Thursday, 15 September 2016

The trap of not feeling "good enough"

Margot, founder of YourMind, writes about how "not feeling good enough" is something many people go through, and explains how eventually, it can become manageable.

-Margot

The feeling of not being “good enough” is a feeling that I know well. It’s like an old friend that I know is bad for me but am too afraid to push away. Once in a while, it pays a visit - uninvited - and sits in my stomach, giving me that feeling of helplessness and laughing at my dreams of success. 

In the past, I would think to myself: “Yes, it’s uncomfortable and painful. But it’s been around for so long, how do I get rid of it now?”. I would struggle with it for days on end making myself miserable until I would get good feedback from someone, recognition for something that I had done; only then would it would evaporate. Of course, the fact that I relied on external validation to make the feeling go away meant that I was completely at its mercy. It was impossible to tell how long it would last.

The peak of my inability to deal with this feeling came during my Master’s year. I had applied to an MSc at a top university to test myself: in my mind, this would be the ultimate proof of whether I was “good enough” and, if I got in, would once and for all settle this gnawing feeling. I got accepted to the MSc but, needless to say, this didn’t help. Quite the contrary.

From the first day of the MSc, I started thinking that the admissions board had made a mistake. I was sure that someday I would be called into an office and told that there had been an “unfortunate mix-up”, and that I was not supposed to be on the course. With each difficult test or coursework, I became more convinced that I was the least clever person in my class and that everyone knew my secret: I was an impostor.

I started to believe that grades were the ultimate test of my intelligence. However, this was a trap. It didn’t matter that I did well in tests or graduated above my classmates: I kept telling myself that this didn’t prove anything, and that I probably had to work a lot more than my peers to achieve similar results. I reached the end of the year feeling completely drained. I felt like for the past year I had been running a marathon in which the end line kept getting further and further. I decided that I did not want to enter working life in this way and started seeing a therapist who helped me to develop healthier thinking habits.

These days, I am much better at taking control of my feelings. This isn’t to say that my old friend “not feeling good enough” never pays a visit, but it does mean that when it arrives, most of the time I am able to acknowledge it, greet it and live with it without making my life miserable. It eventually gets bored of me not giving it attention and goes away. I won’t lie and say that this change in attitude came easily: it didn’t. It required significant work on myself to change my thinking habits and at times the process seemed useless. However, it was worth it. 

Through working on myself I started telling people around me how I felt and realised that many people feel the same. I started seeing more and more people around me falling in the “not feeling good enough” trap that I knew so well and decided that if I could learn to avoid it then others could too. I was lucky enough to grow up in an open family with whom I could be open about my feelings, and that I was able to get therapy. I know very well that these are luxuries that many people unfortunately don’t have access to: seeing a therapist is expensive, time consuming and embarrassing for most people - so we don’t want to do it.

I began to wonder how these hurdles could be overcome and decided to set up YourMind, a platform to improve mental wellbeing through easy to implement tips and Skype sessions with highly qualified therapists. Skype sessions with therapists are highly effective and significantly more affordable than face-to-face therapy. I hope that with YourMind more people will have the opportunity of learning to be kinder to themselves and improve their mental wellbeing.

Building YourMind has not been easy and my old friend “not feeling good enough” visits on a regular basis. Some days I am better equipped to let it sit there alone while I get on with my life whereas others I fall back into old habits of engaging with it and end up feeling terrible. However, I know that habits aren’t changed overnight, so I keep working on it. 

You may be thinking that none of this applies to you and that you feel completely adequate. In that case, great! However, take a minute to think about whether there are other feelings or thoughts that affect your mental well-being. If there are, I encourage you to be mindful of them and speak to a friend or a professional - it can make a huge difference to your overall state of being. I’m not saying it will happen overnight, but it could make a bigger difference to your life than you expect…

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Fundraising: My First Ever Marathon

Phoebe has documented her fundraising journey and preparation to take on the Robin Hood Marathon as part of Student Mind’sAmazing Raise.

