Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Mental Health Over Christmas - Lauren

Lauren talks about how she copes over the Christmas holidays and what she does to help her mental health.
- Lauren Brooks

Although Christmas time can be a lot of fun, it can also be an incredibly tough time of the year too. Therefore, we want to bring this to light and ensure nobody feels alone.

If you would like to get involved in our Christmas blogging series, you can find all of the details here.

1. What do you enjoy most about the winter holiday period?

Personally, for me, I really enjoy Christmas as it’s the time of year when you can get time off from school, university or work and spend some quality time with your family, which is great, especially for someone who’s very family orientated like I am. Also, I enjoy being nice and snug inside, especially during occasions when it is snowing or icy outside, there’s no better feeling than having your heating on full blast during winter!

2. What do you find most difficult during the holidays?

I think one of the most difficult things about Christmas time is that when I got really ill with my OCD and Depression, it was during the Christmas period about two years ago, so it is always at the back of my mind, thinking that it could happen again, and that Christmas could prove to be a trigger for it all to come back again. Also, I think I struggle without routine, as if I don’t have some sort of structure in place, then I find my Depression creeping back on me, so holidays are difficult for me to try and stick to a routine.

3. What do you do to help your mental health during the holidays?

One of the most vital parts, I think can really help is basic self-care, especially for Depression sufferers, as I often find that a pyjama day may be harmless for others, for me it can seriously lower my mood and affect it for the rest of the day, so its really important that I get dressed so I set myself up for the prospect of doing something. Also, setting myself a routine can help immensely, as if I’m constantly doing things then I’m not giving my mood a chance to sink. Additionally, I think exercise is a great help, as I tend to feel better especially when I’m in a bad mood after a bit of moving around.

4. What present would you give yourself over the holidays?

I would give myself a nice holiday! Just over the Christmas holidays whilst I’m off university or during Easter, so I could give myself a chance to relax and refresh my mind, for me, holidays are especially important for my own mental well being as they give me a chance to just let go of any pressures or stress at home.

"Hi, I'm Lauren, I am a first year student studying Social Work. I suffer from Depression, OCD and anxiety, I am writing for Student Minds to try and help others."

Male Mental Health Month with Loughborough HeadsUp

Our student group Loughborough HeadsUp discuss their events for Male Mental Health Month.

-Hannah Timson

This November is National Men's Health Awareness Month and HeadsUp are focusing on communicating the importance and necessity of encouraging all men to be more open about their mental health. We want to fight the idea that men feel as though they must carry their mental health alone in silence and deconstruct the ideas of masculinity and the tough guy image of how we believe we should be acting.

Throughout the month we have been hosting a number of events and activities for everyone to come along and get involved in. These have ranged from a Meet and Greet with our committee where people were encouraged to come down to a sociable evening of pizza and games and discuss their ideas surrounding our work and future events; two Mindfulness Sessions in which an external speaker came into the Union to deliver short workshops on how to stay in control of your thoughts when stress becomes difficult to deal with, and a taster Kickboxing Session.

We also hosted a discussion panel surrounding this issue in which we put a series of hard hitting questions to a panel of strong and successful men who have themselves suffered with their mental health either in the past or the present. It was a highly interesting and informative event which incredible insightful and moving at points were shared.

Hi, my name is Hannah and I am currently in my final year studying English Literature at Loughborough University. I have suffered with panic attacks from a young age and was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression shortly after starting university. I set up my own blog as an outlet and started writing about my experiences in order to ensure that people knew that this wasn't a diagnosis to be ashamed of and to help others to come out and talk about their own struggles with someone they could trust. This year, I am working as Communications Officer for Loughborough Heads Up, the university's student led mental health awareness group who run campaigns around campus to raise awareness and work towards breaking the stigma surrounding Mental Health once and for all.

Monday, 11 December 2017

What does it mean to be a man?

Our student group Loughborough HeadsUp discuss the importance and necessity of encouraging all men to be more open about their mental health.

-Hannah Timson

"To be a man is to be honest and to be human" 

What does it mean to be a man? This is a question that I've always been puzzled by. Sweeping gendered stereotypes aside, is there really any difference between the answer to this and what it means to be a woman? Surely the real question here should be; What does it mean to be human? And the answers to that question could not possibly be condensed into this blog post. So instead I'll just give you a few:

Strength. Humility. Integrity. Love. Pain. Truth. Honesty.

Sounds fair? But the issue comes when you split these terms down into Gender. Society has conditioned both men and women to believe that they should act and behave in a certain way. This is why when the majority of men are questioned about the qualities of a man, they will reply with words associated with power, strength and action as opposed to emotion. Why is it considered "unmanly" by society to hide your true feelings behind this facade we have constructed surrounding men?

We have also be releasing material surrounding the campaign on a daily basis. This has included a leaflet about Male Mental Health which has been circulated around campus; the daily release of a photo of a famous figure who has suffered with their own mental health, a list of their successes and a famous quote, and finally a campaign video featuring some of the most reputable names at Loughborough talking about the stigma behind Male Mental Health. We have been overwhelmed by the incredible reaction we have had to the video and you can find it here to see for yourself:

One of the men we interviewed as part of the video was Loughborough Students Union President 17/18, George Etherington. We have been speaking to George throughout our campaign as it is something he feels incredibly strong about and is very close to his heart. This is what he had to say in another interview earlier in the campaign:

"We need to teach people to redefine their definition of masculinity. We need young boys to grow up knowing that it is ok to be exactly how they are and to feel how they feel, not needing to "man up"and not needing to "be a man about it" ... To me, putting on a brave front isn't bravery. To me, bravery is being open and honest. Be vulnerable, let people see your emotions. I can't think of anything braver than allowing someone to see you for you."

