Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 10 - 16 May 2021, and this year’s theme is nature. A recent report from the Mental Health Foundation reported 45% of responders said green spaces had been vital for their mental health. It was still important to those with limited access to nature, with websites showing webcams of wildlife seeing hits increase by over 2000%. No matter who you are or where you live, we all need to look out for our mental health and the mental health of the people around us. Today we’re taking advice from our Student Support Services about managing some of the biggest mental health challenges facing students today.
By Cara Fielder. Published 14 May 2021.
How to reach out
It can be hard to speak up and even harder to know how to approach a conversation about our mental wellbeing. Who do you talk to? What do you say?
Talking about your mental health issues may not be easy, but it’s a vital part of getting the help you need. There’s no right or best way to talk about mental illness issues, but having a plan can help to make the process less daunting. Here are some things to help make the conversation more productive.
- Write down what you’re feeling. Journaling is a good way to help organise your thoughts before having difficult conversations. Writing it down can help you get a clearer idea of what you want to say. You can even try writing a script to help guide you through the conversation if you think it would be helpful.
- Choose your confidantes. Talking to people you can rely on to be understanding and supportive will help you practise and gain confidence. This could be a friend, relative, welfare officer and/or GP.
- Go at your own pace. If the thought of telling someone what’s been going on feels overwhelming, remember that it’s okay to take it slowly. It’s up to you how much you share.
- Don’t downplay or diminish your experiences. Try to be explicit in how you feel. ‘I feel anxious all the time’ or ‘I feel really alone, and I need help.’
The important thing is that you are telling people how you feel and asking for help. Talking about mental health issues, even to one person who is understanding, helps overcome stigma. When you speak up, you’re not only giving yourself a chance to get better; you may unknowingly be paving the way for someone who is still waiting to find their voice.
We can all feel lonely sometimes and it is a completely normal experience. However, for some, loneliness can be an overwhelming and unbearable feeling. Unfortunately, this can be a very difficult feeling to speak about.
It’s common to feel lonely when surrounded by people and it can be made worse when we feel we have nobody to share with. We notice it when we feel disconnected and alienated from our surroundings and don’t feel part of a group or event. We may experience it more acutely when we see others who seem at ease, are making friends and are part of groups from which we may feel excluded. But what can you do to change that?
- First, remember that loneliness is very common and many people feel like this at times.
- Loneliness can be a sign that essential needs are not being met. Reflect on what these needs are and look to meet these in ways that benefit your wellbeing.
- There is nothing wrong with you if you feel lonely or alone. Self-esteem and confidence can take a knock, but loneliness is a normal state and being able to bear loneliness can be a sign of maturation and growth.
- Try not to compare yourself to others. Others will tell us what they feel comfortable with sharing and may be hiding feelings of loneliness.
- Do not wait for other people to visit or speak to you. Take the initiative to strike up a conversation when you can. This can take practice, so don’t worry if it feels uncomfortable or scary at first.
- Do whatever makes you happy and does not cause you harm. Do not deprive yourself of things you would like to do as that can contribute to feeling low, demotivated, etc.
- Build relationships by being a good friend to others. Try to give others what you would like more of in your life while practising self-care.
- You can find lots of useful information online. A good starting point is The Mix website or Mind. You can also read Overcoming Loneliness & Making Friends by Marianna Csoti or Positive Solitude: A Practical Program for Mastering Loneliness & Achieving Self Fulfilment by Rae Andre.
Sadly, these challenging times have led to an increased number of people suffering from burnout.
Burnout is defined by exhaustion on all levels - mentally, emotionally and physically. It is not alleviated by sleeping or resting and carries an increasing sense of being cut off from ourselves and others.
Burnout can have an impact on our effectiveness in all areas of life. We may also experience stress, irritability, loss of joy and pleasure, feeling trapped and poor attention. Physical symptoms can include back pain, headaches and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Sufferers may seek to alleviate or distract themselves from these symptoms by binge-watching, drinking alcohol, comfort eating etc.
Burnout can happen when you:
- Work hard but don’t feel valued or appreciated for your efforts
- Find it hard to say no
- Have unrealistic, unmanageable and unattainable expectations
- Prioritise others and their needs over your self-care
- Control or micromanage others or situations
- Hear of another’s difficulties whilst trying to manage your own.
It is important to remember that we cannot do everything, we cannot be perfect and we cannot be everything to everyone.
Burnout is NOT a failure but can be an opportunity for growth and re-direction. It can be an important way of becoming aware of your limits.
- What changes can you implement now to feel more at ease?
- What changes can you implement in the near future so that things are more manageable?
- What support do you need, and how can you ask for it?
- What boundaries can you put in place to preserve your health, wellbeing, workload, relationships etc.
- Can you find ways to be accountable to yourself to prioritise your self-care?
It may seem overwhelming or even selfish to implement changes but start small, with things that you feel able to manage daily. Slowly build up boundaries that seem more challenging to enforce. Don’t forget to communicate these to people so they understand what you need and why your actions might be changing.
We understand that our students might need some extra support while studying with us. Whether it’s personal or study based, ULaw Student Support Services are here for you every step of the way.