Friday, 13 December 2013

Invisible Illness Week

~ Hannah O'Brien

Invisible Illness Week

The 25th-29th November marked a brilliant awareness campaign. The campaign looked at both mental and physical illnesses that often go unnoticed and that you cannot truly see without knowing more about the person. This included eating disorders, anxiety and depression, which is what Swansea Mental Wealth Society and Student Minds focused on.

One of the main aims of the campaign was to get people talking about mental health, and to challenge stigma attached to mental illnesses, because they are more common than people think. In fact 1 in 4 people will experience mental illness within the course of a year, with the most common being anxiety and depression. The main reason these illnesses tend to go unnoticed is because those suffering often do not feel able to talk about them: they may be embarrassed or shy, or it might be that they don't want people to worry or don't know how to bring up the conversation. That's why invisible illness week brought the conversation to you, and offered anyone the chance to speak up about their illness. It was surprising, encouraging and inspiring how many people took the chance to talk. They were extremely positive about the campaign, our peer support group, and the power of talking.

Because talking changes lives.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Preparing for Christmas

Anxious about heading home for Christmas? Here are some tips on how to negotiate the festive season...

christmas
Plan ahead

You might find that Christmas means a change of routine, from waking up at a different time to having your extended family over to stay. Ask your family about their holiday plans and let them know about any small things they could do over the festive period to make things easier for you. Remember to make time for the things you enjoy, such as meeting friends or going to the cinema.

Look after yourself

With all the changes in routine, going home for Christmas can mean it’s easy to forget about the simple things. Make sure you get enough sleep, keep in touch with your friends and schedule in some ‘me time’ every day.

Volunteer

If you feel a bit cooped up over Christmas, why not explore some of the volunteering opportunities in your area? Lots of charities need extra help at Christmas and it’s a great excuse to meet new people and to do something a bit different that will leave you feeling happy and productive.

Remember what you love about Christmas

Try to focus on the fun aspects of Christmas: playing board games as a family, heading out to Church or going for a walk on Christmas afternoon… anything that you enjoy about the festive season. If this seems difficult, try thinking back to what you enjoyed most as a child - I always used to wake up really early in the morning and sit in my brother’s room reading Harry Potter to pass the time until we were allowed to open our presents. Even though the waking up early part doesn’t tend to happen any more, I still like to read a chapter or two of Harry Potter on Christmas Day… just for old time’s sake.

And relax!

Lastly, don’t forget to give yourself a little time out to relax:



  • Call a friend to wish them Happy Christmas.

  • Escape to your room for a few minutes and spend some time listening to your favourite CD or reading a novel.

  • Indulge yourself: have a long hot bubble bath, paint your nails, put on a face mask or sit back with a mug of coffee and a good book.

  • Relax: meditate for a few minutes or do some relaxing yoga.

  • Head out for a Christmas walk - maybe you have a boisterous puppy in need of exercise, or a young cousin who is bouncing off the walls with excitement… or maybe you just want a few minutes of alone time. Either way it’s always great to get some fresh air, and to be able to wish a few strangers ‘Merry Christmas’ along the way!

So all that remains is to wish you a very merry Christmas - happy holidays everyone! 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Volunteering as a Student Minds group facilitator

~ Juliet Amponsa-Gyasi

So what does a Group Facilitator actually do?
The short answer is simply to facilitate.

Facilitate
The focus of the support groups is not for the facilitators to do all the talking. We simply give the people who attend a welcoming, comfortable space as well as time and security to speak if and/or when they want to about issues surrounding their past/present/future feelings about their eating related issues. The group sessions also give the attendees a chance to reflect on their feelings and emotions during that week, to help verbalise how they have been doing. We try to ease the flow of conversation and encourage people to take part, but we are happy for people to just sit and listen until they feel comfortable enough to speak themselves.

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When I think of the volunteering experiences I've had, being a facilitator stands out so far above the rest. The importance of just being able to listen and engage well without talking (too much) really comes in to play during the weekly meetings. All facilitators receive training in how to run the support groups as well as how to deal with sensitive topics. It's really been amazing to be able to hear so much about other people's experiences and to see just how far some people have come in recovery. The support groups are a great way to get people interacting more and to allow attendees to support each other without anybody telling them they are going about recovery the wrong way (us facilitators will see to that). Sometimes the topics can get quite difficult but at every meeting there is support available for the students as well as the facilitators themselves. Each group is run by two facilitators and after every meeting each facilitator gets a supervision Skype or phone call to feedback on how the session went and whether there were any issues that came up during the meeting.