- Phoebe Lau

When I finished the half marathon in June, part of me said “never again.” Hence my shock at signing up to does the Robin Hood Marathon! 3 weeks from my first ever-full marathon in Nottingham I really did question why I had signed up for. The truth is a couple of months ago I was feeling a little down and in a spur of the moment decide to challenge myself as I had never done before by signing up to run around Nottingham on a Sunday in September.

I mean that’s perfectly normal right? I can paint the scene for you if you like. Outside the rain begins to fall on a dark night. Me. Single. Twenty-four years old. Sitting alone in my living room with a spoonful of Ben and Jerry’s dangling from my hands while singing ALL BY MYSELF… Oh wait. That’s Bridget Jones. Still. Pretty similar. Except instead of crying over a Mr. Darcy I was crying over my non-existent common sense. 

As soon as I paid the entry fee (£45 who knew paying to torture yourself could be so expensive?) I realised I hadn’t thought things through. A marathon is 26.2 miles. That’s twice further than I’ve ever run before….

So naturally, I buried my head in the sand. I’m quite a nervous person anyways. Often my anxiety causes me to overthink everything but as the weeks turned into months and September crept up upon me I realised more than ever I had to face my challenge head on. I had already had a summer routine in place with weight training, a weekly long run and some shorter distances. I did a bit of research. Read some blogs. Did some motivational meditation on Youtube where some American woman intoned in her voice full of chakra that I was to channel my spirit animal (a tiger) into this task! I was starting to feel pretty confident.  I looked good! I felt good! I was feeling motivated!

Then… my ankle struck!

I had injured my ankle very seriously in the past and being the not-quite-as-young-tiger-cub (my mum calls me that, it’s much better than “little tiger”) it wasn’t healing as well and it got to a point where I began to worry about the fact that I might not even make it to the starting line. All summer I had kept my marathon a small secret, only a few friends knew about it. I think I did that on purpose because it was as if I didn’t believe it was going to happen. But now I had given myself a serious strain and needed to go sit out for a bit it hit me how much this challenge meant to me. I had to take a few weeks off to do physio and juggled that with just going to the gym and using the body machines. And gently in between trying out new fitness classes I did everything you could imagine. RICE. Rubbing tiger balm (hence the tiger-cub) lotions on my skin. Propping my leg up at every opportunity. Googling massage techniques for my knee joints.

It made me think a lot more about why and what I was running for. As a student while at University I have had a few mental health up and downs. Sometimes they do make me sit things out for a while. Whether it’s social activities, meeting with friends or lectures. Mental health is just like any physical illness or injury. You can’t rush it as my physio describes and you just have to try and be patient like how I needed to do my exercises readily every single day (I’m sorry Physio – I forget sometimes… ) but over the course of the month all that stretching, ankle flipping, me moaning, just waiting around has helped me build my leg muscles back up. I’ll spare you the details but I can tell you I have activated my glutes! And it’s looking good!

It still hurts! Don’t get me wrong! I’m not looking forward to 26.2 miles but what I am looking forward to now more than ever is trying 26.2 miles out for 

a charity that reminds me to look after my head as much as my body.

 If you would like to find out more about Phoebe and her challenge please visit her fundraising page here 

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Taking care of your mental health when you start university

Ursula (stitchedwords.wordpress.comtalks about how starting university can be daunting, but offers tips and advice on how to overcome some of those anxieties and fears. 

-Ursula

1 in 4 of us will struggle with mental health at some point in our lives. This may include feelings of anxiety, addiction, obsession, phobia, depression, bipolar disorder, or an eating disorder. A recent study by Sussex Student Union has uncovered at least 42.2% of students started university with a mental health problem, meaning the remaining 26% of students developed a problem whilst or before joining university.

It’s that time of year again; universities all over the UK are about to open their pearly white Higher Education gates. It’s a bittersweet challenge for all involved, especially if you have a mental health issue. You may be feeling excitement as well as that deepening anxiety within the pits of your stomach.

Whilst the majority of ‘freshers’ are already planning their boozy nightlife Freshers week schedule and hoping that they will like their new housemates, those with mental health problems will be swamped with a multitude of other, more concerning questions. From ‘will my housemates think I’m weird if I tell them about my mental health,’ to ‘what if this all gets too much and I really struggle?’.

