Wednesday, 17 October 2018

A Note On Graduate Mental Health

In this blog, Emily talks about her mental health as a recent graduate and gives advice to those in a similar situation. 


When I took my final exam back at the end of May, the one thought that went through my brain was not “I finished my degree, time to celebrate and relax for a while!” It was “I finished my degree, what do I do now? What happens next?” All of a sudden, the life that had been lectures, assignments, exams, and stress was over – forever. I didn’t even have the distraction of the university paper to focus on as the final issue of the academic year had already been printed. 

As a Graduate, which has taken a lot of getting used to, I do think that in some respects, I am lucky in the fact that I have had jobs throughout the summer and have a pretty exciting opportunity lined up. About a week or so after finishing my degree, I was browsing the Internet for jobs in Europe – imagining myself teaching English in a sunny country like Spain or Italy. I came across an advert for a job with Education First (EF) teaching English in China and I just thought “why not? If I don’t do something this extreme now, I never will!” That’s how I’ve ended up preparing to go and work and live in China for a minimum of fifteen months. 

My Graduation ceremony back in July was quite a surreal blur of an experience. I was more interested in getting my certificate to begin the process of applying for a VISA to go to China, than I was about the ceremony itself. Also, I was halfway through a month-long contract teaching English in a summer school, which was a very intense and exhausting job to do. It didn’t hit me until a week or so later that it actually happened, and this is my life now.

University is definitely like this protective bubble in a sense. We have responsibilities and our own lives, but we also have a lot of support and guidance when it comes to education, work experience, careers advice, mental health support, etc... Once we’re in the “real world” that all sort of ceases and suddenly, we’re on our own and the world feels huge and scary. Since Graduation, and since leaving Swansea, I’ve experienced a dip in my mental health. Personally, for example, I’ve been feeling as though I need to be in consistent, constant employment rather than temporary contracts here and there until I eventually move to China. Graduate mental health, I believe, is a complex thing, and it is very easy to fall into the cycle of not feeling good enough when getting rejected from job after job, and also missing the friends we’ve made at university, comparing ourselves to others and feeling as though we “should” be in a certain place at a particular time in our lives. 

If anyone who’s recently graduated from university and finds themselves feeling similar, here’s some important tips to remember:
Remember that you’re living your life – you’ll end up where you’re meant to be when you’re meant to get there, with who you’re meant to be there with! (That’s a mouthful).
Remember to practice self-care, which includes being kind to yourself physically and mentally. Whether it’s congratulating yourself for something you’ve done, or just doing something you enjoy doing, be kind to yourself! 
Remind yourself that you graduated from university. It is a massive achievement. That degree certificate, that grade – whether it’s a 1st, a 2:1 or a 2:2, it doesn’t matter – it represents years of hard work, dedication, commitment, passion and focus. 

To quote one of my best friends – “No one truly has their life together; we are all on our own little journey and go at our own pace.” Keep going! 

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.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

PHD's Independence: a positive or a challenge to manage?

Nicola shares PHD student' experiences - the freedom, the challenges and calls for post graduate research students to share their experiences.

- Dr. Nicola Byrom

As part of an Office for Students / Research England funded project with Derby University I’ve had the opportunity to interview PhD students about their experience. It seems a time packed full of challenging balances to navigate. Many students point to the freedom that they have as one of the best parts of being a PhD student; you have the opportunity to create your own profile, to manage your own time, to follow your own interests and motivations.

As with any long project, there are peaks and troughs. At the peaks the independence is exhilarating. In the troughs, the independence can feel overwhelming.  With independence comes a real sense that “this is on me;” that if you don’t work out how to make the experiment work, or how to get a project running, no one else will.

Students have talked to me about the challenges they face around training. Even when working in a large and supportive lab group, it can be hard to find someone to help when you get stuck. It feels like this is because, as everyone specialises, there may genuinely be no one within the group who really understands what you are doing and why you are stuck. Reflecting on this experience, students see the positives; these experiences teach you to have self-confidence – you can, eventually, solve problems on your own. If grit wasn’t a pre-requisite for a PhD, it seems to be something most students feel they’ve developed.

