Monday, 29 May 2017

Mental Health Travel Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Being diagnosed as disabled while at uni

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

- Beth Wrightson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over-attaching and Fears of Abandonment

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

“Don’t leave me”

“Everyone always abandons me; they all leave eventually”

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

“I need you”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Losing Someone to Suicide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 19 May 2017

We love being on the Student Minds Blog Editorial Team!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Sophie's University Mental Health Q&A

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

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

MHAW17: Surviving and Thriving on your Year Abroad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 7 May 2017

From Perfectionism to Positivity

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

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

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

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

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

Being open helps

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

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Meet our Fundraising Champions: Jessica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

It's never Wednesday forever...

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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