In the period leading up to last week’s general election, a new surge of support regarding mental health issues came into the public eye. Practically every party featured mental health as a key focus within its manifesto and so in some ways, Mental Health Awareness Week 2015 couldn’t have fallen at a more appropriate time. With the exam season almost upon us at the University of Liverpool, and coursework deadlines hitting us left, right and centre, keeping our heads happy is extremely important to our wellbeing, and this is what Mental Health Awareness Week aims to promote.
Students and Mental Health
While public opinion on the issue of mental health remains sadly divided, there is no question that this is an important issue in society, especially within the student demographic. Struggles with mental health are as common among students as they are within the general population, with the stresses of living away from home, as well as new responsibilities, academic expectations and social experiences increasing the pressures on young people. And anyone can become susceptible.
From social anxiety, to depression, to eating disorders, everyone suffering with mental health issues responds to societal and academic pressures differently, but what many people have in common, no matter their illness, is the tendency to think we are the only person suffering. As sufferers of social anxiety, for example, we might assume that we are ‘the only one’ who is terrified and so might avoid difficult situations as a short term fix to our worrying about being forced into socialising with new people.
Low mood is another common issue among students, often incorrectly identified as depression. However, this does not make it any less worthy of support – any mental illness is worth taking the time to understand and seek help for. For example, while we can’t all be happy all the time, persistent low moods do need attention. Like with social anxiety, as sufferers of low moods we might feel embarrassed or isolated, and so shun the idea of seeking help.
In terms of self-help, one of the best things you can try to do to keep your mind happy is challenge negative thoughts, and carefully reflect upon your reasoning for thinking these thoughts. Does that person waiting for the bus actually think you’re completely useless because you stumbled slightly on your way up Brownlow Hill? Probably not; they’re probably more interested in picking the next One Direction track they want to listen to. We can also try developing breathing techniques; it helps us to relax and keeps us conscious of what we’re automatically assuming so that we can challenge it. Trying to get into routines is also helpful; sleeping regularly and eating well means our body knows what to expect. As well as this, try to be compassionate with yourself; blaming ourselves is tempting, but these problems always have a solution, you just need to talk to someone.
What is Mindfulness and how does it help?
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is Mindfulness, and how this can help those suffering from mental illness. At its simplest, mindfulness involves keeping your attention focussed on the present, not getting trapped in the past or worrying about the future. What is reportedly so useful about mindfulness, though, is that it can be practised anywhere – sitting, standing, or on the bus – and for any length of time. It’s all about training your mind to focus on the issues at hand.
Contrary to assumption, mindfulness isn’t about emptying your mind and zoning out. In actuality, mindfulness means different things to different people. The purpose of this concept is to help people to observe the way that they think and feel about their experiences, whether good or bad. By tackling issues head on through contemplation, this can change the way we react to and manage stressful situations because we begin to question and challenge the mental barriers we have built up. If you are interested in learning more about this technique or taking part in a four week course that focusses on Mindfulness, you can find more information at www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/mentalhealthawarenessweek/what-is-mindfulness/.
Where can I get advice at uni?
There are also lots of people within the university you can get in touch with if you would like to seek advice or support. These include:
Counselling Service – Drop-in; register; groups; men’s drop-in
Disability Support Team (DST) – Dyslexia; mental and physical health; liaison with departments (where agreed)
International Support Team (IST) – Supporting international students; liaison with other support and departments
Department Support – Various staff in departments to contact
Student Health – Support from the GPs and Practice Nurses
Mental Health Advisory Service – Supporting students with more complex mental health problems
Advice and Guidance Team – Offering initial advice, signposting and liaison
Financial Support Team – Help and advice on all financial matters
The Guild Advice Support – Academic advice and welfare support
The most important thing though is to be aware of both yourself and others. You aren’t alone, and you can get by with a little help from your friends.