Mental Health affects everyone, regardless of race, religion, nationality, colour or gender. So why do men feel so ashamed, why have they developed this unconscious belief that it is manly to hide what is hurting you?

Suicide is now reported as being the biggest cause of death for men under 35, with 1 in 8 men in the UK are experiencing a common mental health disorder, yet it is a significantly lower number whom actually declare this to anyone.

We have been raised surrounded by this masculinised social construct that men should not cry; that they not meant to feel insecure or vulnerable; that emotion and worry are wrong and that the strong minded and unempathetic archetype of men portrayed in films and the media will lead to success. That it makes them weak. They are not ashamed or affected because of it because the majority sought the help that they needed.

You are not going to make it through life untouched by moments of misery or sadness or fear. But these unwanted emotions are what make us unequivocally human. It is ok to be vulnerable. It is ok to feel. And it is ok to reach out for a helping hand. It makes you brave, not weak to do so. We should never be ashamed to be human.

Hi, my name is Hannah and I am currently in my final year studying English Literature at Loughborough University. I have suffered with panic attacks from a young age and was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression shortly after starting university. I set up my own blog as an outlet and started writing about my experiences in order to ensure that people knew that this wasn't a diagnosis to be ashamed of and to help others to come out and talk about their own struggles with someone they could trust. This year, I am working as Communications Officer for Loughborough Heads Up, the university's student led mental health awareness group who run campaigns around campus to raise awareness and work towards breaking the stigma surrounding Mental Health once and for all.

Friday, 8 December 2017

My First Counselling Experience

Ella writes first-hand about her first counselling experience and the benefits she has encountered.
-Ella Garrett

Ever had someone read you like a book? One that is ‘well-thumbed’, loved and read over and over until you almost know it off by heart?  That is pretty much how I felt after my first counselling session last week.

I was nervous. I had no idea what to expect; if I was going to be thought of as ‘well enough’ to not require a chat with a professional and whether I would find opening up to a stranger easy. These concerns weren’t massively far off. One of the first questions I was asked was whether I was “successful” last year. This threw me. I have seen many people who are academically successful suffer mentally – I would go so far to even suggest that sometimes the more academically successful you are, the more you are likely to have a mental health problem.

After this hurdle I was increasingly nervous about what was to come. This first meeting was an initial assessment, so it ultimately resulted in me providing her with a summary, rather than a synopsis, of my life. She provided brief interjections, pressed me for more information on difficult topics to discuss and went down the typical ‘counsellor’ type routes of questioning. Did my parents neglect me too much or love me too much? Did I have a strong support network? What did I want from counselling? I had no hobbies, so had I tried yoga? 

Although I was slightly unimpressed with my lack of epiphany over the usual assessment questions, the session seemed to simultaneously provide clarity as well as completely scrambling my brain on things that I have held close to me my whole life. Where I had considered myself a ‘closed book’, hard to read, and mysterious about how I felt; this woman stomped all over that belief and summarised me very easily. Well, so much for that Bond style mystery! For starters, she immediately realised that I struggled with developing a balance in life, on many aspects, something that I had never connected myself. What previously had felt like doing a dot-to-dot without any knowledge of numbers soon linked up into creating a clear picture – not the best analogy but you get my drift. 

After the session, and being booked in for another in 2 weeks’ time, I could only describe the scenario as very sobering. Things that I have never discussed with the closest of friends and family, due to either lack of trust or fear of judgement, were freely discussed in a 35-minute discussion. I felt like I basically gave up my whole personality to assessment in such a short time, which is what felt weird. It is undeniable that she made me feel better about certain things. She confirmed that parts of my life, past and present, were not how they should be, and that I wasn’t wrong or troubled for feeling a certain way. But just the concept of someone knowing everything about me is kind of terrifying.

I think it is definitely very easy to disregard counselling, turn to medication or ignore a problem and allow it to continue to be detrimental to your wellbeing. Medication was not effective for me and letting something gnaw away very quickly became too much. I know of friends who are scared to speak to someone, maybe the fears of trust and judgement that I mentioned fuels this for others too, but it’s just not the case. I already feel like I will make real progress here. I would recommend counselling to anyone who needs to talk openly about what’s going on in their mind.

If you or somebody you know is struggling with mental health at University, check out the Student Minds page on finding support for further information here.

Hi, I'm Ella. I'm currently in my third year at the University of York where I am studying English Literature and Philosophy. In my first year, I was diagnosed with Atypical Depression and have made it a personal mission ever since to encourage discussion and raise awareness around the subject - leading to my desire to write for Student Minds!

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Flying with Anxiety: Four tips to prevent your phobia from disrupting your travel

Laura shares her tips on easing anxieties associated with flying, so that you can enjoy your travels.

