World Mental Health Day.
What is mental health?
Each and every one of us has mental health, like our physical and sexual health we need to look after it. Unfortunately, there is much stigma and labelling around mental health which Chester Students’ Union want to address to get students, staff and friends talking about our mental health.
So what exactly is mental health? ‘Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community, In this positive sense, mental health is the foundation for individual wellbeing and the effective functioning of a community” (World Health Organization, 2010).
So here are the facts:
1 in 4 people will experience mental illness during the course of the year
Self-harm statistics for the UK shows one of the highest rates in Europe (400 people in every 100,000 are diagnosed self-harmers)
The Royal College Psychiatrists have warned that the current generation of students have a greater risk of anxiety and depression than previous ones due to the rising cost of education, uncertain job prospects and students tend to be less prepared for University in contemporary society. (BBC, 2011).
20% of students consider themselves to have a mental health problem (NUS)
4% of students are currently accessing support for mental health issues (NUS)
“Chester Students’ Union is committed to raising mental health awareness whilst tackling stigma and discrimination. We hope to encourage our students to talk about their mental health and to ensure mental health provision is available at the University.” (CSU, 2013).
As you can see from the facts, mental health is a common problem amongst all people regardless of age or gender, the staggering thing is that these statistics come from those who have asked for help, imagine how many people are suffering in silence?
Here are a few stories which have been shared by University of Chester Students and how they have overcome and managed their mental health.
Student 1: Support from family and friends
Whilst at University a load of stuff was going on such as strange and frustrating mind games and mental issues like: nightmares, insomnia, aural and visual hallucinations, forgetfulness, getting lost, avoiding social interaction and feeling numb and miserable! This was not helped by the final year stress of exams, dissertation and assessments.
All my housemates had segregated themselves to revise, but one housemate would always be playing music to loud late at night, or having friends round until the early hours. I had a lot of family issues going on with my grandparents moving back and forth between hospitals and nursing homes. In just one month’s time I would be out in the big wide world, but 60 employers or more did not like my CV!
On the surface I seemed calm. Even on the inside I felt calm; these were just a list of things I needed to do, and I knew how to achieve them. It was only on the phone calls to parents that they began to help me acknowledge I had a problem.
“How are you today then?”
“I’m good thanks, just a little tired. Been having nightmares for the past two weeks, and I’m so tired, but can’t sleep. Nothing seems fun, or colourful. There’s not much point going to my sports and societies because it’s the same old people doing the same old thing.”
Ignoring it seemed to make it worse.
I’d be walking to class and hear people say my name, as if they were right behind me, but no one would be there. I’d see things like shadows or spiders in my peripheral vision which would disappear.
I’d forget simple things ranging from what day it was, to how to get to a certain shop, and even forgetting to eat.
Meeting friends in a pub became more of an obligatory chore rather than relaxing fun. They would chat and ask me questions, but it was like listening to a foreign language or having the brain of a baby; I recognised some words, but nothing made sense or had meaning. I’d count out the money for drinks, triple check, “£1.60, £1.60,” and go to the bar, where the staff would regularly correct me, and say something like, “you’ve given me £1.75 too much.” Eventually, I stopped going out; having to decode my friends’ conversations or to get someone to be translator (talking to me very slowly and making sure I understood) became too much of an embarrassment to bear.
Confused, worried, and often in tears, I found myself pretty much alone.
Eventually, I felt numb. Happy meant nothing, sad meant nothing. Hugs off loved ones felt odd, pointless. My life became wake-up, study, eat, lie awake, and repeat.
I knew that my issues, though frightening and desperately frustrating, would get better once the stresses of final year of uni had passed. True enough, a month or two later, sleep was normal, conversation was easy, and fun returned to my life. I wouldn’t want to revisit those bewildering few months. For me, the biggest help to get me through the dark times was having family and a close friend just to chat nonsense to and ride out the storm together.
Student 2: Support from NHS Trust, friends, family, University of Chester counselling service and the mentoring scheme.