When you are independent, you are also responsible. When things are going well, this can feel great. When problems arise, experiments don’t work, or your line of inquiry hits a dead end, it can feel awful. At these points, it can be difficult to separate personal responsibility for errors (the self-doubt can be quick to creep in) from the reality of research; failure is common. After nearly a decade working in research, I’ve learnt that the only certainty seems to be that most things fail! Failure is part of the process, it is something that we can learn from, but that reality doesn’t make it much easier to bear your first failures.

The feeling of independence, and the positives that accompany this, was not universal. Two situations seem liable to curtail independence. First, where a student has transitioned from working as a research assistant in a laboratory group to completing his/her PhD in this group, there can be challenges making the transition to independence. It can be difficult to let go of previous projects and papers to find time to carve out for your own work. Second, where students have industry funded PhDs and spend some of their time in industry, there may be conflicting ideas about the purpose of a PhD, with industry partners expecting to have more influence over the focus of the research and even the day-to-day activities.

Finally, most PhD students that we’ve spoken to so far identify that there is a limit to this independence; their studies are, after all, directed by their supervisor. Interestingly, students in their later years of study have been describing a process of learning to manage their supervisor; there is a process to work through from looking to the supervisor for direction to truly feeling you own the project.

As a PhD student, do you have independence? Is this a positive thing? Or can it be a challenge? Share your experience and help us better understand how to support PhD students here.

I am Dr Nicola Byrom a Lecturer in Psychology at Kings’ College London and Founder of Student Minds. 

Monday, 15 October 2018

Campaign: Stop university students falling through the net when receiving care between home and university

Angela shares her experience receiving support between home and university and why she is campaigning for change.
-Angela Hulbert

Student mental health is hot in the press. In 2015, 15,000 students disclosed a mental health condition, but despite the fact that students are encouraged to talk about their mental health, accessing help whilst a student can be incredibly difficult. With waiting lists incredibly long and only living on campus for 7 months of the year, accessing help can be almost impossible.

Here is my story: 

Throughout 2018, on my year abroad, my mental health took a nose dive to the point where I was having to fly back home from Italy during my stay. The GP saw me and explained to come back to see her once I was permanently back home in order to get some help. Once I moved back to the UK I approached my GP back home asking for help. I was often suicidal, self-harming & my mental health was taking a toll on my physical health. The GP said she wanted to refer me to the mental health unit so I could see a psychiatrist & access more in depth help but due to the fact that I was registered at the university GP (100 miles from home) I couldn’t be referred. I was told I couldn’t re-register when I asked to. So at 21, still not taken seriously, my mum had to get involved which eventually resulted in me being able to re-register at my Home GP. I was referred for Therapy For You an IAPT service where I was then told I could access a text service (not what I needed when I was rapidly loosing hope), once I declined this & pushed for the fact that I wanted to see a human being I eventually got put on a waiting list. I would be seen that summer.

Except I wasn’t. September rolled around & 1 week before moving to university, I received the phone call that a spot had opened up. I explained I was going back to university & could I do fortnightly sessions so that I would be able to commute? Once again I was refused because it had to be weekly sessions, something my timetable & my bank balance couldn’t allow for. Still to this day I have not received any help, just on another waiting list, 4 months after asking initially for help.

I have fallen through the gap. Being a university student, spending 7 months at university & the rest at home but only registered to one GP makes accessing help for your mental health incredibly difficult. Had I gone to the GP that very first time with a lump in my breast that they too were worried about I would have been referred to a specialist then & there to have it checked out even though I was a guest in that practice.

When I took to social media to share my story, my inboxes flooded with stories of students who too have been refused help for both their mental and physical health, some ending tragically with a loss in life. A change needs to happen. Our generation is constantly told to be open about our mental health but when we are the support isn't always available.

Students shouldn't be falling through the net. I have decided that I want to ignite a change and I have created a government petition to allow students to register to 2 GP's. Since creating the petition I have been made aware that dual registration for students may not be the right solution for this problem. Nevertheless a solution needs to be found so that students can receive full ongoing care.

