Monday, 4 August 2014

Mental Health and University

This post is a little off the topic of science, however I feel it's important to discuss it.

Mental Health. It's a tough one and sometimes it's incredibly difficult to talk about. I was someone who didn't discuss anything that was going on in my head for a very long time and as a result, I made myself much worse. University can also be a particularly stressful environment to be in. Deadlines, lectures to attend, meetings, etc. can really get on top of you. But don't worry, there is help at hand. Most universities are so used to dealing with mental health issues and will have a full network of people dedicated to helping people just like us. So here are my tips for coping with a mental illness at University.

  1. Seek Help - I mean it. Don't do what I did and try and manage it by yourself for years on end and don't be too proud to go to the Doctor's. It's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. If you think about it, you probably wouldn't be ashamed of going to your GP with an ongoing physical illness, would you? So be brave and seek the help you need and deserve. :-)
  2. Medication can be good - Sometimes your Doctor will suggest putting you on medication to alleviate some of the symptoms of your illness. This isn't always a bad thing. At first when my GP suggested putting me on Citalopram, this filled me with fear. I didn't like the idea of relying on a tablet to make me feel better and I wondered what I would do when I was taken off them. This was rather silly of me. Whilst I acknowledge that medication isn't for everyone, it can help. It doesn't cure your illness, but can help you feel well enough to tackle it and take steps to recover. Personally, I think they're worth a try if needs be, as I don't think that I would have been brave or have felt well enough to go to my counselling appointments if I didn't have my medication to give me that boost in mood. 
  3. Let people know - This is important. Like, really important. Let your lecturers and tutor know as well as your friends and flatmates if you feel close enough to them. You may be able to get extended deadlines on assignments or extra help if you need it. Whilst your course guides may not be experts on mental health, they do want you to pass your course and be willing to help you do that. If you have an extended period of time off, it's also easier to explain if they know about your illness before hand. 
  4. Socialise - Even though Uni is possibly the most social place on Earth, it's easy to let your thoughts and illness get the better of you and hide yourself away. No good will come of this. Believe me, because I did it. The more you get yourself out there and talk to people, the more friends you will make, and potentially build a greater network of people who can support you and help you.
  5. Relax - I am someone who finds it incredibly difficult to relax. I panic and worry about every situation bad or good and this really isn't needed when you're at University and you already have enough to do. Try and be organised and get assignments done on time so you can have some time to yourself to relax.
  6. Try not to drink too much - At University you will most probably be surrounded by alcohol. But if you have a mental illness, alcohol isn't going to help. I enjoy a drink occasionally but I try to avoid getting drunk as alcohol is a depressant and obviously won't help you overcome illnesses like depression. Look after yourself. Also, some medication advises that you don't drink, so it's probably not best to take your medication and then go and get smashed.

How to cope when people aren't supportive. 

This is probably my area of expertise and is quite personal, but I'll share it because I know there will be someone who is going through the same. To explain: I told one of my close (close) family members about my depression. This was probably one of the worse decisions I ever made. Whilst I acknowledge that you simply can't understand depression without experiencing it yourself, they really do not understand and some of their comments have made me feel even more depressed. From simple comments like 'Pull yourself together' and 'Why do you look so miserable? For God's sake cheer up!' to things that are much worse and I don't wish to repeat.

When you're trying to recover from a mental illness, it's not helpful in any way to be around people like this, regardless of how much you may love them. I sometimes dread coming home from University simply because I know my anxiety levels and depression will go through the roof, my self-harming also gets much worse. But this summer I have devised my own strategy for coping, which can only be good.  :-)

  1. Get out of the house as much as possible - I see my friends, other family members or just go for a walk on my own. I try to do this everyday, just to have time to myself and clear my head. Also the fresh air really helps with managing my depression. 
  2. Ignore comments - This is the most difficult one. Whenever someone makes an ignorant comment or is unsupportive in any way, try to ignore them. I have let so many hurtful comments get to me and make me feel much worse about myself. To deal with it, I like to imagine that I have a physical illness and that person has just made the exact same comment. Would they make that comment if you were physically ill, probably not. Whilst not letting it define you, you are allowed to acknowledge that you're ill and that people are sometimes ignorant.
  3. Find Hobbies - Since I have been around the house a lot more this summer as I don't currently have a job. I have found that keeping hobbies helps distract me if I feel down. There also great to hide in your room with if people aren't being supportive and you're finding them difficult to be around. I think the best hobbies are something that involves your full attention so you can properly distract yourself from potential situations that could make you feel worse. One of the reasons I set up my blog was precisely this, to escape when I need to. I love writing and discussing things I'm passionate about, so this really helps. I also read and if all else fails, clean. Cleaning is really good to take your attention away from things. 
  4. Remember to keep a network of people who are supportive. If you don't have anyone, there are some great organisations out there who can help alleviate loneliness and make you feel better. Some good ones are: Mindfull, Black Dog Tribe, Sane, Student Minds, Time to Change, and loads more. 
These are my main strategies for coping around unsupportive people (especially those you can't escape from). I hope they are useful in some way. :-)

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