Personal experience has transformed my views on the stigma sometimes associated with the out of normal actions some sadly go through. Having to move halls during my first year due to bullies I hardly recognised myself. From an outgoing, adventurous and bubbly personality I soon became isolated, shy and awkward when meeting new people. Growing up I always had a good set of friends, helped out in my school and community always going that extra mile to make others happy. So once I was excluded from hall mate activities. I took it upon myself to lock myself in my room, essentially leading to depression, weight loss and loneliness. As I started to head down a path of self-destruction I thought self-pity was no way to go about university life, so I made a trip to family by the seaside where I spent time doing the things I loved; sketching the sea, building sandcastles, asking myself what I wanted out of university. The answer was simple; friends and to use my fine art degree to the best of my ability.
It took time to feel myself so I went to a doctor; sadly I was diagnosed of breast cancer, double worry and anxiety took over, except I was determined to overcome this, I was stronger than ever after realising I had family and home friends to support me. I immediately got in touch with St Marys, an NHS mental health trust, which helps a wide range of people going through crisis. My own stigma and stereotype of miserable people going into day care centres made me uneasy about stepping through the door. But I was surprised by the openness, friendliness and general directness carers wanted you to achieve. I learned that I was not alone; I could achieve my goals with a care worker through coping strategies and had sessions to talk in a confidential environment where I was treated with respect, kindness and valued as a person. No judgement was ever made, I met people of all in ages in the NHS trust, heard stories of overcoming problems and the help they had. I discovered one in four people have a crisis in their life’s concerning mental health issues. Being brave to tell others and seek the available listener’s got me through my recovery stage; it made me a better person, made me a lot happier and more efficient in taking part in university life. Through facing my depression I was able to feel myself again I could put my past behind me and look to move into a new home where I was happy than I had been since starting uni and meet the friends I have today.
I would strongly recommend anybody going through a hard time to go to the counselling service on campus and the NHS trusts. Also, the mentoring scheme at uni is also good for people to take part in, especially younger students as it was good to talk to older students during my first year
Student 3: Friends, family, NHS, exercise.
Coming to University you envisage leaving ‘everything’ behind. The life you knew before the University of Chester; the arguments, the family separations and the experiences you thought could be left behind, wipe the slate clean.
It was only until my third year I realised trying to deal with the secret of substance abuse in the family and my life in Chester was harder than I thought. I had always separated my life between being the person with the perfect family, always laughing, smiling and making a joke out of everything and the person who was fighting to keep the family together, and making up lies and stories to maintain the mask. The pressure to succeed and to help anyone but myself was what I had done, I would take on more than I should and put myself under unnecessary pressure, including a demanding degree, working lots of hours, teaching at schools, coaching sport, involvement in sports and societies and community events. The pressures I put myself under and the previous experiences I chose to bottle up led to third year being a real struggle the only outlet which would bring me back to me is being part of a sport. The team were always happy and I could be myself, proud to be part of such an incredible team representing the University and the SU.
Although I would always try put on a smile, I was not coping. I lost weight, isolated myself, and I found myself having panic attacks when in a social situation. (Which is the total opposite of my usual Wednesday night persona!) Everything which made me who I was had gone. I went from day-to-day in a haze, gradually losing sense of simple actions, but I still could not tell anybody. Another secret I hid from everybody including my family was my problem with self-harming. When times were bad or I was stressed and I had to be strong it was a coping mechanism so that I would not take my anger and stress out on friends and family, now I realise this is wrong. I managed to finish uni and graduate with a 2:1 which nobody thought I would ever achieve. I am proud of how strong I have been but on reflection I shouldn’t have tried to cope on my own.
Looking back, I still have phases of being up and down but I know now that how I was is not how anybody should have to feel. Since then I have spoken to my friends who have been 100% understanding and supportive and I have also used exercise as an outlet when I feel down or angry. My family and I have also taken steps to help each other, using our love and strength and external assistance to build a future. I am getting help through NHS trust groups which have made me realise there is nothing wrong with talking about how you feeling, just remember you are never alone.
