stress to sexuality, from anxiety to relationships. I love writing because it helps me in my recovery, but also because it can help other people too! I can’t wait to share my stories with you.

You can find more support on anxiety here.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

What do I do after graduation?

Manuela writes about the uncertainty and anxiety of employment after uni, and the importance of self-care.
- Manuela

“I took the first job I could and ended up in a far worse state than I would have after a few more months at home working out what would make me happy”.

After Graduation - What Happens?
Once my course had finished, I clung by my fingernails to my tiny London flat until, jobless and bored stiff, I was collected by my parents after graduation. They whisked me back to the middle of rural nowhere, where I set up camp with my laptop and a notepad, and tried to think of what I’d learned over the past three years that might be an employable skill…. And so began the toughest year I’ve had to date.

My boyfriend and most of my friends had another year to go until graduation; to me it was imperative that I find a way back to them in London. But my greatest fear wasn’t loneliness, it was lack of identity. For the past three years I’d put “student” as my occupation, and for the past 19 years of my life my raison d'être was to fill my tiny head with knowledge. Now that I’d run out of things to learn, who was I now?

I had no idea whatsoever what I might enjoy, or what I would be good at in the “real world”. Through trial and error, I eventually discovered a job title for which the description seemed to fit my personality, and the benefits and starting salary seemed unbelievably generous. I landed my first interview for the position of “junior recruitment consultant”. Manuela - 1 : Hopelessness - 0. I was convinced I was on the road to success now. But I hadn’t stopped to consider what would make me happy…. 

Losing Myself to Work 
Fast-forward through a whirlwind of sickening interviews and miserable morning commutes, I’m a fledgling recruiter and I hate my life. I was balancing my job with rowing, a boyfriend and friends all still at university, staying “in shape” and job hunting for the mystery career that, I believed, would be my ticket to happiness. These were all leftovers from my former student life; I couldn’t throw them away. Most of my support network still being at university, I had nobody to benchmark against and nobody to recognise, when I couldn’t, exactly when “not OK” turned into “really not OK”. I was crying on the tube to and from work, at rowing I was terrified of messing up and consequently my performance plummeted. The only time my boyfriend and I could see each other was the occasional weekday evening and our relationship had started to nose-dive. I couldn’t remember what I used to be like at university, or what I was supposed to be looking for now. 

I hadn’t found a permanent flat, so I didn’t have a GP, let alone the time to go and see one. So it wasn’t until I finally turned to Google that I discovered there was a name for what I was feeling: anxiety. I’d never suffered from a mental health problem before - I struggled coming to terms with it so I sat on the problem for a while hoping it would go away. It took me another four months before I booked a doctors’ appointment, by which time, I’d handed my manager my notice. 

I wouldn’t want anyone else who’s just graduated to make the same mistake as me. I was petrified of reaching September - the month I’ve always started a new term or school or subject - and finding myself trapped at home, doing absolutely nothing and feeling like I was worth even less. I took the first job I could and ended up in a far worse state than I would have after a few more months at home working out what would make me happy. 

Finding What Matters 
Now I’m in the exact same position as this time last year, but this time around, I’m backing myself. If spending my days in an office, or working in London will make me feel the way I felt, then I’m going to have enough self-respect and confidence to turn my back on that lifestyle. I’m going by trial and error again, but this time I’m trying my hand at freelance writing, trying to make enough to fund a lifestyle where I can spend the majority of my time outdoors. This time a year ago I didn’t believe I’d be good enough for a dream job if I did find it, let alone be confident enough to slow down and work out what I really valued. Now I respect myself enough to do what makes me feel good about myself. 

A job is a job, it will give you money, yes, and something to put on your LinkedIn. But if it’s going to be the thing you rely on to give you value and purpose, I’d urge you to stop for a moment. 

You don’t need a title to tell you you’re enough. Do what makes you happy.

I'm Manuela and I'm a King's College London graduate. I had excellent mental health until after university, when I immediately started suffering from anxiety. I'm sharing my experiences of struggling during the period immediately after university when most people lose the support they had while studying. I'm hopeful that by sharing my story and advice I'll be able to help people going through a similar experience realize that they're not alone.

You can find more support on anxiety here. Image taken from here.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Disclosing your mental health status to your university

In this blog Romana reflects on her experience of disclosing her mental health to her university, highlighting the range of options available to support students

Disclosing your mental health problems to your university can be scary. Telling anybody that you’re struggling is daunting enough, but to have it written in your records - labelling you as having a long-term mental health condition or a disability - can be difficult. However, it is important to remember that in doing this, you may be able to access wellbeing support services that are available to you through your university. I am a fourth year student, and having ticked the ‘long-term mental health condition’ box when I registered for university this year, I am finally learning about and accessing the services that are available to support me.

Every university will have a different process in regards to disclosing your mental health. Personally, having initially disclosed my mental health status, the first step for me was organising a meeting with the mental health pathway team. The aim of this was to help me to consider my support options across the university, and to put adjustments in place where my mental health impacts my ability to study.

For example, as a result of my illness, I often struggle to motivate myself in the mornings, as this is the time of day that I experience low mood and negative thoughts. As a result, more often than not I don’t attend my morning lectures. This meeting with the mental health pathway team has lead to my timetable being adjusted for next term, so that lectures are predominantly scheduled for afternoons where possible. This will stop me from feeling disappointed and demotivated as a result of missing lectures, as well as ensuring that I do not fall behind in my studies.