A change starts off small but could help the generations to come. I urge students, parents and everyone and anyone who wants a better system for our young people to please sign this petition as we search for the right solution to this complex problem.

I’m Angela, a French and Italian student with a huge passion for mental health which comes from my own battle with mental illness. Little by little I am hoping that the conversations I have with those around me and on my blog will make a change to someone, somewhere.

Fears, Futures, and Third Year

In this blog, Phoebe discusses final year stresses and the fear of life after university, giving some advice on how to manage these worries. 

I'm in my final year now. I'm very stressed and fearful that I may or may not have taken too much on. Certain things haven't gone to plan and the future is rather uncertain at the minute. 

Being a student isn't all fun and drinking games, but recently I've been feeling immensely overwhelmed by life. It's finally time to start getting approval for my dissertation, my third-year placement is beginning soon, and I kind of don't know where to begin with planning my life after university. 

I'm more than aware I'm not the only person in this situation. Many other people will be about to embark on the same pathway as me, so in the midst of my uncertainty here are a few thoughts I came up with: 

It's OK to feel like this: it's totally OK to not have everything figured out. I know myself enough to know that I can get through this, and similarly you will find your way. And if you need support, then seek it: everybody needs a helping hand at some point in their life. 

Reach out: Once, during my first year, I hit a real low with my mental health. It was one of the worst relapses I've ever had and I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to ask my friends for help because I was so scared that they wouldn't want to be my friends anymore. But they stayed with me until the early hours of the next day and it actually brought us closer together. So don’t be afraid.

Believe in yourself: I think the main thing I'm going to rely on this year is myself. I know that I work hard and I know that I can do this: this current stress will pass. I'm going to give this year my best shot and if I don’t get the grade I want, then actually, that's fine. My best is all I can give and my best also involves taking care of myself. 

Take care of yourself: Recently I realised that there a lot of potential limitations to my research project and I'm absolutely petrified that it won't work. Whilst I've been an anxious mess, getting disproportionately stressed, I completely missed the connection that would tie my topics together. Taking time for yourself and taking care of yourself might actually end up being the one thing that helps you carry on. 

There may be overwhelming moments lurking in the future; stress may be about to surmount to quite high levels; but I guarantee you one thing: you are more than capable. Everything you need is within you and there is so much support available around you, for you to use when you need, and to help you reach where you want to go. 

My name is Phoebe, I’m 20 and a 3rd year Psychology student at Nottingham Trent University. I spend a lot of time campaigning for mental health awareness and I’m an ambassador for a number of mental health organisations including Beat and Time to Change.  I also have my own personal blog which I’ll leave the link to here: Feel more than free to get in touch!

Monday, 8 October 2018

World Mental Health Day 2018 – Student and Graduate Mental Health

In this blog Emily raises awareness about the importance of discussing student and graduate mental health this World Mental Health Day.


Each year, World Mental Health Day is marked on the 10th October. World Mental Health Day was first celebrated in 1992 and is a day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma. Last year, the theme of 2017’s World Mental Health Day was mental health in the workplace. This year, the theme for 2018’s World Mental Health Day is young people and mental health in a changing world. According to the World Health Organisation’s website, “adolescence and the early years of adulthood are a time of life when many changes occur, for example changing schools, leaving home, and starting university or a new job. For many, these are exciting times. They can also be times of stress and apprehension however. In some cases, if not recognised and managed, these feelings can lead to mental illness. The expanding use of online technologies, while undoubtedly bringing many benefits, can also bring additional pressures, as connectivity to virtual networks at any time of the day and night grows.” In this blog post, I am going to explore the challenges that not only university students may face with regards to mental health, but also the challenges that new university graduates can face. 

The recent Student Minds campaign #DearFresherMe saw many students (past and present) share their experiences and advice about mental health and starting university in order to advise and reassure new Freshers about to embark on their university journeys. Starting university in itself as a new first year can be daunting and challenging – moving away from home, living with new people and making new friends as well as starting a university course can cause a lot of stress and anxiety for some students. However, mental health problems for students don’t necessarily always begin during the first year of study – they can happen at any stage during university. In fact, each new academic year brings with it a fresh wave of challenges, including increased workload, living in student housing, perhaps studying abroad for a semester or a year, and the worry about what to do after university finishes. 