Student 4: Support from friends and counselling
In the January of 2009, my best friend, after 2 years of battling Cancer, passed away. His death hit me hard; really hard, to the point that I holed up within myself, convinced that nobody could help me out of the pit of depression that I’d found myself in. I began to do things that were detrimental to my health, including self-harm and 3 suicide attempts, each one worse than the last. Eventually, after 7 months of the hell I’d found myself in, I managed to convince myself to go and seek out a counsellor. I found one, and had several sessions with him, but nothing got better. It wasn’t working for me. I tried again with a different counsellor – same results. After 3 more months of being in this condition, I managed to bring up the courage to talk to a friend. At first, it was only small things, but as time progressed, the topics got closer and closer to the bone, with eventually everything coming out. That talking to my friend helped me out immensely, as I knew that if I felt an episode of self-harm coming on, I was able to speak to them and they kept me from going over the edge. Combined with this, I found a new counsellor who suited me better, and with the combined help of a close friend, the counsellor, and a great deal of willpower, I managed to get out of the hole I had found myself in, and move on with my life in such a way that I no longer need to resort to self-harm. I still have my moments where I sink back into that hole, but a quick phone call is all it takes to bring me right back out again. What you’ve got to remember is that there is help out there, and if it doesn’t work the first time, then keep trying. Help will come.
These students have been brave and courageous to come through their individual challenging times, but now the Students’ Union need you, the students to start talking! Let’s take away the stigma and start looking after one another’s mental health.
Do you sometimes feel a bit low? Here are 10 Top tips for your wellbeing, suggested by YOU!:
Eat well – Eating healthily prevents you from feeling sluggish and tired, increasing your concentration and provides you with the much needed energy you need to get through 8 hours of lectures in one day!
Exercise – You do not need to pay £50/ month to join a hi-tech modern gym to gain the happy feeling exercise gives you. Why not dance around your halls with your housemates or perhaps join a sport or society through the Students’ Union as all memberships are now half price.
Cut down on alcohol – Socialising can be beneficial with the introduction of new friends, feeling the sense of belonging and having fun. But do you always need alcohol? Alcohol is not a stimulant it is a depressant drug which could make you feel worse.
Live Well – Student loans arrived in September, but why spend it all at once? Being strapped for cash is not cool. Try and budget as much as possible. Your health is also influenced by your surroundings, so try making your living space a place where you want to be. Place your favourite photos and items in places you can see them, so that you are smiling all day long.
Volunteer – Volunteering can help you make new friends and discover new talents so why not try it out today! What is the worst that can happen? Becky M-T in volunteering (Beswick building) has every opportunity you can ever imagine.
Sleep – Something students are supposed to be really good at! But how good are you at keeping a consistent sleep pattern? The recommended amount of sleep is 8hours per night to keep you feeling healthy and happy.
Get support – So you have a few issues, maybe you are feeling down? So what! Get help that is what they are there for! Give your GP a call or the Students’ Union door is always open or Student Support and Guidance (Binks or Martin buildings) are always on hand to offer advice and point you in the right direction.
Remember the good – it is very easy to let things get on top of us, take a breath, take a step back and things of things which make you smile. Maybe make a Pinterest board or write down things which make you smile before you go to bed, that way you will always go to bed happy.
Take a break – maintain a good balance between work/ life balance. When need be take a break, get some fresh air and see the heritage of Chester.
Do things which make you happy – listen to happy songs, spend time with an energetic friend, connect with a previous passion or grab a Starbucks!
Student Support and Guidance, Binks Building (Chester), Martin Building (Warrington).
Student Welfare: firstname.lastname@example.org 01244 511550 (Chester)
01925 534282 (Warrington)
Counselling services: email@example.com 01244 511550
Disability support: firstname.lastname@example.org 01244 511059
Students’ Union- Student Advice Centre email@example.com
– 01244 513397 (Chester)
– 01925 534375( Warrington)
Other useful contacts
Mental Wealth – http://www.mentalwealthuk.com/
Students Against Depression – http://www.studentdepression.org/
Young minds: Promotes child and adolescent mental health http://www.youngminds.org.uk
Men Get Eating Disorders Too http://www.mengetedstoo.co.uk