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Volunteering for Student Minds so far has been a truly rewarding experience. I've not only built upon transferable skills but also helped run a support group that really helps people to help themselves as well as others. Again I can't stress how amazing it is to hear somebody tell you the sessions are really helping. It's even helped me too! I've been surprised to realise how much I've learnt from some of the attendees in terms of overcoming difficult situations. The sessions have really helped me to broaden my perspective on certain things and I couldn't be more grateful for such an amazing insight. The courage it takes to even attend the meetings speaks volumes and talking about issues that affect all students really allows the experience to be well suited to anyone. I couldn't recommend the experience enough...

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So guess what!!! Student Minds is recruiting new volunteers for universities all across the UK from the 18th November 2013 (so right now)! Here is your chance to not only gain skills and experience related to your chosen career or job but also a chance to give your time to help somebody else to start enjoying their own time more too. If you have a genuine interest in helping others and have good interpersonal skills then you should be in with a great chance of being a facilitator in the new year. Applications close on 20th January 2014.

---Want to know more?
If you would like to know whether your university has a Student Minds group, click here


If you would like to know more about getting involved/ volunteering with Student Minds, click here

If you would like to donate to Student Minds, click here

Want to know more about Student Minds in general? Click here

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Student Minds Mission Statement

Monday, 25 November 2013

Having the confidence to talk

I’m sure many people will visualise collecting their degrees with their housemates and celebrating with each other. Share your success! Choosing recovery is being brave. You deserve a high five for every day you say no to living with an eating disorder and walking through the door to a ‘well done’ is a service your housemates can provide.

~ Let's Have "The Talk", ReCover magazine, p12

Everyone needs support from their friends whilst at university. From essay crises and exam stress to figuring out what you want to do with your life, studying at university can involve a whole range of challenges. And yet university is also a time when you're surrounded by classmates, friends and housemates, so you don't need to struggle on alone - so many of the challenges we face can be made to feel more manageable simply by having a chat over a cup of tea.

This week our eating disorder support groups will be discussing how to talk to housemates and friends about your mental health, so we thought we'd put together a few ideas and tips on how to get the conversation started...



  • Think about who you’d like to talk to: who do you feel comfortable with and who do you feel would be able to support you?

  • Find somewhere where you feel comfortable and where you can have a relaxed conversation without being interrupted. Sometimes it’s easier to talk openly when the focus isn’t just on the conversation you’re having… why not suggest going for a walk together?

  • You might want to write down some of the things you want to say, either just to prompt yourself or as a letter to give to your friend.

  • Your friend will probably want to know if they can help in any way, so you might like to think about whether there is anything you would like support on. This could be something as simple as knowing that your friend is on the end of the phone if you’re having a hard time and need someone to talk to.

  • Be prepared for your friend to be concerned or to ask questions. They may feel a little out of their depth, so you might like to have some information to hand to help you explain.

  • Remember that the Student Minds eating disorder support groups are a safe space where you can discuss any anxiety you might feel about opening up to your friends. You might like to role-play how to open the conversation, or simply ask whether anyone has any experiences or tips they'd like to share.

Want to find out more? Here are some articles on talking to friends...



How about you? Have you spoken to a friend about your mental health? Do you have any tips or advice you'd like to share? We'd love to hear from you! Please do comment below or send an email to rosanna@studentminds.org.uk.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Talking Changes Lives

~ Hannah O'Brien

Talking Changes Lives Logo

You may have heard lots about student run support groups at university. There are groups running for an array of mental health problems, including eating disorders. These groups are likely to mainly focus on talking, or what Psychologists know as “the talking cure”. However, a lot of you may be thinking, ”well what good is that gonna do? How will just talking about my problems help, surely that won’t help me recover?”

Well, for starters these support groups can act as a great motivation for recovery. All too often there are long waiting lists for NHS care and it can be scary to take that extra step towards recovery. The Student Minds support groups therefore aim to help maintain motivation for recovery while you wait, encourage confidence and build self-esteem. Just talking it out with someone can make you feel empowered and strong enough to stay on the road to recovery.

Also, students have a tendency to “confide in and seek help from peers”. They find the idea of talking to other students who have faced similar experiences attractive, and 84% of those accessing peer support find the service helpful.

One particularly difficult aspect of having an eating disorder is that your social world may crumble as you isolate yourself from society, so having this one social group of peers and supporters who share some of the same experiences as you can help you feel more involved and allow you to discuss issues you may not have been comfortable expressing with others.

After finding the courage to come to our group sessions, students suffering from eating disorders have described Student Minds as:


“The single biggest contributor to my recovery this year”
“I feel so well understood.”
“The only reason I’ve gone through recovery so quickly”
“That is what student support should look like.”