What can students do to help their mental health? Firstly, it is important to highlight that asking for help and indeed finding help and support for mental health is difficult. It can be embarrassing and worrying to find the confidence to admit that you’re struggling. Usually, however, there are lots of people who can support you. For example, I struggled a lot with mental health problems during my time at Swansea University, and I found it especially helpful to speak to the wonderful staff in the Swansea University Students’ Union’s Advice and Support Centre. They were always non-judgemental and usually just always available if I needed a chat. But, it can also be helpful to speak to other people, like a tutor, additional support services or a GP, as well as friends and family. Keeping busy and finding something you thoroughly enjoy doing and taking part in can also significantly help with mental health. 

Moving on, graduate mental health is something that is not heard of, not well known, and definitely not talked about enough. I think it is misunderstood just how challenging it is to have gotten used to being at university which is a bit like a bubble, to suddenly being out in the big wide world! Little has been said about the post-graduation feeling of anxiety and confusion, and “this silent problem is taking over the lives of recent graduates, and while conversations around mental health in general have been getting louder, this is an area that is still relatively quiet” (Source). Leaving university is a shock to the system and it can be extremely tough to adjust to post-graduate life. However, it’s important to remember that your degree certificate signifies years of hard work, dedication and passion to your course, and that it is perfectly okay to not be in a perfect job right way or even to have a clue what you want to do. 

With this year’s World Mental Health Day focusing on young people, it is a good idea to challenge people’s perceptions of student and graduate mental health, as well as to educate about these important matters. This can help to further reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health at university and post-university and hopefully give more students and graduates the confidence and the reassurance to ask for support when required. 

“Emotional pain is not something that should be hidden away and never spoken about. There is truth in your pain, there is growth in your pain, but only if it’s first brought out into the open.” 
- Steven Aitchison

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.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Dear Fresher Me

Michael writes about some tips and tricks he wish he knew as a fresher. 

Starting university can be a really fun, exciting, and self-defining experience. But it can also be challenging, particularly whilst you settle in and find your feet. I started university after spending two years in full time work and I found it really intimidating and overwhelming. I felt like I didn’t belong and this made me anxious around others and pretty hard on myself. 5 years later I am still at uni and much happier. Here, I give my 5 #DearFresherMe tips for managing when you start university.

1.      Find Your University Support
You might not need it but it’s always helpful to have an idea early on of where to go for support if you feel like are struggling. Find out what student welfare services and general pastoral care your university provides, what they do, and how to access them. It helped me to speak to a member of the welfare team on the first day - after that, they looked out for me during the first few weeks whilst I was struggling.

2.      Ask for Help if You Need It. 
Speak up if you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious. I found that people were really supportive and accommodating if they knew you were struggling but, with so many other students, they might not realise something is wrong unless you tell them. Equally don’t be afraid to ask about uni life more generally. I thought that if I asked questions about the academic or social elements of university life, people would think I was stupid. But it becomes harder to ask the longer time goes on. The opening few weeks are a really good time to explore how everything works and ask questions.

3.      Get into a Healthy Routine.
You might find when you get to University that you have less compulsory contact hours than you expected. For some, this can make it hard to know when the work starts, whilst, for others, it can be hard to know when it stops. Either way, it will be helpful to get into a healthy routine early on to help balance your time and look after yourself. I found that it helped to treat my uni work as a job with set times and spaces; I chose to only work at the library so that I could keep my room as a time and space for me. 

4.      Get Organised
Because I felt anxious and overwhelmed, it really helped to get organised. Use a diary, record academic deadlines and other commitments, file your work, and regularly check and sort your university emails to make sure that you are on track and don’t miss anything. This will likely save you some stress and last minute panics!