I was in a similar place before I began my journey to University. I remember being so excited for the new experience, flying the nest and being in a new city with new people. However, on the other end of the spectrum began the thoughts of ‘Is this for me? What if my new housemates think I’m weird? I know I struggle sometimes, will I have anyone to turn to?’. I was about to embark on a fashion course; the pressure to be pretty and look good was daunting.

Before starting University, nobody knew about my mental health other than myself. I faced frequent anxiety and panic attacks when things got too much. I already feared friends and family discovering this, so I revelled in the idea of starting somewhere new, a fresh start where no worries existed.

When we take that initial step into our university venture, nobody tells us that we’ll have days where we’ll feel homesick; days where we simply don’t want to go get out of bed, or days where we realise we miss our mum’s nagging, cooking, cleaning and general mum-like things, and it’s throwing mental health in the mix that makes all this 10x harder.

Instead we’re fed stories about how crazy nights out are – never about the horrid hangovers, or rubbish feeling you have when it hits home that you’ve spent your entire loan on drinks, taxis, and fast-food. What they forget to tell you are the truths and reality of University life – beyond the cloud of being the social bee and party animal; it’s a big transition, the move away from home and adjusting to a new lifestyle.

Talk that talk.
It can be a struggle to realise there are various support systems which we can turn to when we’re having that day, week or month from hell. But help is a simple courageous step away, and it’s important to remember you aren’t alone. There are various NHS and university services available to support your student lifestyle and overall well-being.

The NHS offer a variety of treatments, as well as counselling therapies such as: talking treatments (formerly known as counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)). These services are where individuals are given a safe confidential space where they can talk freely about anything that may be troubling them.

Most institutions offer some form of mental health support, and the process is pretty simple too; you’re initially referred to an advisor, who will then ask you basic questions about the thoughts and feelings which are troubling you; and what you hope to achieve from your sessions. From there you will be put on a waiting list for the opportunity to talk to a trained counsellor.

It is tough juggling mental health and university, however seeking help from tutors, counsellors, or even doctors can really help to balance out the struggle. By accessing your own universities help, you may be entitled to extensions for assignments and even extra time during exam periods! 

Further, it’s not only mental health charities who offer support. Friends and families are often the best support we can receive, for they know us best. It’s important to not isolate yourself, you don’t have to go through this alone.

Set goals.

Setting goals for yourself can be a minefield when you are mid-slump. Remember to be flexible and patient, not everything always goes to plan. Mental health charity ‘Rethink’ have put together an easy way to remember to be flexible and patient when thinking of what you want to achieve: be Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Realistic. Time limited (SMART). 

And finally…

Remember that it gets better. It’s so cliché; three years ago, when people would tell me that I would be okay, I thought it was it was so far-fetched. It was embedded within me that it would not get better. This doesn’t mean that I don’t still have my days where the weight of the world gets too much, and days where I’ll have bags of anxiety which makes me not want to leave home, but I always think ‘this too shall pass’.

To all those who are about to start their University journey, good luck! 

How I Overcame Depression and Discovered My Talents

Mary writes about how she solved the cause of her depression during her university studies and how that helped to define her talents.
- Mary Kleim

You know those people who choose the wrong major at college and have bitter regrets? Well, I’m one of them. I couldn’t bear the pressure of the choice, so I just decided to make my parents happy. They were happy all right, but I got depressed.

I found the strength to get through that period of my life. It wasn’t easy, but I made it through, and I want to tell you something: depression has a purpose. It’s meant to make you aware. When you’re in a bad place because of your own choices, your sub consciousness finds ways to hit you right in the face. Once I realised that was where my depression was coming from, I started digging deep enough to find out exactly what I wanted to do.

My parents have always expected too much from me. My father is a gambler, who brought the entire family into one disaster after another. My mother is a nurse. She faces the struggles of other people every single day, so I understand why she’s so frustrated when she gets home.

Me… I was always the perfect child. I was the light in their lives. I always did great at school. I was smart, well-mannered, humble, and kind.