- Laura Williamson

Flying is a common phobia, with 1 in 10 people in the UK experiencing it to some extent. For some, it can be the flight that causes the overwhelming majority of anxiety regarding the trip, even if they have a huge travel adventure organised. For others, flying is so scary that it stops them from travelling abroad entirely. So, as someone who loves travelling as much as fearing flying, here are some of my tips on how to make it (a little) easier:

1) Book the seat you want 

It’s worth making sure, if you can, that you have booked a plane seat that will cause least anxiety. For example, if turbulence has you white knuckling it the whole way, the seats in the middle of the plane, over the wings, usually experience the least turbulence and with back experiences the most. Some people prefer to be sat by the window where they can see where they’re going, but to others that’s a nightmare situation. It can be pricey but also invaluable if it’ll definitely put you at ease. Sometimes, if you tell the flight crew, they can move you if it’s possible.

2) Let the flight crew know 

This may seem embarrassing but, if you’re flying alone, letting plane staff know you’re anxious is worth it. They’re literally paid to keep you safe and happy, so a quick chat as you’re getting on the plane is no bother to them. Usually, they’ll make sure to keep an eye on you; it’s surprising how much a quick chat or “hey, how are you doing?” from someone who flies for a living can help alleviate your anxiety, especially if you have no one else to talk to.

Image Description: Plane flying off into the sunset

3) Understand why things happen the way they do 

Ever been sat on a plane and a weird noise or vibration has put you in a cold sweat? Planes are supposed to make weird noises, and pilots expect minor turbulence and these things can’t bring down a plane. Very few injuries are caused by turbulence, and generally only to flight crew who aren’t wearing seatbelts. Doing research before the flight may help you to understand why things happen the way they do, so there’s no panic about losing the ‘left phalange’.

4) Prepare in advance 

Sometimes the airport can cause more stress than the flight itself. Preparing well in advance can be the best way to alleviate this anxiety; you don’t want to be flustered that you have the wrong visa when you’re already stressed about the flight. The Foreign Office offers information and checklists of essential documents needed for every country. Once you’ve made sure you have your passport, the correct visa, and know what you can and can’t bring into the country, and then you can focus on chilling out for the flight. 

You can follow the FCO on Facebook and Twitter @FCOtravel and on Instagram under @ukforeignoffice for further information and travel safety advice.

Hey, I'm Laura and I'm a history student at the University of Edinburgh. I'm writing for Student Minds to contribute to the conversation surrounding mental health.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Coping with Stress

Erin shares how she copes with stress using a technique called "PAGE"
- Erin

Stress – it is a term that we use very lightly. But do we as individuals really know how to come to terms with stress, so that it doesn’t affect our day-to-day lives?

Living with multiple mental illnesses, stress is something I have to continue to fight with on a daily basis. Not just stress from external environmental factors, but also the stress that I am faced with through my mind and thoughts.

Stress is an example of our body’s way of coping with “Fight, Flight or Freeze”. It is a survival mechanism that is embedded into our bodies to allow us to handle tough situations. However, when you are trying to overcome simple tasks, this stress can also inhibit you from thinking rationally. For me, If I don’t come to terms with my stress and use the tools I have learnt to relax my mind, my stress turns into anxiety and for me, this can very often turn into a downwards spiral.

When you are in a stressful situation, there is no point in overthinking the stress, although this can be easier said than done. You need to practise techniques that allow you to calm your thoughts. The more you overthink the thoughts of the stress, the less you will be able to face the problems head on and overcome them with reasoning.

One mechanism that I have learnt through continuous and deep therapy over the last couple of years, is “PAGE”. It is a simple strategy that you can use at any time and in any situation.

One simple way I use this exercise is during rush hour. Packed against people on the underground, squashed face-to-face in a confined space makes me very anxious. My mind starts to tell me that I can’t do it and to escape at the earliest moment. I feel myself struggle to breathe and I can feel my heart rate beginning into increase - this is body reacting to the “flight, fight or freeze” response, and eventually I will find myself in a panic.

However, (1) Pausing my mind, (2) Acknowledging my breathing, (3) Gathering my thoughts, and (4) noticing my Edges reminds me that I am okay and that I can cope with any situation I am faced with.

It seems so simple, but only with practice has my mind become in the routine of listening to this exercise and actually using it to it’s full potential.

Now, I am not a psychologist, nor a doctor. This is just something I have learnt from the many books I have read and the many therapists I have worked with. You can choose to use it or not, but for me it is very beneficial and allows me act in a collected manner when stressed.

The PAGE exercise;

To start with, when practising PAGE, I did it in a quiet environment, using it two or three times a day. However, once your mind gets into the routine of following the exercise you can then bring it into any day-to-day context, as frequently as you wish.

PAGE stands for: Pause, Acknowledge, Gather, and Edges.

First, pause, sit in a comfortable position and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. On your out-breath, say to yourself “PAUSE”. Fall into your body and feel the muscles become loose and relaxed. As you do this, focus your attention on the movement of your stomach, and ACKNOWLDEGE the breaths, in and out. Let the thoughts in your mind flow, do not engage with them and do not talk back to them. Just acknowledge that they are there and leave them to come and go. Continue paying attention to your body’s movements as you breathe in and out.

As you do this GATHER your thoughts. Rationalise them and let yourself know that you are fine. You are living, you are breathing and you are going to be okay. Now bring your attention to where you are sitting. Notice the EDGES of your hands on your legs, the edges of your legs against the chair, the soles of your feet on the ground (apply this to the position you are currently in) and breathe.