5.      Relationships Matter.
Having a good support network of friends will help you get the most out of your university experience. Although building new friendships takes time and effort, it really is worth it. If you find it hard meeting new people, you won’t be alone – there will be other people that will feel the same and really appreciate a smile and a chat. Or you could try to find ways of meeting people with similar interests by joining societies or volunteering.

Everybody’s university journey is unique, and we all go to university with different hopes, fears and expectations. Try to take things at your own pace based on the advice that feels right for you. 

About Michael:
Hi, I'm Michael. I'm a postgraduate student at Durham. I want to write for Student Minds to share my own experiences of depression and anxiety and tackle the stigma around mental health.

Some useful links:
Finding Support:
Transition to university:
Looking after your wellbeing:

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

‘But I’m not depressed enough’: Don’t wait for crisis point to seek help

Romana writes about her experiences of mental health difficulties and the importance of recognising the signs, speaking up early and asking for help.
- Romana

‘By allowing myself to reach such a low point of my life before I finally got help, I made my recovery so much harder than it needed to be’.

I always knew that I was probably a little depressed. I displayed plenty of symptoms; low mood and self-esteem, avoiding social events, feelings of emptiness, self-harm. But, I was in a good relationship, I had good friends, and often, I was genuinely quite happy. Plus, I argued that because I didn’t match every symptom, I was probably coping fine. I didn’t struggle to concentrate. I was quite often tired, yes, but that was probably normal. And I definitely wasn’t suicidal. ‘There are people out there who are really struggling’, I thought, ‘I’m not depressed enough’. 

However, a friend urged me to visit a counsellor. I went, and I started a 6-week course of CBT. Although this was probably the right thing to do, I didn’t really engage with the therapy. I liked sitting down and talking to somebody about my thoughts, but I made no effort outside of the sessions. I didn’t attempt the activities that the therapist recommended. I didn’t journal my thoughts and feelings, or push myself to go to any social events. I just thought: I don’t need to have my life organised by a counsellor, I’m not depressed enough’.

When therapy ended, I carried on as I had been. I’m hardworking, so I spent a lot of time at university studying. I didn’t join any societies, I didn’t do any sports, and I definitely didn’t socialize if I could help it. Instead I would mostly just work alone in my room. I was putting immense pressure on myself to succeed and, coupled with my consistent low mood, it became a very delicate emotional balance; one which was nearly at tipping point. 

During exam season, I was confident. But then one day, I was having lunch alone, and I had a terrible panic attack. I was terrified: it felt like my entire mind and existence were falling away from me. Sitting in bed with a cup of tea afterwards, I had another. Then, that evening during dinner, another. My mind connected the dots in the wrong places, and I blamed mealtimes for this awful panic that I was feeling. The obvious solution seemed to stop eating. By my final exam, I was weak, overwhelmingly anxious, and felt like I might break down at any second. Somehow, I made it through the two-hour exam, but by the next day I had been taken home from university very ill. 

I spent the entire summer attempting to recover, trying to crawl out of the hole that I had fallen into. The hardest part was overcoming my fear of eating. I was referred to the psychiatric liaison team at the hospital, and then to the depression and anxiety service. At this point, I was really struggling. I felt helpless, and without hope. I found it hard to envision my future anymore, and struggled to fathom how I could ever be happy again. Gradually, my wellbeing improved over the three months of summer, and I was able to return to university for my final year. 

To get to where I am now has been such a long and difficult journey. By allowing myself to reach such a low point of my life before I finally got help, I made my recovery so much harder than it needed to be. Rather than accepting the help of a therapist early on, or reaching out and talking to my parents about how I felt, it took letting myself completely break down before I finally believed that I was depressed enough for help. 

The reality is: any behaviour, thoughts or feelings that are out of the ordinary for you are worth your attention. Whether your diet and sleep patterns are suffering; or you can’t find the energy to socialize anymore; or maybe sometimes your mind wanders to dark places. Ask yourself why this is happening, and make an effort to change it. It is so important not to ignore how you’re feeling, just because you don’t match all the symptoms, or because you don’t believe that your problems are valid enough. Maintaining a positive wellbeing is always important, and I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to speak up and ask for help as soon as you notice that something is wrong. 