So, Student Minds believes in empowering individuals with eating disorders to talk, break down stigma and build understanding.

Please come along if you believe in that too.

To find out more, visit our website: www.studentminds.org.uk

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Shape of Fashion

~ Bethany Wellerd


A couple of weeks ago I went along to ‘The Shape of Fashion’, an event hosted by Beat and ASOS at ASOS’s swanky head office in Camden. The event featured four panellists, all talking about the relationship between fashion, body image and eating disorders from different perspectives. This included two ladies who had experienced eating disorders, one of whom had been a model from the age of 15, and two other speakers who provided a fashion and media perspective.


So many interesting points were made both from the panel and from the debate that followed. Right at the beginning of the evening, Susan Ringwood introduced the discussion by saying it was their belief that “fashion doesn’t cause eating disorders any more than families do”, recognising the fact that while we can talk about how factors such as the fashion industry can be implicated in eating disorders, naming one variable as the sole cause of any mental health issue is fruitless. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about the role fashion can play in shaping our perception of body image, and how fashion can use this power to improve the way we all look at ourselves.


There was one point that came up time and time again, especially directed at Sophie Glover, a representative of ASOS. Sophie works as a garment technologist, which means that she works within the technical team, looking at how ASOS’s garments fit their customers. The issue which was directed at Sophie was the idea of diversity in fashion – what are companies like ASOS doing to represent all of us, not just a small subsection of us? Sophie argued that because ASOS stocks a whole range of sizes, they really represent all women, of all shapes and sizes, and they promote the idea of fitting their clothes to the customers, not making customers fit their clothes.


This all sounds great, but something which the audience reflected back in reaction to this was the idea that while companies like ASOS might stock a wide range of sizes to reflect the diversity seen in the population, when you look at the websites selling these clothes, in fashion magazines, in your high street shop window, this diversity just isn’t there. They seem to be hiding away this wide range of sizes and only showing you a certain shape of women wearing these clothes.  Sophie pointed out that the models are reflective of their most popular selling size, but this was countered with the argument that perhaps if the models wearing ASOS’s clothes were the average size of women in the UK, then maybe this would be the most popular selling size.


All this talk of representing an average size seemed to go hand in hand with another theme which came up repeatedly throughout the evening. It was a theme which was encapsulated in two words, two words which every time they were spoken by panellists and audience members, made me wince. ‘Real Women’.  Models were described as being ‘not real women’; fashion should represent ‘real women’; we should be speaking out as ‘real women’. But who exactly are these ‘real women’? Surely alienating people below a certain size as ‘genetic accidents’ (a genuine quote from one of the panellists) is just as harmful as alienating those above a certain size. The idea that fashion should only be representing the average size, the mean, as an individual seems unhelpful to me. It doesn’t make sense for fashion to only represent one size over another. Don’t we need to be representing all sizes, so that we all feel like ‘real women’?


But what can we do to encourage the fashion industry to represent all of us, and not enforce an idea of what is ‘real’ or ‘average’ or ‘normal’ upon us? At the end of the evening, the answer to this question was put to us all. A member of the audience reminded us that talking about what needs to change in the fashion industry is one thing, but the best way for our thoughts to be heard is by voting with our feet (or our fingers in the case of internet shopping). If we find that a brand is not representing us, or is not acting in our best interests, and is making us feel like we are not normal, then we need to let them know. We as consumers hold a large amount of power in our hands, which we can really use to change things. So take action, write to these companies, let them know that you don’t feel valued by them, stop buying their products and start a conversation about diversity in fashion.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Settling Into University Part Three: Managing Your Workload

Even my puppy has off days when he just doesn't feel like doing anything...

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Sometimes managing your workload can feel like a bit of a slog, especially if you don't have much contact time. So here are some tips on how to make work feel a bit more manageable, and hopefully a bit more enjoyable!

1. Get into a routine

  • When you’ve just moved city and are surrounded by a whole new group of people, it might help to establish a routine so that university life starts to feel a little more settled. This sounds kind of boring, but it really needn’t be… think about what things cheer you up, or what makes for a good morning. You might like heading out for a morning walk, going to the canteen with your friends for breakfast or reading the paper with your morning coffee. Rather than being an occasional treat, why not try to work these things into your everyday routine?

  • Make the most of your evenings – try to have one or two regular commitments that you’ll make time for every week (sports clubs, debating societies etc.) Having something pre-arranged is a really good way to avoid the temptation to stop taking breaks when you get busy.

  • Weekend routines can be good too – you might cook brunch with your friends every Sunday morning, or have a flat dinner & film night every Friday evening.

2. Study effectively

  • Make organising your work a little more fun using colour-coded files, folders and notebooks.