When you feel you are more collected and calm, you can go about your normal tasks that you need to carry out. Although, now you can do it in a calm and collected manner with your mind being more steady and your thoughts being more rational.

Hi, my name is Erin, I am currently in my final year studying Design Management at UAL in London. I have suffered from my mental health from the age of 10 years old. My diagnoses are still ongoing but suspected of; Depression, Anxiety, Autism, Bipolar and Borderline personality disorder. I began writing for Student Minds in order to share my own experiences of my journey with mental health. The aim is to increase awareness and to decrease the stigma attached to mental illnesses as a whole.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Why I decided to shave my head for Mental Health Charities

Amelia shares her journey to making the decision to shave her head for mental health charities.
- Amelia Hartley

I recently created a video, posted on YouTube, sharing my story behind choosing to shave my head on the 3rd December this year to raise money for Student Minds and the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).

Despite writing about my motivations on my fundraising page and in emails to friends and family, writing and filming a video to be posted online for the world to see was an incredibly daunting process. It took a lot of courage: courage I didn’t know I had. It showed me how far I have come and how much strength I have – we all have so much strength.

I’ve experienced some heightened anxiety over the past couple of months. Tackling a big fundraising goal is £2500 isn’t easy. I’ve had fears of not reaching my target, nobody attending the event, being laughed at or judged once the hair goes, friends not supporting me…the list goes on! However, I have had plenty of individuals express their support and encouragement.

Shaving my head for charity has become so much more than just trying to raise money for the causes. It’s also about showing people that it’s okay to talk about mental health and that recovery doesn’t happen overnight. It’s about reducing the stigma, as we all have mental health and we should all respect it like we do with our physical health. It’s about raising awareness of two amazing charities who are supporting thousands of individuals across the UK and will continue to support thousands more. I never thought I would one day be able to talk openly and honestly about my mental health, but here I am.

I was 14, and living in Sydney, when first diagnosed with depression. I felt like the only person of my friends, year group, even school, who wasn't 'happy' all the time. I thought I shouldn't feel like this because nothing had happened to trigger how I felt. I was looking for an excuse, and hoping that excuse would provide a solution to becoming better.

My methods for feeling better weren't healthy; I was self-harming, drinking and isolating myself. I had suicidal feelings. I started taking anti-depressants but I didn’t want anyone to know, or they'd know that something was wrong with me. I’ve realised now how helpful they are to some people, including myself. I still take them, but I’m not embarrassed or ashamed; having depression isn’t shameful.

In September 2010, my best friend died and my world completely fell apart. This was my first experience of 'suicide'. It was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we will never know whatever led him to that point. A life taken at 18: he had so much more to do, and we had so much love and hugs still to give him. Sometimes things are buried so deeply that nobody can help at the crucial moment. I would do anything to bring him back, but since I can’t, I want to try to help fewer men take their own lives. This is why I have chosen the Campaign Against Living Miserably, the male suicide prevention charity, as one of the charities to raise money for. In 2016, 76% of all suicides in the UK were male, and this has been the case since the early 1990s. It is the biggest killer of men under 45. However, CALM prevents over 250 suicides every year. They offer a helpline, website resources, and support, tackle stigma through massive national campaigns and increase the awareness of male suicide rates. Just a £7 donation can pay for a potentially life-saving call, so giving a little can do a lot.

I have personally seen that suicide is preventable – another close friend of mine, who had a suicide attempt, has come far and is alive and well today. I am so thankful he had the right help and support, and am pleased I could support him too.

In 2011, I moved back to England and took the opportunity to improve my academic work and my mental health. Despite lots of ups and downs, I did well in my A levels and went to study Physics at university, excited by the opportunity to continue learning.

Three months before moving to Southampton, from nowhere, I felt a massive dip in my mental health and began drinking and caring very little about myself. Starting university, I didn’t feel in control and was very vulnerable, and then my uncle suddenly passed away over the Christmas holiday. Jon was like a father to me, who I had hoped would be at my graduation and walk me down the aisle at my wedding. I felt like a part of myself had been brutally and abruptly ripped from me. 

I spiralled. I couldn’t concentrate in lectures or sit exams without crying. I didn’t feel I could talk to people; it seemed no one would understand the grief or pain I was experiencing. I couldn’t pretend to be ok and couldn’t be rude, so I isolated myself. Feeling outside of myself, I was watching ‘me’ go through each day without any control. There were times when I couldn’t picture the next 24 hours. I was scared of myself. 

I had to start recovery. University was still the route I thought I was going to be taking, so I stopped drinking and started taking care of myself. I went into second year with a positive frame of mind but my mental health still wasn’t great, even though it had improved.

I found that university was making things worse. Opportunities I’d found in university were the things that were keeping me going such as running a Student Minds peer support group for students experiencing low moods. The programme I was facilitating, and subsequent support network, kept me going through second year and allowed me to leave university knowing I’d made the right decision to drop out. Student Minds saved me – I don’t know where I’d be without them. The mental health of university students would be at a crisis point without the peer support, staff training, campaigns and sector influence that Student Minds offers. This is why I have chosen them as my second charity. Their work is hugely recognised, and it is an honour to now work for the charity.