You can find more support on depression here, anxiety here, and eating disorders here

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.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

My experiences as an LGBT+ student

In this blog, Emily talks about navigating university as a LGBT+ student and the importance of finding a support network.

“I’ve been embraced by a new community. That’s what happens when you’re finally honest about who you are; you find others like you.” – Chaz Bono.

When I first arrived at university five years ago, I’d never really considered what it meant to be LGBT+. Personally, I’ve never been one who prioritised sex or relationships. That hasn’t really changed during my time at university. However, university has been a chance for me to explore my sexuality and begin to discover who I am.

I’ve had strong feelings for males and for females. I would comfortably express myself as bisexual. However, simultaneously, I have never had any desire for anything sexual with either men or women. Therefore, I would also label myself as asexual.

Labelling myself as either bisexual or asexual has been something that I’ve only felt comfortable in doing throughout my most recent, final year at university. Before then, I’ve kept it a secret from everyone. Several things have made me more comfortable in being open about my bisexuality/asexuality confusion, including surrounding myself with people who are part of the LGBT+ community. Most of my closest friends are LGBT+, lots of the people I look up to as role models are LGBT+ and I love and cherish them all – they’re all also the kindest, most inspirational people I know. I think being around LGBT+ people has made me to feel more comfortable about my own sexuality and my own place in the LGBT+ community, and is also useful for other students who are learning about their sexual identity.

One of the regrets I take away from my time at university is not joining the LGBT+ society or attending of their events – I recommend this for any LGBT+ or questioning student. For the first four years of my degree, I didn’t feel comfortable being open about it. Then, in my final year, while I wanted to be involved, I was too busy. However, something I valued a lot was having the opportunity to explore my sexuality through the students’ newspaper. I wrote articles about being confused between bisexual and asexual, and I also wrote creative writing pieces with a focus on LGBT+ relationships.

Being an LGBT+ student at university isn’t always simple and easy, but one thing that I think really does make a lot of difference, genuinely, is having a brilliant support network around you.

“What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.” – Tennessee Williams. 

My name is Emily (Em). I have recently graduated from Swansea University with my BA in Modern Languages, Translation & Interpreting;  I was also involved with Swansea Student Media and the university's student newspaper - Waterfront. I blog for Student Minds because I have experienced mental health issues and support friends who also have mental health difficulties. i am passionate writer and writing has been important in my mental health experience, both in helping me to explore and cope with my mental health as well as sharing my story in order to help others. 

Monday, 1 October 2018

#DearFresherMe: Thoughts to Hold on to Throughout University

Alys offers a compassionate insight into navigating first-year, by giving helpful tips and highlighting the importance of self-belief.


It's that time of year that brings about fresh starts and big changes with the colouring, and falling, of the leaves. In a sense, this feels like more of a 'new year' than the actual New Year. This weekend, you'll be driving up North to become a university student, in a tiny car bloated with the objects that make up your life. 

In one way, it's been a long time coming. You've had two years out of the traditional school system and have already left your teen years behind. You tried a distance learning degree, and even completed the first year, but you knew that wasn't what you wanted to continue doing. So, I think now is the right time. I don't think many people ever feel completely ready to go to university, everyone has their own kinds of struggles, but I think at this point in time you're as ready as you'll ever be. 

I really hope anxiety doesn't get too much in the way of you making the most of this. It stopped you from going to university completely last year, so you've come a long way since then. I don't want you to have to just cope with it all though, is it too much for me to hope that you actually enjoy your time there? 

Big life changes aren't really that easy to simplify. But I do have a couple of thoughts I'd like you to hold onto as you navigate your way through the first few months of university: 

Study hard but try not to overwhelm yourself with pressure. 

Studying is not the be-all and end-all of life, and you're going to university for more than just a degree - otherwise you could've just stuck with the distance learning method. 

Put effort into putting yourself out there. 

Meet new people but don't feel like you have to be someone you're not or put yourself in situations that aren't what you want. Throughout all of your other educational experiences, you never actively sought out friendships, you let them come to you. This is a time to challenge that. 