My mother always told me: “You’re the one who’ll get us back up. You’re the only hope I have. You’re everything to me.” If I got a B at school, she was disappointed.

The expectations increased when I went to college. Since all I ever did was with the purpose of making my parents happy, I didn’t know what I wanted. My own feelings and desires were buried so deeply that I couldn’t recognize them anymore.

When it came down to choosing a major, I faced the greatest challenge in my life. I knew this decision was going to trace my future. I had no idea what I wanted, so I chose what my parents expected: business management. That’s where the money was. Since my family was always in financial struggles, they wished a life full of luxury for me.

I got very depressed during my first year at college. I didn’t want to make friends. I was always alone, unwilling to discover the city, unwilling to go to parties, unwilling to do anything. When my parents asked how everything was, I lied.

At one point, I got so low that there was no other way to go but to pull myself up. I had a really nice roommate who understood what I was going through. She’s the most compassionate, intuitive, and kind person I know. She suggested a method: “If you don’t know what you feel, write. Your thoughts get clearer when you put them on paper.”

I began to write a private online diary. The process was meditative: I used to stare at the blank page for a minute, and then words just started pouring out. I felt like I was revealing my soul to that diary… layer by layer.

My mind got more focused throughout the writing process, and my feelings got clearer. Now, I was the one who was disappointed. I realised that from then on, it was time to start making my own choices.

After a long time of consideration, I decided to stick with that major, but I found a way to combine it with something I loved: writing. Now, I have my own online writing business and it’s doing great.

The period of depression is behind me now, but the experience serves as a reminder that I’m my own person, responsible for my own choices and actions. I don’t know where the future will take me, but I find relief in the fact that I’m the one who’s building it.

For more information on finding support with depression, click here.         

For more information on how to support a friend going through depression, click here.


Monday, 12 September 2016

The procrastination problem

Andy discusses different types of procrastination and offers tips on how students can stay motivated and on task when studying

-Andy Rowe

It’s something that affects us all; we’ve got that box-set to watch, the bathroom to clean and those dishes to wash and it can come at the expense of being sat down; doing work. As people who are working towards a PhD, (or perhaps more generally, any form of qualification) procrastination is virtually a requirement of the journey – everyone, and I mean everyone, at some stage struggles with motivation and this is when procrastination can take hold. Historically, procrastination was actually viewed as a good thing. The leaders of the Greek and Roman Empires typically embraced procrastination and would sit around doing nothing unless they had to. But times change and societies evolve. 

There are different types of procrastination; both active and passive (Chu and Choi, 20051). Active procrastination means that you realise you are delaying doing something but you are doing something more valuable instead whereas passive procrastination is when you just sit around, watching TV, basically doing nothing. This is where it can become problematic to productivity. I’d like to think that this blog post is a form of active procrastination (although I may be kidding myself!) But it is passive procrastination which can have a detrimental impact on concentration and productivity. Trust me, we have all suffered from this type, some more than others and you have to accept that it will happen at some point during your student or PhD journey. 

I’ve been through numerous stages of this type of procrastination and it doesn’t help when you get yourself in a rut – you keep putting things off and it can be difficult to break this cycle. On the other hand I’ve had periods of where I am really on a roll doing work and become increasingly motivated and don’t want to take a break because of being afraid I’ll lose motivation. However, it’s important to understand that it is cyclical – you might find periods of time where you are really motivated and you may find other times when you struggle for motivation. This is normal. It’s impossible to be able to concentrate all of the time because of the complexity of the work and the amount of mental energy it takes.  

There are things that can be done to help when the cycle leads to decreasing motivation. Interestingly, an article by the Independent written in March 2016, explained how music can possibly be a way to help improve concentration levels. The study found that the style, volume and rhythm can also have an impact. It has been shown to relax the mind and release dopamine – associated with pleasure. I would say choose a style which you enjoy listening to and the added bonus is that wearing headphones, in particular, can reduce background noise which can be a distraction. Personally, I have a couple of what I call “chillout” playlists on my I pod and sometimes play them when I’m working, but I’m not always in the mood for music – you just have to judge your own mood. Importantly, music isn’t for everyone but it is worth a try to see if it suits you and your productivity levels. 