You can’t always see depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. You don’t always know how much someone is struggling. It doesn’t always show outwardly; they might not talk about it because they’re worried about others’ reactions. If I tell someone that I have clinical depression and anxiety or have experienced suicidal thoughts, they might change how they behave around me or panic. It’s not necessarily an illness with an easy diagnosis and treatment, where people wish you to get well soon and celebrate your recovery. Mental health difficulties and suicide affect millions of individuals across the UK. For that, I will do my bit by shaving my head and raising as much money as I possibly can for the Campaign Against Living Miserably and Student Minds.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, please donate if you can, please share this as much as possible. We can all share our stories and they can have more impact than we ever imagine.

Watch the video here:

Hi, I'm Amelia and I am the Training Programmes Manager at Student Minds. I previously volunteered for the charity, and love now being part of the staff team. I've had lots of ups and downs over the years, but have found Oxford a beautiful place to live and work, and the countryside certainly helps my mood! We all have mental health, let's keep fighting the stigma.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Supporting Someone with Mental Health Difficulties

Jackson shares his experiences living with anxiety and how it affects his relationships.

-Jackson Miller

After receiving plenty of supportive feedback for my first anxiety post, I wanted to write this second post without hesitation. I was asked what advice I'd give to the loved ones of those suffering from anxiety or any other mental difficulty.

This article contains details of my own relationship and the strain anxiety has placed upon it. I also give advice to those who are family, friends, or partners of someone with a mental illness, from the perspective of that person. Friendship, family relationship, or romantic relationship - this content applies to all.

My Relationship

I'm currently in a relationship with someone who makes me smile brighter than anything else in this world. We share the same values and thrive in our relationship as it's suffused with trust and honesty.

We've been together for two and a half years and, like all relationships, we've had some tough times. But we've had an exceptionally strong relationship; whenever the few arguments we've had did arise we always handled it maturely and supported each other.

My Relationship + Anxiety

Now that you have a little insight into my relationship and its stability, let me tell you about how my anxiety has affected the relationship. There have been many major effects that my anxiety has had on my relationship:

* Being unable to travel
* Being unable to eat at her house
* Being unable to do events with her family
* Being extremely clingy at times
* Putting pressure on her as my supportive anchor
* Constantly leaning on her when my anxiety drained my own strength
* She had to be there with me during anxiety attacks
* She had to watch for years as my anxiety ate away at me
* She had to explain to people why we didn't attend certain events

She Became My Anchor

My girlfriend is now the one thing in the world that takes my anxiety away. Of course, it still does occur - but it lessens when I'm with her and even when it does resurface she helps me through it.

If you become a grounding force for a person you know with a mental illness, there are a couple things you need to realise:

* They will depend on you, probably more than anyone else in their life
* You'll take on a significant responsibility
* At times, they'll feel like a burden to you
* They will need you, especially when you're away from them

We Can Be Burdens - And We Know It

I'm not going to rant about how I feel sorry for myself for being a burden, but I will address this truth: my anxiety makes life for me and everyone else more difficult at times. 

If you are involved with someone with mental health difficulties, understand that they will feel guilty. They are aware of the pressure they bring, and they sometimes think you'd be better off without them. This can affect their self-esteem; they won't show it all the time and often won't even admit it, but it can exacerbate their low mood.

I'm saying this because it is important to be aware of the way they view your relationship. Look out for when they try to distance themselves from you just to spare you, as these are the times when we need support the most. While it's difficult because we don't want to cause you pain or stress, it's never good for us to push you away.

I've learned that trying to deny being a burden isn't healthy, but growing engulfed by it is even worse. Everyone has their imperfections, and we continue to love each other anyway.  

How Can You Be Supportive?

If you have a relationship with someone who suffers from mental health difficulties,
* Support them as much as you can
* Learn about their situation
* Remind them of the positives, not the negatives
* Be there to help them when they are down. Paradoxically, giving them space can be key. If you can't help - and often, the only one who can help them is them - then just be there for when they need you. 

For the full-length article and more on the subject, visit

Hi, I’m Jackson. I’m a first year business student attending Humber College with a deep passion for reading, writing, and inspiring others. I’ve suffered with two mental illnesses for several years now and understand how much helpful information can improve your situation. Mental illnesses have a major impact on relationships, friendships, academic performance, careers, and basic living. After experiencing the struggles a mental illness can cause, I decided I wanted to write for Student Minds and share what I’ve learned from my personal experiences to help those in similar situations.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Trans Mental Health at University

Shev shares their experience of being transgender at university.

- Shevek Imogen Fodor (them/them)

I’ve started to joke that I came to uni as a lesbian woman and I’m leaving uni as a non-binary quoisexual (aka WTFsexual – I don’t know what’s going on). Exploring and discovering my gender identity whilst at university has been a liberating and affirming experience, but it has also had its challenges, and has noticeably had an impact on my (already not great) mental health. 

Imagine all of the stresses that extenuate mental health problems at university: trying to fit in with new flatmates, getting used to new living conditions and routines and a harder course with new expectations. Awareness of mental health difficulties and the challenges students face has been increasing, but trans people have all of this to deal with on top of having to navigate an oppressive, cisgendered world.