If, not when, you find things hard, persist and fight. 

You are wonderfully stubborn, and I know you won't give up easily. You can ask for help, that doesn't make you weak. 

But please, if it's all too painful know that it's okay to quit or take a break. 

Remember this is not necessarily a bad thing - I don't want you to feel like you're on the verge of leaving all the time but I do think it's important to know that it's okay to change things if you're unhappy. The destruction of your mental health is not worth a degree; there are always other options. You will find a window to climb through, even if every door is locked. 

Most importantly, I believe in you. 

You've grown a lot, done a lot and been a lot since you left college over two years ago. In the 18 months you've had away from education, you've spent nearly 10 of these abroad, in 18 different countries. You've grown a blog and written all about mental health in ways that hopefully have helped people. You have even kept the plant alive that sits at the end of your bed. 

You've had great days and bad days and everything in between. You've laughed until you've cried and shared secrets and politics and plenty of vegan cookies. You've also felt how truly dark emotions can be. You've learnt about the vulnerability of our minds and bodies, and how connected these are; you've learnt the physical pain and mental aggravation of being diagnosed with a chronic condition. You've learnt more about yourself than you ever thought was possible. 

Look at how much you have done. I am not pointing this out so that you can brag, I just want you to see how capable you really are and how proud of you I am. You should believe in yourself as you start this new chapter at university. 

You can do this. 

Love, Alys.

Hello, I'm Alys, a mental health blogger and sociology student in York. I wanted to write for Student Minds as I have a lot of personal experience with anxiety and I hope that these kinds of open discussions can help other people who are going through similar situations.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

#DearFresherMe: Eating disorder recovery, finding balance and self-compassion

In this blog, Ana reflects on the advice she’d give her younger self on starting university with a history of mental health difficulties and learning to thrive in a time of big change and transition. 

Moving to university having suffered from an eating disorder can seem an anxious and lonely prospect. Universities place a big emphasis on socialising, which inevitably includes eating and drinking. This terrified me before leaving home: what if my eating disorder stopped me from meeting new people and not being as social as I was expected to be? Making your own food can also be really hard. The newfound independence and responsibility makes it easy to revert into old habits, and the fear of people watching me eat or commenting on my food preferences all played a part in the nervous emotions I felt leaving home.

So, as I head into my final year, what would I say to my fresher self now?

First of all, everyone has their own thing going on. People aren’t really too bothered about your odd habits or irrational insecurities. Everyone is scared, everyone is anxious and everyone is probably in the same boat, having some sort of fear. In a kind of weird way, it’s nice to remember this because it can make you feel less alien, and less alone. So just trust yourself!

Secondly, and most importantly, I would tell myself to have fun. University is a once in a life time experience. There’s so much to learn, so take advantage of that. Keep busy, find new hobbies, meet new people, and soon enough, the fears you had leaving home won’t seem so scary. You’ll end up spending the holidays waiting to go back to your student city, back to your friends, and back to studying what you love!

Having said all that, there will be days where things are difficult, and you can feel lonely. It may seem like no one understands what’s going through your head. Sometimes you just want to stay in and have time to yourself or do something to unwind. This is totally normal, and Yoga and Meditation societies often have plenty of members keen to take a step back and enjoy some time to chill. 

No matter what you feel, there is always support and someone you can talk to. There will always be someone who ‘gets’ it, whether you final them in a mental health society or amongst your flatmates. The wellbeing departments at university also offer amazing support: they understand that university can be a fun but challenging time, and the big changes can continue to affect you even once you’ve settled in. Don’t be afraid to reach out. It’s normal to struggle sometimes, and as much as everyone else seems to be having fun, almost all of us will feel a bit blue at some point throughout the year. 

Finally, find the balance of you-time and having fun. They’re both as important as each other. Before you know it, you’ll be in your graduation gown thinking, where did the time go?!

I’m a third year Drama student at University of Exeter, and have loved my time at uni. There have been ups and downs but I wouldn’t change a thing. I am hoping to share my experience of my own mental health struggles in order to reassure someone moving to university that everything always works out!