Furthermore, on my lowest days I will often find it especially difficult to work, complete assignments, or even get out of bed. Instead I’ll spend entire days sleeping, avoiding responsibility, with no regard for the consequences. This isn’t because I’m lazy; I just feel helpless, useless, and I genuinely struggle to find purpose in these days. However, another result of this meeting was that I am now able to easily apply for deadline extensions if I find that I am struggling, or that work is overwhelming me and building up. Whilst I hope that I won’t have to push back my deadlines, it is comforting to know that if everything seems to be going wrong, I will be able to relieve the pressure by giving myself a few extra days to complete my work. 

But personally, my biggest support service is my personal tutor. Once I had disclosed my illness to the university, he immediately emailed me to organise for us to meet once every two weeks; to check up on me and to see how I am getting on. When I am feeling good, I talk to him about the modules that I’m enjoying, my extra-curricular activities, and how my search for a graduate job is coming along. When I am feeling bad, he offers me the academic and emotional support that inspires me to keep going. I know that not everybody is happy with their personal tutor support, so I consider myself extremely lucky that my tutor is so compassionate.

I know that besides the services that I am accessing right now, there are loads more that are available to me. These include exam adjustments such as extra time and sitting exams in a smaller room, wellbeing therapy services and disabled students’ allowance, which offers a personal mentor for weekly support meetings.

These services are there because the university want to see students succeed, and they want to support students in doing so.  Everybody wants to get me through my final year, and I want to get through my final year, finishing with a top grade in spite of my mental illness. So even though it can feel like admitting defeat - giving in and accepting that I need support - I believe that disclosing my illness to the university and accessing support services are essential in ensuring my success this year.

My name is Romana, and I am a fourth year Maths student at the University of Exeter. I have never been one to open up about my struggles with mental health, but I have decided to write for the Student Minds blog as a way to express and understand what I have been going through, as well as to hopefully bring reassurance to others who are feeling as I have.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Learning to Grieve

*Trigger warning* This blog talks about death and grief which we understand can be upsetting.

In this blog Carys shares her tips on dealing with loss and grief as a young person

Recently, I watched a brilliant documentary on BBC iPlayer by George Shelley talking about loss and grief (you'll need tissues). I immediately realised a huge gap in mental health discussion: why is grief never talked about? Especially grief and loss among young people. Perhaps grief is hard to articulate clearly because it isn't clear at all.

Everyone who comes into this world will experience grief at some point in their life, and it's not something you're ever prepared for. Sometimes you don't even think a death will affect you so deeply, but it does.

In this blog I hope to share some tips that I've used when dealing with the sudden loss of 3 friends before age 21, named MR, DB and AW. All three were amazing people and friends I thought I'd have forever. During these rough, emotional experiences I’ve understood a lot about coming to terms with death and I hope what I’ve learned will be useful for others.

1)  Talk about them:
In the documentary, George Shelley mentioned about not even being able to say his sister's name to begin with, which is something I really related to. Since AW died, it's rare I've called them by the name I knew them as. George said to say the name out loud, so I did, and it helped. I sat there in my ball-pool of tissues screaming "AW!" for a good 20 minutes. It felt freeing! Finally, saying the name felt a lot less painful.

2) Let the emotions roll:
I’m all over the place with emotions - sometimes I don't even know if I'm sad crying or happy crying, but it doesn’t matter. There is no right way to feel: I’m allowed to be sad, angry, lonely or quiet if I want to be. It's okay to dedicate time for it too. If I get triggered, I allow myself to take 5 minutes of deep-howling cries or pillow-punching sessions. I’ll then wipe those eyes and start again. I know I'll feel worse if I bottle up these emotions.

3) Remember them:
Facebook’s “remembering" feature in front of my friends' names pulls at those heartstrings. Cover photos picture a moment I desperately wish to re-live. But the photos - and even more so the videos - I find weirdly calming to look through. When someone asks me about framed memories in my room, and the pictures covering my noticeboard, I feel I can talk happily about it. I can remember those times as funny, good, and happy, which they were.

4) Listen to Music
It's amazing how our minds link songs to certain people or memories. Of the 3 funerals I've attended, I remember the first minute of AW's. It's normal for your brain to detach from reality during distressing times - it's called dissociation. I wasn’t able to cry at DB’s funeral and I used to think about that a lot - it doesn't mean that I'm less sad or not as worthy of being there as others (which is what my brain likes to tell me). When I playback the non-hymn tunes played at the services, sometimes memories come out of them, sometimes I get nothing at all. I put on music that we used to listen to together to feel closer to them, or simply feel anything at all.

5) Meditate
Finally, have a listen to this on YouTube. I use when no one is there to listen, or I don't know how to talk about what is hurting. It makes you imagine a person who you need/want to tell something that you've been holding in, and they take it away from you and disappear until you need them again. I'm not the type of person who enjoys meditating, but this clip has helped me so much in life, and it doesn't just apply to grief.

6) Be patient with yourself, and others.
We all grieve differently. It's been 7 months now since AW passed, but my housemates and I are finally all talking again in person and online. The "elephant in the room" or the empty space is still there, and life isn’t the same anymore, but it's getting less difficult. We’re still allowed to have banter and share Gifs in group chats, even with one of us missing.

Thank you so much for reading and well done for getting through this important topic - writing this has been difficult, so I can imagine reading it will be too. Please remember to take some time to practice self-care and look after you.

I'm Carys, a 4th year Modern Languages student at Durham University. As well as my passion for languages and travel, I love talking about mental health and I am one of the Student Minds editors this year. Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments about my work - I love hearing from you!