There is the daunting prospect of negotiating the bureaucracy of administration systems. This can be especially problematic if you are transitioning in the middle of your degree, as aspects of transitioning can be time consuming and anxiety-inducing. Non-binary identities aren’t recognised in the UK, so it can be a lottery as to whether your gender and prefixes will be available on forms. Furthermore, any change to birth certificates and passports, or changing your name by deed poll, is essentially a massive headache, and something I don’t want to think about when I’m worrying about getting my 3000-word essay written and submitted on time.

One of the consequences of this is the prospect of being misgendered and deadnamed by staff and students, who can be ignorant about trans issues. This term I emailed all of my tutors to ask them to use my new name, which is different from the one on the university systems. When introducing myself in the first seminars of term I told my peers that I use ‘they/them’ pronouns. Luckily everyone has been very supportive, but there is always the awareness that people are likely to forget. Being misgendered is a horrible experience, as it intensifies gender dysphoria; try battling with difficult academic theories whilst also having an underlying, overwhelming feeling of being uncomfortable in your own skin. I have been misgendered by councillors, tutors and peers, either because they assume my gender or have forgotten how I identify. Informing and correcting people is especially hard if you also have social anxiety and/or don’t want to make things awkward.

Then there is traversing social life. The realms of sports are very binarised, and intimidating for both binary and non-binary trans people. A personal bugbear of mine is trying to create a space for trans people within performance societies — where roles are often gendered and there is inadvertent transphobic humour — and trying to encourage people to use less gendered language (like alternatives for ‘ladies and gentlemen’). When going out, the consequences of how you present yourself in clubs and town can be terrifying, as you have to worry about being met with transphobia based on how you look whilst also wanting to fit in.

This is just a small taster of what life at university is like as a trans person. It is unsurprising why this extra stress can extenuate mental health problems that are already present.

To end on a positive note, one really great thing at my university has been the support of the trans network, which has a secret Facebook group that helps provide a safe space for our trans community. Here everyone - whether they are questioning, transitioning, closeted or out - can post experiences both positive and negative, questions, and advice. It helps combat feelings of isolation which trans people often experience, and can contribute to anxiety and depression. Being able to talk in confidence has helped me work out my gender identity, and on many occasions it has been such a relief to be able to vent when I've been misgendered or frustrated by ignorance. It also allows more experienced members of the university to help by providing valuable tips on navigating university support and administrative systems, and discuss ways to campaign and work towards making the university more accepting.

Shev is studying English and Related Lit and is blogging because they have always been open about their mental health problems and want to help break down stigma by helping people feel more comfortable so that they can talk about it and reach support more effectively.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Sick of Studying: Does the language of mental ‘illness’ always make sense in Higher Education?

Michael writes about the language of mental ‘illness’ within the context of University life.

-Michael Priestley

We are often incited to think of mental ‘illness’ in the same manner as physical ‘illness’; as a biological condition that besets genetically vulnerable individuals and thus demands specialist diagnoses, explanations and treatments. As with any such condition, organisational responsibility can only lie, it seems, in the providing of specialist services for the individual to access in times of crisis. But without due care, this may lead us to thinking of mental ‘illness’ solely as something to be medically treated, rather than socially prevented; something separate and other, something only for doctors and patients, something that we as students need not really think or do anything about, either for ourselves or for others. We can become so entrenched in this language of ‘illness’ that it can become difficult for us to perceive and openly discuss both the relevant social and environmental risk factors and/or potential solutions that we just already know from our own experiences of University life.

Using a different language might, I suggest, help us to view and thus respond to mental health in a new, and more helpful, way. For the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, this involves letting go of our specialist, universal, conceptions of ‘illness’, and returning instead to what we already know about mental health through listening to other people’s experiences within the context of their own lives. Perhaps then, as clinical psychologist Richard Bentall has suggested, it no longer makes sense to talk of ‘symptoms’ at all, but instead ‘abandon psychiatric diagnosis altogether’ (2006, p.220) and (re)conceptualise mental ‘illness’ simply as ‘complaints’ (ibid) that are contextually embedded within the social world.

For me then, I came to realise that my own experiences of depression and anxiety might itself be symptomatic of a bigger sickness within the context of higher education and society more generally. I had become sick. I felt hopelessly inadequate upon facing the often incompatible academic, social and economic expectations of student life and I constantly anticipated failure and humiliation. I began to isolate myself, taking comfort in increasingly unhealthy work patterns and, progressively, self-harming.

But perhaps, I now realise, this sickness wasn’t a job solely for the doctor or other mental health professionals. It was just as much a job for policy makers, the University and society more generally. Because what I was really sick of was the stress, the pressure and the insecurity of University life; the relentless assessment, the needless competition, the obsession with ‘future employability’, the impossible social expectations, the overwhelming debt, the constant financial anxiety. Maybe, just as certain longstanding beliefs that natural medical conditions disproportionately affecting women were, in fact, inherent to patriarchal capitalist society, the student mental health crisis could come to be seen as indicative of a larger social crisis within higher education.

I don’t say all this just to complain or to promote some political agenda. And of course, always talk to a professional if you are concerned for your own or others’ wellbeing. But I do hope that the sharing of my experiences might hold some value for both students and for the University. Because as an individual, it was both liberating and empowering to learn that some of my own failings were really just as much the failure of higher education. And for Universities, by expanding the language of mental ‘illness’ in order to to listen to, learn more about and respond to students’ own experiences, they may help to develop a more effective, collective and coordinated environment for student mental health and wellbeing.