There are also other ways to help ease procrastination and one of the most beneficial is taking regular breaks. I find that after about 45 minutes or so (sometimes less!) my mind wanders, it is here that I know I need to take a break. The work that we do is incredibly taxing on the mind and is mentally exhausting so having a regular break is so important for our concentration levels. A break can literally consist of anything and I define it as something that gets you away from your computer or pad of paper for a bit. In the next blog post I’ll discuss what I do to keep myself sane and discuss the benefits of exercise for a healthy mind.    

1Chu, A, H and Choi, J, N (2005) ‘Rethinking procrastination: positive effects of “active” procrastination behavior on attitudes and performance,’ Journal of Social Psychology, 145, 3, pp. 245 – 264.  

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Worried about starting uni? You’re not alone!

Lisa (aboveanxiety.blogspot.com) shares some valuable tips for anybody that is starting university this September and is feeling a bit worried or vulnerable.
-Lisa

In no less than one weeks’ time, I am going to be starting University (just typing that sentence alone makes my stomach churn a little). Honestly, if you’d told me this time last year that I would be in this situation, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was suffering from severe OCD along with depression and could barely function without help from my Mum, so the idea of moving out and becoming independent was completely off the table.

One year on and University is exactly where I’m heading! Now, I think it is safe to say that the prospect of starting University is a pretty terrifying one for anybody. For some of us though, this anxiety can be more extreme and harder to brush off – especially when you have a mental health condition thrown into the mix. 

For this reason, I wanted to write a post for anybody who finds themselves in a similar position to me. Someone who may be excited to start University, but is also absolutely petrified about it. I will attempt to share with you a few tips that are helping me during this time, but I also hope to reassure you that you aren’t alone in feeling this way – it is actually perfectly normal!

1) Know that you aren’t alone – other people understand!

The words ‘you are not alone’ seem so simple to say, yet are also easy to forget in times of stress or anxiety. It can often feel like you are the only one that is feeling a certain way, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. No matter how it may feel, I can assure you that you aren’t alone. There are plenty of people out there that understand exactly how you are feeling (take me for example!).

2) Talking to somebody can help

If the idea of starting University is really worrying you, tell somebody. Don’t keep all of that anxiety bottled up until it becomes an even bigger deal. Talk to your parents, your friends – anybody that you trust and know will listen to you. You might even find that your friends are just as nervous as you are about University, they just haven’t mentioned it before. Talking about things can really help to take some of the weight off your shoulders, and other people might offer you some advice that you hadn’t considered before.

3) Be prepared!

One of the best things that you can do to make the move to University as smooth as possible, is making sure that you are prepared. There are loads of things that you can do to make this possible, such as forming a list of things you need to do or get before you go. This could be on your phone or in a notebook; whichever you find most helpful. This way it is there for whenever you need it, allowing you to forget about the whole University thing every now and then whilst knowing that it is all taken care of. Personally, I find it useful to write lists in a notebook or in my weekly diary (so long as I actually remember to look at those lists!).

4) Find out what support your University can offer you

If you are worried about your mental health when you are at University research exactly what support your University offers. Visit their webpage and look for their wellbeing services, or alternatively phone them and ask. Most Universities have some kind of wellbeing team on hand for when their students have a wobble. If necessary, make them aware of your mental health conditions before you arrive. Not only could this make it easier for you to drop in when you are actually there, but it will also help the University decide beforehand how best they can support you during your time there. 

And finally, but most importantly…

5) Take care of yourself

It is all too easy when your anxiety is at an all-time high to forget to look after yourself. Or at least, you know that you should, but your anxiety is making it much more difficult. Despite this, I can’t emphasise enough that getting enough sleep, eating well and staying hydrated is so, so important for both your physical and mental health. You don’t want to get to University feeling drained and unwell – this really isn’t going to help the situation! Instead, you want to turn up feeling well with enough energy to fully get involved in all of the exciting opportunities that University will have to offer. So, no matter how hard it is (and trust me, I know how hard it can be) make sure you take care of yourself.

