For the majority of things in life, there is no step by step guide or formula to making things better when we have a problem. When there isn’t a single blueprint that will certainly work for us, we learn to trust ourselves and find a way through that works for us. Everyone’s struggles are different, and no recovery is linear; accepting this has changed the way I am able to think about my mental health.
Managing mental health can be difficult at the best of times, let alone being a student under pressured circumstances, perhaps away from home, managing finances, studies, new and complex routines and so much more on our own. With one in four people suffering with a mental health illness at some point in their lives, understanding how we can recognise when we or someone else needs help is so important. Anxiety at university isn’t uncommon yet we are still so reluctant to talk about it in a way that is helpful and practical, despite the most recent statistics stating that 82% of us struggle with stress and/or anxiety in one way or another at university. One in five students are diagnosed with either anxiety or depression during their time at university. Beat, an eating disorder charity based in the UK, states that of 200 students at university with an eating disorder, 32% of those were diagnosed while at university, 39% had to drop out or take a break from their studies and a huge 69% had difficulty accessing the support or treatment needed at this time.
Someone with a mental health illness doesn’t look or act a certain way, despite what the preconceived ideas may tell us. Personally, I’ve been up against this time and time again feeling misunderstood and ashamed of the problems I’ve faced simply because I don’t fit the typical stereotypes attributed with certain illness. Mental health at university is something as a student community we can be talking about more as the stats show just how many of us can be affected directly or indirectly by our mental health while studying at uni. We can be supporting each other by having a greater awareness that these problems exist. Admitting there is a problem is one the best first steps towards receiving the right support. I really encourage you to go and speak to someone and start that conversation with your peers, friends, colleges and families either opening up that conversation for yourself or for someone else.
How many times in a conversation do you say ‘but it’ll be fine’? I know for a fact that I say this all too often when actually things don’t feel very fine. Despite this, I’m all too well aware that covering up feelings and emotions achieves nothing. I think it’s possible that we spend too much time trying to fix, clean up or hide our mess. We worry about the shame or the reactions of other people or whether struggling emotionally changes us as a person. There is an unrealistic pursuit of optimism at all times but sometimes we need to simply operate under current circumstances and emotions and be okay with that. This way we confront the emotions we feel and avoid the toxicity of suppressed or undealt with feelings. Having feelings that leave us feeling low doesn’t mean that we are broken incapable of repair or weak. Having emotions makes you human and when it comes to hard times, one of the best ways out of them is through them which involves feeling them and allowing others in to support and encourage you at your lowest as well as standing with you when you feel on top of the world. In fact, pushing on through these times with the correct support means that we come out stronger, making decisions over our lives for the better instead of operating out of fear.
It’s okay to say that you’re not okay – your feelings are valid for we all know life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, I think we have to be okay with the mess and to know we don’t have to be ashamed when we feel like we’re stuck in it. That classic cliché line of ‘you’ll be fine’ isn’t enough anymore, it never really was. Occasionally things aren’t fine and that’s okay too – allowing people to say actually I’m not okay allows open communication as opposed to allowing the power of secrecy to fuel shame, fear and a stigma against talking about mental health. As cliché as it sounds, whatever battle you’re facing, things do get better. You may feel broken beyond repair, but there is a support network here for and I am telling you today and always – be kind to yourself! It’s okay not to be okay.
The University provides support for students who may be experiencing any form of mental health difficulty.
Anxiety UK offers a range of services delivered by professionals; supported by staff & volunteers with personal experience of anxiety, stress, and anxiety based depression.
Mind support anyone experiencing a mental health problem.
Beat are a champion, guide and friend to anyone affected, giving individuals experiencing an eating disorder and their loved ones a place where they feel listened to, supported and empowered.