Hi, I'm Michael. I'm currently a prospective PhD student at Durham University and wanted to write for Student Minds about my own experiences of depression, anxiety and university life. 

Monday, 13 November 2017

How Volunteering helped me with my Mental Health

Charlotte shares her experiences of Volunteering with local Mental Health charities.
- Charlotte Morley

Before coming to University, I struggled with a 5-year long battle with my mental health. I spent years of my adolescence receiving treatment from a psychiatrist and a therapist for my Depression, Eating Disorder and issues with Self Harm. Now, as a 3rd year and soon to be graduate with a BSc degree in Psychology, I want to reflect on how my mental health affected my experiences at University.

Being a self-confessed perfectionist, when the prospect of attending University was on the horizon, I threw every ounce of my energy into attaining the best grades possible to study the subject that I love, Psychology, at the University of East Anglia (UEA) where I felt at ease as soon as I visited. When results day arrived and I saw the confirmation of my acceptance into the university, I was bursting with excitement for my new journey in a chapter of my life where I could leave my mental health problems behind me.

However, amidst all of the excitement for my ''new start'' and my new-found independence in a life away from the comforts of my own home, I didn't really consider how such a massive transition could make me vulnerable to slipping back into my illnesses and leave me questioning whether I really should've deferred from a year.

Moving into halls was both an exciting and incredibly frightening experience. Although I've never necessarily struggled to make friends, I'm a family-oriented person and being away from them for months at a time felt quite daunting. My family were a big source of support for my mental health and suddenly there were going to be two and half hours away from me. Luckily, my first couple of weeks as a fresher was quite typical: nights out, the dreaded fresher's flu, coupled with the chorus of coughing in 9am lectures that you dragged yourself to, reluctantly. However, as the month progressed, I soon revelled in the fact that I had complete control and independence, and this was massively detrimental to my mental health. I became increasingly withdrawn and I started reverting to my previous eating disorder behaviours and relapsed into depression again. I was a signature away from dropping out altogether and going back home for good. Luckily, the fear of failure and disappointment, as well as the thought of losing my new friends, made me persevere and I made it through until Christmas break. However, I returned home for Christmas having lost a significant and dramatic amount of weight.

Panic soon set in and I just knew that when I returned to University in January, I had to do something to prevent this from spiralling back to the way I used to be. When I came back to University in January, having increased my weight slightly, I sought out help through the university to get things back on track. I began to notice changes. I also made a decision that has contributed significantly to achieving stability. To help tackle my feelings of isolation, I started volunteering with charities that were close to my heart.

Volunteering gave me a tremendous sense of hope and purpose, which helped me to establish my sense of identity. I volunteered regularly as a Peer Support Volunteer with MIND and Rethink Mental Illness, where I encountered some incredibly brave individuals suffering from debilitating and enduring forms of mental illness. The lovely people who attended these support groups knew me by name and looked forward to seeing me every week and confiding in me about their struggles. It gave structure to my week, which is SO important when you're struggling with your mental health and increased my levels of social support. Research has consistently shown that volunteering has favourable effects on mental health and I would advise anyone, whether suffering with their mental health at University or not, to engage in volunteering in their community, and especially within causes that are meaningful to you. I truly believe that I wouldn't still be at university without it.

Hi, I'm Charlotte. I'm a 3rd year Psychology student at UEA with a compelling enthusiasm for talking about all things mental health. I'm an avid volunteer and am passionate about contributing to my local community by partaking in a range of charity work. The transition to University can pose a huge strain on your mental health and I wanted to write for Student Minds to share my personal experiences with my mental health, raise awareness, and talk about the strategies I have implemented to look after myself whilst studying.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Taking a Breather

Yasmeen talks about the struggle of maintaining self-confidence whilst pursuing your dreams, and how it's all about balance when it comes to surviving university.
            - Yasmeen 

‘If you were born with the weakness to fall, you were born with the strength to rise. Give yourself credit for how far you've come.'

I remember it like it was yesterday; all of the excitement and nerves that built up inside of me when I found out that I had been given a place at University to study Adult Nursing back in 2015. An overwhelming feeling. A mixture of every emotion. Then, a few months into my degree, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I had just started to embark on probably the biggest journey of my life and now I was full of many doubts. Could I make it through the whole 3 years whilst battling my own demons? Why was I feeling like this now? I had wanted to study Adult Nursing for as long as I could remember. Where had all my self-belief gone?

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the number of students dropping out of university due to a mental health condition has trebled in the more recent years; between 2014 and 2015, a staggering 1,180 students left university early. I know this because I like to do my research to see how many people have actually acted on my daily thoughts. I was a lot more determined in my first year to prove myself wrong. Now I have just gone into my third year, and I feel like I’ve hit a wall. I feel like I’m struggling more than ever at the moment, with my anxiety taking over significantly. I struggle with social anxiety a lot where I find it hard being around too many people at a single one time- I have on many occasions been sat in a lecture theatre surrounded by all of the regular faces of the members of my cohort and felt like I needed to escape. My palms go sweaty and my heart starts racing and suddenly everything feels like a blur. I am trying to change my mindset towards my education, as I have felt on several occasions that I have wanted to quit and give up, to drop out and focus on myself and my health- but I am determined not to let my anxiety get in the way of achieving my dreams. A quote that I have always loved goes as follows: "The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed”- and I feel like that is my motivation to continue because I am so close!