So these are just a few tips that I hope you may find useful if you are as nervous as I am about starting University. It’s important to remember that as scary as it all seems now, it is also super exciting, so try to enjoy this time as much as you can and make the most of the new opportunities on offer! And remember, you aren’t alone! 

Good luck!

Getting ready to go to uni? Find out more tips about getting started with our Starting University guide.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Working from home during your PhD

Andy (@AndyRowe7) writes about how working from home while doing a PhD can be difficult, but offers some tips and advice to help students stay in the loop and combat isolation

-Andy Rowe

In the last blog post I talked about peer support for postgraduate students, and mentioned working from home. In this blog post I will cover the working from home aspect in a bit more detail. This aspect of working is often forgotten about and PhD students who work like this can feel underrepresented by their institution. It often feels like people who work from home do not matter because they are not on campus, and I know first-hand how this feels as I am a home worker myself. 

There are many reasons why we decide to work from home. These include living too far away from the institution, departments not offering adequate facilities, parental responsibility, family responsibility, illness (including mental and physical), disability and feeling more comfortable in familiar surroundings; among others. It does not help when supervisors and members of academic staff do not understand and judge us based upon our lack of attendance within the department – they must think we sit at home and just watch daytime TV all day! But the fact is you develop a routine and work where you feel the most comfortable. After all, being happy with your surroundings is a key facet in productive working. 

It also means that you do not have the distraction of working in an office environment. Yes, there are distractions at home, but these are of your own making and you can have no one to blame but yourself if these lead to procrastination. However, with working from home there is also the isolation issue (and its associated impacts) due to a lack of interaction with friends and peers; but there are general things you can do to lessen the impact:  

  1. Go for a walk: a clear head can lead to clear thoughts. Often the questions of self-doubt, associated with isolation, can cloud your mind. 
  2. Utilise social media: interacting with others who are going through the PhD journey can often lead to friendships and networking – chances are there are people out there going through exactly the same issues as you. 
  3. Discussion groups: provide effective means for PhD students to discuss problems with one another. 
  4. Write a blog! (Like me!) Often getting your thoughts and concerns down on paper can be fantastic therapy and help clear your mind. 
  5. Take breaks: don’t be afraid to put your work away for an afternoon. Go to the pub with friends, watch a DVD, have dinner – these activities can ease loneliness. 
  6. Speak to the counselling service: there is often a stigma attached to mental health issues and talking about them but the counselling department at your university are specially trained to help you deal with issues you may be facing and can put you in contact with other initiatives/schemes which can help you. 
  7. Communication: you may know of only one other PhD student at the university but make a special effort – text them, email them (they’re probably going through the same things and might be glad of the chat!) It is important to keep in contact with other friends (who you may know from school and/or undergraduate/master’s level) to take your mind off things – they won’t want to talk to you about your thesis.   
  8. Find common interests: send an email out to your department to see if people want to join you in a gym class/football match/university society – you’ll be surprised by the response! 

These points are not a panacea, but are advice in trying to combat isolation associated with working from home. You have to make an effort, don’t close yourself off from people - working from home should not mean that you don’t meet people. Even if you join groups outside of university, closer to where you live for example, at least you are breaking down the barriers of isolation and loneliness. It is important to, providing you don’t live too far away, try and visit the campus when you can to keep in touch with supervisors and others who you may have developed contact with. 

I do know how difficult it is and certainly the perception I have found is that if you work from home you are often ‘forgotten about’ but the fact is, universities possess numerous PhD students who work from home and once more attention is placed on combating issues surrounding working from home, and general non-academic postgraduate research support (of which we are only touching the surface), can universities further enhance the PhD experience.  

Friday, 2 September 2016

Why we love being on the blogging editorial team?

The Blogging Editorial team discuss why they have enjoyed volunteering for the Student Minds Blog this past year.