  • Find out how you work best. If you don’t like the library then it’s not compulsory to work there – it may be that you work better at home with music and slippers and blankets and a mug of tea, and that’s completely fine.

  • It’s often worth changing things up and exploring different places to work (coffee shops & the public library were my favourites). Working at home in the morning and then heading off to the library for the afternoon can also be a good way to avoid cabin fever!

3. Don’t stress! Sometimes easier said than done, but there are definitely things you can do to help:

  • Try to escape from the university bubble every now and again! Calling home or going away for the weekend can be a great way to get a sense of perspective on the things you’re worrying about.

  • Planning out your work and making a schedule can help you to feel more in control. Break down big tasks into small manageable steps and add one or two of these to your daily to do list, so that instead of worrying about having to write a whole essay, you know that you just need to spend an hour or two this morning writing a plan.

  • Take proper breaks and make the most of your time off.

    • Get some fresh air: go for a walk or bike ride. Explore somewhere new, or just head out to the supermarket to do your weekly food shop… no matter what you’re doing, getting outside is always calming and lends a sense of perspective to any work-related panic that’s been brewing!

    • Take a proper break at lunchtime (and just to clarify: eating a sandwich at your desk whilst casually flicking through Facebook doesn’t count). Go to the canteen with a friend or pack your own lunch and find a good spot to eat it - head off to the local park in summer or hang out in the common room in the winter. If you’re stuck for what to make for lunch, take a look at Sarah’s easy on-the-go lunches on our recipe blog, The Kitchen.

    • Read a chapter or two of a good book – I always used to find that the best books to read were the ones I used to read when I was younger (think Harry Potter…) Somehow it’s so much easier to get lost in the story and really take your mind off everything else.

    • Watch a comedy sketch or an episode of your favourite TV series.

And if you’re anything like me, you might well make lovely long lists of all the fabulous things you’ll do on your study breaks and then never quite get round to it. So before you start studying, it can be good to pick the one thing you want to do and make it really specific e.g. at 11am I’ll sit down with a mug of coffee and watch the next episode of Gossip Girl. Even better, arrange for a friend to come round and watch it with you :) Knowing exactly what you’ll be doing in your next break also gives you something to look forward to and is great motivation to have a really productive study session in the meantime.

Any study tips of your own? Or any other questions on how to settle in at university? Comment below or drop me an email at rosanna@studentminds.org.uk.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Settling Into University Part Two: How To Overcome Homesickness

According to NUS, around half of students experience homesickness, which means that you’re very much not alone. Here are some ideas to help you settle in and enjoy the university experience…

  • Listen to music – moving into my own room at university for the first time, I found that it look me a while to get used to the silence (probably something to do with the family of six and boisterous puppy I was used to back home!) Music was always the best way to fill the silence and you’d very rarely enter my room without something on in the background.


  • Wear cozy clothes – this may sound crazy, but a pair of slippers and a big thick jumper really can make you feel better! I’ve occasionally been known to wear two jumpers at once, but sometimes one just isn’t enough and being toasty warm always seems to cheer me up :)


  • Do something familiar – read a favourite book or re-watch an old TV series.


  • Make yourself a hot drink in your favourite mug. Happiness guaranteed.

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  • Look after yourself – eat good food, get lots of sleep and wander outside to get some fresh air every now and again!


  • Keep busy – as much as possible, fill your time with plenty of different activities and take the opportunity to try new things. The more you spend time around other people, the less you are able to dwell on your thoughts, and chances are that the simple act of going out and doing things will help you feel more positive.


  • Join a club or society – learn something new, meet a different group of people and make a regular commitment to doing something you enjoy.


  • Spend some time turning your room into a cozy space that you’ll enjoy spending time in. Here are a few ideas…

    • Hang up posters. These are a great way to make your room feel your own and inject a bit of personality. I usually had some combination of Mr Men, Paddington Bear and Winnie-the-Pooh – not sure what that says about me?

    • Fairy lights make a room feel so snug! (Ok, so this could be a girl thing). I spent four years being envious of my best friend’s fairy lights and finally got round to asking for some last Christmas - no regrets!

    • Blankets & cushions are a must, especially in winter.

    • Put up lots and lots of photos!

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So look after yourself, keep busy and have fun turning your new room into a haven of blankets and cushions :) If you have any questions or would like to share some tips of your own, please do comment below or drop me an email at rosanna@studentminds.org.uk.