Tips on dealing with mental health at University: 
  Ø  Use your universities support system! Take advantage of the available support that your university has to offer you. Whether that be a mental health wellbeing team or a counselling service. Having somebody to talk to at university can be useful.
  Ø  Do not be afraid to tell your lectures/tutors/mentors that you are struggling. These staff are trained at supporting students who have personal issues. They might be able to give you some additional academic support.
  Ø  Do not push yourself further than your limits. If you feel that your mental health is having a down period, do not feel guilty for taking a breather or a break from any work you may have to do. Giving yourself a break will allow yourself to work better in the long run.

I think the hardest part for me is finding a balance; a balance between looking after myself, my mental health, as well as putting my all into my degree and finding time for personal commitments. My mental health has taken over my life in more ways than imaginable. It has stripped me of my confidence and has affected my academic abilities. I feel as though I cannot function like I used to; I lack in concentration and motivation. It is such a huge battle, and nothing is more difficult than trying to better yourself whilst still trying hard to achieve your goals. I guess my main message is that it's ok to take time to breathe. Your degree is only a small number of years, but your mental health is life long. Your grades will never be more important than your health, and I hope anybody else experiencing what I am going through realizes this. Prioritise yourself and your success will follow!

 Hi, my name is Yasmeen and I am 21 years old. I was born and raised in East London and I am currently in my final year of studying Adult Nursing at London South Bank University. I have been suffering with Anxiety and Depression for around 2 years now and I see it as my goal to raise awareness about mental health, to change the stigma towards mental illness and to get people talking! Blogging my experience is a way for me to deal with my own problems and hopefully write about things that people can relate too.  

If you are considering taking time out of university due to mental health issues, speak to the student services and/or your academic tutors. 

Friday, 10 November 2017

Medication and Moving to University

Lauren explores her experiences with medication and moving to university with Mental Illness'

- Lauren Brooks

Everybody tells you going to university is the scariest but greatest thing that you’ll ever do, but no one ever tells you what to expect when you have mental health difficulties. I, myself, suffer from social anxiety, which is when you feel so scared to even speak to someone, that it paralyses you; OCD, which causes people to think irrationally and become compulsive with certain habits in order to prevent a certain event which they think will happen. Finally, I also suffer from depression, which is like a dark cloud that is constantly over you, no matter how hard you may try to get rid of it. During the summer, I had an exact plan of what I was going to do, I was going to slowly wean myself off my anti-depressants so I could become stable enough to cope without them. However, I didn’t realise just how much my mind, at that moment in time, still needed the medication in order to function.

So, once I tried to wean myself off, first by lowering the dosage through the advice of a doctor, I started to become very low in my moods or I would begin the day on an okay kind of mood, which would eventually go downhill. Telling my parents that I was struggling was hard, as it felt like in a way that my self-control and plans had been taken away from me, I wanted to stop taking the medication, so that I could start at university afresh and not have anything preventing me from socialising, like I wanted to enjoy a few drinks and experience the sensation of getting tipsy, like your usual kind of eighteen year old.

My doctor luckily let me keep a packet of my higher dosage, so that if I ever needed it I could go back to it, taking that tablet in the morning was tough, as I knew it would be another six to twelve months, before the doctors would even consider letting me off the antidepressants again. But, after seeing just how much the medication helped to make my mood okay again, I decided that my mind was telling me that it wasn’t quite ready yet to take the stabilisers off the bike yet. So, a few days later, it’s A Level Results Day, the day I had been waiting three months for, the anxiety and dread filled within me, as I knew this would be the day I found out whether I had made it into university or not.

My anxiety filled mind kept me awake the whole night practically, making me panic about the worst outcomes possible, so at around half six I got up, went downstairs, turned on my laptop, went on the UCAS website and that’s where I saw it, I had got into university. I could hardly breathe, I was so shocked, relieved and in wonder, all of the blood, sweat and tears had been worth it. Throughout the three weeks prior to my arrival at university, my family and I were in such a rush trying to get all the stuff I needed together and sorting out my accommodation, but also those three weeks felt like the longest few weeks of my life.

So, when arrivals weekend came, I was relieved that it was finally here, but also immensely nervous, what if my new flatmates don’t like me? What if I don’t like the course? What if my anxiety makes me feel unable to speak to anyone? Safe to say, my mood was very up and down on move in day, so when the time arrived to say goodbye to my family, I was in floods of tears as I watched them leave, despite knowing that they were only an hour’s drive away. At first, I found it very overwhelming knowing that I would be living on my own for three whole academic years, responsible for looking after my own safety and wellbeing.

I also struggled with immense loneliness, keeping myself in my room, afraid of showing people my real self, in case they didn’t like what they seen. Going into university, I had extremely high and ridiculous expectations that I would meet friends straight away, but now I realise that it doesn’t happen overnight that it takes time. Getting used to living on campus at university isn’t easy especially with mental health issues, but the rewards you get out of it, is also amazing. You feel so much more independent and able, you get to meet new people, venture out of your comfort zone. If you are struggling, my advice would be, don’t stay quiet, tell someone. Because you never know, someone else may be feeling exactly the same as you.

"Hi, I'm Lauren, I am a first year student studying Social Work. I suffer from Depression, OCD and anxiety, I am writing for Student Minds to try and help others."