-Student Minds Blogging Editorial Team

Editor 
This role has been rewarding in more ways than one; it has allowed me to read so many inspirational stories, be in contact with amazing people and build my existing skills and knowledge. Hands on heart I wish that I did not have to hand the position over to someone else. However, I can’t wait for a fresh team to work on the Blog and help it grow whilst having the amazing experience that I was blessed with. I really do recommend getting involved with the Student Minds Blog whether that is as a part of the Blogging Team or as a Blogger, the power of storytelling really is something that I want you to learn first hand how amazing it can be - Grace Anderson

Sub-Editors
I am happy I have been able to share my experiences with a nation of students that may be able to identify with my mental health problems and issues or triumphs as a student. Being a sub-editor was a real privilege and not only gave me valuable insight into how running a large popular blog works, but also helped me feel like I played a big part in a larger campaign to raise awareness of the good that peer support and sharing your own story can do for others. It's been a wonderful experience and I encourage any student to get involved in the blogging experience with Student Minds as soon as they can!- Lottie Naughton


It was a fab experience and really interesting and comforting to read about people's first hand experiences of mental health. The most rewarding part of being a subeditor is being able to help people produce a piece of work they're proud of as its so personal to them and important for them to share their story. - Becky McCerery





For me the thing I've enjoyed the most about being an editor is getting to hear from so many people about their stories and experiences. Before I became editor I had no idea about the sheer volume of people who wrote in and it's emphasised for me really how powerful blogging can be and how it can act as a voice for people where they may not be heard anywhere else. - Rose Liddell


Being a member of the blogging team has been a really enjoyable experience, you feel part of a little community together, and it is so rewarding helping people to get their stories and voices out there. - Hope Butler

Being on the blogging team allows you to write about your experiences as a student and realise how far you have come through pretty a stressful time of your life. It also gives you the chance to read about the experiences of others going through the exact same issues and this can really help you focus on how to deal with them yourself. - Sophie Rees




Working as a sub editor for the Student Minds Blog couldn't be anymore awarding than it is. - Jessica McKenzie







Get in touch with blog@studentminds.org.uk if you are interested in becoming a member of the Blogging Editorial Team.

Medication and Me: The Importance of Medicine for Mental Health

Grace talks about her experience of medication and discusses how she does not want people to feel the embarrassment and taboo that she felt.

-Grace (gracebelieved.blogspot.co.uk)

Medication is such a hugely debated topic with many controversial views associated with taking medication for mental health problems. Unfortunately, there are also many myths associated with this, which often scare and prevent people from using this method of treatment. Yes, it might not be the magic cure, and it certainly won’t make everything better, but medication can help. In my experience I honestly don’t know where I would be without it.

There is a lot of stigma attached to taking medication and many of the people I know and love aren’t even aware of the fact that I take it to simply be able to function every day. It’s time to be honest. I don’t want others to be as scared as I was when I first started taking medication, reading horror stories online and believing I was doing something bad. So here goes:

I take medication for anxiety and depression, and yes that is ok. 

Medication is simply one of the many options available to help combat mental health problems, alongside talking therapies. Personally, the best option for me has been to receive a combination of counselling, support from my doctor and medication. However, it is important to remember that medication has both benefits and drawbacks, so you should research both before making a personal decision to take it. Please make sure that this is an educated decision with guidance from credible sources. Personally, my drawback once I accepted that I was taking medication for my mental health disorder is that there are side effects but for myself, I would rather feel nauseas or tired than be under the grip of the dark depression. 

My decision to start taking medication was not an easy one. Firstly, it took a lot for me to realise that I needed help and unfortunately I found out the hard way. Months of despairing depression, crying myself to sleep, feeling numb and worthless persisted, all the while alongside the anxiety of trying to keep up appearances, to carry on my success as a university student and attempting to maintain my friendships. However, eventually it all got too much, I couldn’t listen to the thoughts in my head for much longer…I left the house at night taking a walk to the sea front, I didn’t want to be here anymore, I was shaken up, I just wanted how I was feeling to go away. Fortunately, I could not hurt the people that I know and love no matter how much I was hurting at the time. 

I came back to my house mates who were clearly concerned and unsure of what to do. One of them was brave enough to text me and say that they knew I wasn’t right and that I needed to get help and they were scared; I was scared too I told them. With her support I booked a doctor’s appointment and started my journey on understanding my depression and anxiety. This led to me starting to take medication, which is something I have been taking for several years now. However, I have had dose changes and medication changes, in order to take what was most suitable for me and my body. Alongside my counselling and support from my loved ones this has really made a difference in my experience with anxiety and depression. 