Next up: managing your workload.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Settling Into University Part One: Exploring Your New Surroundings

Moving to university usually means moving to a new city, which can be a big change in itself. Here are some tips on making the transition…

  • If you’re new to the area, ask for recommendations and go exploring. It’s not just about finding the nearest supermarket and library – you’ll want to find places you can enjoy going to in your free time as well. There will probably be some kind of daily or weekly magazine that will tell you what’s happening in your local area (along the lines of London’s ‘Time Out’ or Oxford’s ‘Daily Info’). This is a great way to find out about plays, markets, festivals, free workshops etc.


  • If you’re returning to university, spend time revisiting some of your favourite places around town: parks, restaurants, shops and other local sights. It’s good to remind yourself that going back to university is not just about studying! I recently moved back to Oxford after a year in London and one of the first things I did was to walk all of my old routes through town, from college to my department to the local park. It’s always interesting to try and work out which shops have changed, who has painted their door red and what has stayed exactly the same.

Revisiting some of my favourite spots in Oxford...
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The lovely University Church - you can climb up the top of the tower and look out over the city, or go to the Vaults & Gardens café which has some of the best food in Oxford.

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Walking along the river - it took me about three years to discover that this path existed, but it was always the perfect place for some 'me time' on a Sunday morning.

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The botanic gardens - perfect for summer picnics and autumn walks. You get free entry as a student so definitely something to make the most of!

Happy exploring, and I hope you're all beginning to settle in to life at university :) We'd love to hear about your favourite places - do you have any tips to share with new students at your university?

Next up: how to overcome homesickness.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Power of Shared Experiences

I developed anorexia when I was 13. It was a terrifying experience for me and all those close to me. I hated life with anorexia, but recovery terrified me. I was fortunate to have good support from the medical profession. My GP understood, both that I needed help and that she did not know what would be best for me. She sought advice from colleagues and made a referral for me to see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist referred me to a therapist who worked with me with understanding and compassion to explore what recovery would mean for me and how I would get there. This professional support was fundamental to my recovery. But it was support that I received for, at most, an hour a week. That left another 167 hours a week to get through on my own.

My friends struggled to understand my fear of recovery. I became incredibly anxious and my social anxiety was something that left me feeling very isolated. The thoughts running through my mind on a day by day basis were strange and far removed from the every day world of most teenagers. This left me feeling very cut off from my friends. I wanted to just be normal and fit in. I wanted to have fun and be fun to be around, but so often anorexia got in the way.

I had times when I was really desperate and felt completely hopeless about recovery. I just wanted someone to say, I know what you are going through and trust me, everything will be okay. When I felt like this, I contacted support services run by mental health charities. They could talk to me then and there, but they could not be there for the long term. They couldn't say, I understand, I've been there, I know. They wouldn't tell me to pull myself together and get on with recovery.

When I was 15, I met Rachel. I met Rachel online, through a web based recovery forum. I found the forum to be a lifeline for me - It was an opportunity to check in with people who understood what I was going thorough. The members of the forum offered support and encouragement that helped me stay on track with my recovery, but they were always just anonymous strangers. So I decided to meet up with Rachel. In hindsight everything about meeting Rachel was a risk that a vulnerable 15 year-old should not have been making, but this was a girl who, in the online world, seemed to really understand me.

Meeting Rachel turned out to be one of the turning points in my recovery. Rachel is an amazing individual. She had been struggling with mental health problems for years. She understood the chaos in my mind. I didn't have to explain things to her, she just knew. It was amazing to be able to talk to her. Rachel was there for the long run. Not being part of my group of friends, or knowing any of my friends, I could talk to her without the rest of my life changing. I could chat on a Thursday afternoon, knowing that my friends would all treat me the same way on Friday morning. This took some of the pressure off my other friendships. It helped me spend time with my friends, as friends, to have fun, while anorexia could be left out of the picture.

Rachel was always a positive and supportive person in my life. She pushed me towards recovery, even when she was struggling herself. She pulled me up when she thought I was not trying hard enough and challenged me to be brave and have confidence when I was scared of recovery. She could do all of this because she knew what the bad days were like and she could say with confidence that there would be good days.

Rachel was a lifeline for my recovery. I believe that peer support groups can offer students the kind of lifeline that Rachel provided me. They offer students the opportunity to meet others who share similar experiences, to talk to people who really understand. The facilitators at the groups ensure that the sessions are always safe and always looking towards recovery. I hope that these groups make it much easier for students struggling with recovery to find their "Rachel".

Monday, 16 September 2013

Welcome to the Student Minds blog!

We're really excited to get our blog up and running and we have loads of exciting plans for articles and features over the coming weeks and months... watch this space!

In the meantime, do take a look at our website to find out more. We are also on Facebook and Twitter:

facebook.com/studentminds.org.uk


twitter.com/studentmindsorg