Hi everyone! My name is Gaius, I am a final year student having studied Physical Geography and Geology. Outside of my studies I work in retail, play American football and Scuba Dive around Plymouth!
What do you feel are the biggest sources of mental health issues for university students?
At university, for me, the biggest source of mental health issues was almost always stress induced. My mental health took a real dive when there were huge deadlines looming or if I had a few deadlines which were all due within the same week. For me it was more about having to change between such a wide variety of studying and techniques, for example from writing a scientific journal style report to doing a group poster. Outside of stress induced issues, I feel that a lot of people feel pressured into doing things that are very much out of their comfort zone, for instance heavy drinking, where they don’t necessarily want to drink heavily but all of their friends do. This can get really wear people down, especially when they are taken the mick out of for it and have pressure continuously added.
How does the university support students in their day to day lives (with mental health issues)?
For me, the biggest thing that the university did to help students with mental health issues was the fact that all of the lecturers and support staff were very understanding towards it. It wasn’t stigmatised at all within the university and people were actively discussing it and encouraging people to seek help if needed. I struggled in my final year and my personal tutor, stage 4 coordinator and other general stage 4 staff were very helpful explaining what I could do. I ended up seeing one of the university counsellors and they were amazing. They really helped me through any issues I was having and made me put myself first as a priority.
Typically, what would you say are your favourite ways to lower the stress or anxiety faced by students?
Personally, I find that doing any sort of physical activity really helps to reduce my stress levels which in turn help me through any phases of poor mental health. Also, having a strong support network is amazing. With the American football team at Plymouth, I had all of my teammates to talk to about any issues I had, the coaches would offer advice and even suggested university counsellors. When it comes to academically induced stress, exercise has always helped but the best thing was chipping away at the work I had to do from the day it was set. If I spent an hour on something a day and did 200 words, even 100 words, that meant that I was completing work in plenty of time and eliminating a lot of the potential stress. Also, learning to say no to pressure from people, regardless of if it was drinking or going to training whilst not feeling well, was amazing. I stopped feeling guilty about saying no and started putting my health first which has done me a world of good.
Do you have many friends that have been affected by mental health issues? Do you find it easy to talk about?
I have a lot of friends who have struggled with mental health, some severely for a long time and some not so severely but, as it is new to them, don’t really know how to handle themselves with it. I find it very easy to talk to people about mental health, especially others with mental health issues. I find that the stigma behind these issues is slowly going and, when in conversation about it, I really feel that there is a lot less judgement. Obviously there will be some people who say ‘just get on with it’ or ‘man up’ and that sort of thing, but they just need to be educated in how to talk to people with mental health in a way that doesn’t trivialise what they are going through, especially if they have never experienced it for themselves.
Overall, what advice would you give to students who are studying at the moment or want to study in the future?
To those suffering from mental health issues, never keep it to yourself. Don’t let those bad thoughts, negative feelings or any other issues you’re having fester and take over your life. There are people at the university who are willing to help and actively want to make your life better. I know it can be easy to remove yourself and isolate yourself when these things happen, but try not to, try to talk to friends who you think may understand the issues you’re having or may just lend an ear and listen to you. To the people who have friends struggling with mental health issues, listen to them, be there for them. You don’t need to give suggestions on how to fix their problems, you aren’t going to be some magician who makes it all go away no matter how much you want that, but you CAN be a comfort and an amazing source of support in hard times.