This week is Mental Health Awareness week. A staggering one in four people suffer with a mental health issue, yet it still has a stigma and taboo around asking for help. In a lecture of 40 students, 10 people will be struggling, and I can almost guarantee there will be someone who is suffering in silence, scared to speak out.
University can be one of the best things in your life, but it can also be one of the most stressful. You might be moving away from home into a new environment, with new people, a new flat, a new routine. You gain more independence than in school, but this might leave you feeling vulnerable and alone. It is so important to reach out if you are feeling anxious, low or stressed. A friend, a lecturer, student support. Anyone. There are so many organisations and online chat groups, you are never alone. You just need to take the first step in asking for help.
The change going into sixth form and then into university took its toll on my mental health. The change of environment and routine, a place that I didn’t know with people I had just met caused my brain to go into overload. Since then, I have learnt to be more open and gain a better understanding about my mental health. I understand when I’m tired or stressed and need a day of self-care. I understand when I need to be on my own and not feel like I have to be sociable. I understand when I can’t concentrate, it doesn’t mean I’m a failure, it means I’m human. I’ve become aware of the situations and environments that make me anxious and have strategies to calm down but still challenge myself.
These are some of my favourite quotes on mental health:
“People with mental health conditions deserve just as much support and compassion as people with physical health conditions.”
People talk about having a pain in their knee or get sympathy for broken leg. A mental illness is no different! Your brain is temporarily injured and in recovery, just like any physical injury.
“It’s not always your mental health that is the problem; sometimes the situation you are in needs to change.”
If you feel stressed and out of control, see if you can change the situation to help improve your mental health. Got a lot of deadlines coming at you very rapidly? Write it all down, prioritise what you have got to do, set a plan and include regular breaks.
“It’s okay to feel unstable. It’s okay to disassociate. It’s okay to hide from the world. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay not to be okay. Your mental illness is not a personal failure.”
No one is perfect. No one is happy and lively 24/7. People have down days, people struggle and cry. It is a normal human reaction. You just may not see everyone have these days. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be the ‘perfect’ person 100% of the time, take a break, don’t hold back your emotions.
“Your mental health is more important than the test, the interview, the lunch date, the meeting, the family dinner, and the grocery-run. Take care of yourself.”
If you are struggling, take a break. There is no point continuing working, adding up the pressure of university when you aren’t taking anything in. Go for a walk, have a nap, get a takeaway and just chill. Try again in an hour/the next day.
“Nobody can save you but yourself, and you’re worth saving. It’s a war not easily won, but if anything is worth winning then this is it.”
You can’t wait for someone to save you and realise you need help. Mental illnesses are very hard to spot. You need to be brave and reach out for help if you need it. You need to do it for you, nobody else. Your future, your life.
“You don’t have to be positive all the time. It’s perfectly okay to feel sad, angry, annoyed, frustrated, scared and anxious. Having feelings doesn’t make you a negative person. It makes you human.”
All your feelings and emotions are valid. Feel them. Embrace them. But don’t hide them.
Source: Mental Health Foundation
Anxiety & Panic Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Eating Disorders, Schizophrenia are a few of a very long list of mental health diagnoses. There is a high chance that there is someone you know that is suffering from a form of mental illness, perhaps multiple illnesses. There is an even higher chance that you know someone that is suffering in silence. Be kind to everyone, you don’t know what they are dealing with. If you notice your mate starts to change, become withdrawn, snaps easily… instead of avoiding them, ask them if they are okay.
My 6 top tips for surviving university with a mental health issue:
- Recognise negative self-talk and thoughts and actively try and change these thoughts into more rational ones.
- Make regular use of self-care, whether that be putting on a face mask and watching a Disney film with a pizza or relaxing with your mates.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself to be the best at everything, you don’t have to achieve more than everyone else all the time. It isn’t a competition, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses: you just need to find your own strengths.
- Don’t put on a brave face the whole time: it is okay not to be okay.
- No one is perfect, it is okay to make a mistake or do something wrong.
- Reach out if you need additional support. Don’t be worried about getting judged or feeling stupid, you won’t be alone.
If you would like to find out about the support available at Marjon for students with mental health conditions please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or go a drop-in session.