Now, looking back in retrospect if I could give myself advice before taking the medication, I would remind myself that the tablets won’t solve everything all at once, but that is okay. In the end, they will make my depression and anxiety a little easier to deal with. 

Finally, I will survive and things really do get better.

For help with student depression, visit the Further Support page from our Ripple campaign.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The importance of peer support during your PhD

Leading on from his previous post, Andy discusses how peer support can be vital for the well-being of PhD students

-Andy Rowe

The introduction of the PhD journey in my previous blog post described the difficult process of managing a PhD. It detailed how pastoral and mental health support is something which is hardly spoken about (I term this a “non-academic” issue) and consequently little is known about it. However, it is a huge issue which can be faced by many an academics at some point in their career. This blog illustrates how important peer support is not only for undergraduate students, but also PhD students; many institutions struggle to adequately provide a means to enable peer support. This is where I, briefly, sing the praises of what we do at Loughborough University. 

I have co-created and currently co-lead a social and support network at Loughborough University (Click here for our twitter account) which enables students from across the University to come every Tuesday lunchtime and socialise with others whom they would not usually engage with. It is incredibly informal and we want people to put their work to one side for an hour and receive support from those who are also going through the same process. We politely request for people not to come and talk about their work, as it is a chance to get away from that and there’s more to life than the PhD! It also shows that as PhD students we are not on our own in what we think and what issues we are facing. We also provide signposting to other services which may be able to help with more specialised issues. We have cake, tea, coffee and a buffet lunch every so often and support students, where possible, to organise certain University-wide events to get the PhD community together. It has become incredibly popular and if only it could be a model for more institutions across the UK.  

More generally what this shows is that supportive peers are incredibly important and they can make or break your PhD journey. It forms a key facet in your PhD experience along with family, friends and supervisors. I’m fortunate as through the network I have met some fantastic people who I would not have met otherwise. However, every department in each institution is different as more often than not you only really associate with others in your own department. From experience, different means of working can have an impact on the development of peer friendship networks. For example there are numerous students at institutions across the country who work in a hot-desk, open plan, office environment and despite being adopted to help people communicate with one another, if people do not want to interact, regardless of the type of work space, they simply will not. In my experience, open plan working does not solve isolation and peer support issues. It can be difficult to formulate friendships as students can become frustrated with this way of working and they consequently work elsewhere in the office where there is a free desk. Whilst this way of working may actually enable people to speak to larger volumes of others, the development of really close friendship support networks can be limited. I am not saying people do not support each other, but students can feel like a “rabbit in headlights” at the sheer number of people working in the same space. 

Secondly, I use my close friend who has just completed his PhD as a further example. He worked in an office environment which he shared with two others and was on the same corridor as other PhD students in the same cohort. His transition into PhD life was easier for him as he developed a close friendship with those in his office because he saw them every day in the same space. This then transcended into meeting the other students at morning and afternoon communal coffee breaks.  

It is also here where I should importantly mention those who work from home; like me. We are forgotten about, there is no doubt about that, and there are different reasons as to why we choose to work from home. But, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, we should not cut ourselves off from the institution – training sessions, which support the RDF (Research Development Framework), provide a huge opportunity to meet others. This is how I met some of my fellow PhD friends. In this situation I would strike up a conversation (don’t be shy!) with them and after the session I would take their email address and drop them an email suggesting meeting for coffee – you would be very surprised of the amount of PhD students who are glad of the chance to converse and socialise informally! 

Overall, as a PhD student, your working environment can have a huge impact on the development of peer support networks. These people are going through the same process as you and whilst each PhD journey is different, supportive peers should be able to understand and offer an empathetic ear. As well as the reputation of the department, the University work space should be a major consideration in your decision to apply there. After all, different means of working have both their advantages and disadvantages, but you have to choose what you feel will be right and comfortable for you as ultimately you could be spending several years in that space.