Spot the signs, stop the stigma!

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Mental health is an incredibly relevant issue for students. The immense pressures we put on ourselves as individuals and the desires we have to do well can make us start to feel a little worried about things. However, there is something that you should know: it is perfectly okay and perfectly normal to feel this way. It is really important to recognise that there are people there to help you, to listen to you and to encourage you to keep going. There are also great resources and campaigns out there that can offer incredibly valuable support and guidance. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help – nobody deserves to feel panicked or worried; it can be one of the worst feelings in the world. Mental health is not something we should be stigmatising; it is something we should be supporting and there are so many ways that you can help to do this.

One of the most stigmatised areas within mental health discussions is counselling, a word that, for some, will set alarm bells ringing. Does going to counselling mean that you are giving up? Does it mean that you can’t do it or that you are letting people down? The honest answer, and it is something I say to you in the deepest earnest, is NO. Going to counselling, or even taking the initial steps to ask for help from a college advisor or a friend, can be daunting; there’s a sense of trepidation in admitting that you are feeling a little bit lost or that you’re feeling the pressures of your degree mounting up, but it is really important to know that it’s okay to be scared and that it’s okay to feel like you can ask for help. Everybody deserves patience, support and understanding, and a counselling service can offer this to you. However, filling out the self-assessment or self-diagnosis form during, or after, a counselling session is not something that everyone will feel comfortable doing, especially if the form is a way for people to gauge where they’re at with their mental health. After a really uplifting session of counselling you may feel one way – really buoyant and ready to go – but this one session is not enough to tick the box to say that everything is fixed.

Discussing mental health is something very personal, and for some, a counselling service is too formal; it can be overwhelming and just the thought of it can make the idea of opening up even harder. Individuals will have their own way of handling their feelings and, as students, it is more important than ever that we support our peers when they are feeling a little down or if they seem a little anxious. Speaking to County College administrator Ali Moorhouse, it is clear that certain colleges want to deformalise the concept of mental health across campus – it is not necessarily something that needs to be escalated to counselling. ‘We are thinking about face-to-face contact here in County,’ Moorhouse said in an interview. ‘Having a friendly, familiar face as somewhere to turn to can be encouraging to help people open up and become a little more vocal about how they are getting on with things and how they are feeling.’ Taking some time to get things off your chest can be the best medicine, even if it’s just over a coffee with your college administrator.

There are horrible preconceptions with mental health that people just need a ‘kick into gear’, but things are not that simple. When people feel like they are really struggling, it is not something they can just snap out of. In her interview, Moorhouse made an exceptionally valid point that stigma like this is down to us not understanding and not being knowledgeable about the issues even though, especially here at uni the issues are all around us. However, there are so many ways that we can come to recognise the signs of a low mood, or if you are feeling constantly anxious, and spotting these signs can be a gateway into opening up about your mental health.

MoodZone is a fantastic online resource, in association with the NHS, which can help with this. The website is designed in an approachable way and is a source to help you recognise the signs of conditions such as anxiety or depression. It can be your first point of call if you start to feel a little stressed, or worried, but it can also be a great place to turn if you recognise your symptoms and need some techniques on how to combat your feelings. The site gives you easy access to resources, like an eight-part podcast series from medical professionals on how to handle feeling anxious. A self-assessment quiz is also on offer to allow to you to see whether or not you could take some action yourself. Tools like this are useful if you are uncertain about your feelings and do not feel like seeking advice from another person. However, it is important to remember this is site is not a final conclusion about your mental health; rather, it is something that allows you to give yourself an initial self-diagnosis. If you recognise that you are feeling constantly on edge or are not quite yourself, one of the best things you can do is to seek further advice.

You may be surprised to learn that one in four people will experience a mental health problem every year. What we need to take from this is that we are not alone in feeling anxious, stressed, or a little sad. It is reasons like this that the university is working hard to support the Time to Talk campaign and help students to break the silence. The campaign works by destigmatising the concept of mental health problems and focuses on encouraging students to take just five minutes to talk or to listen to what others have to say. Moorhouse’s words suggest that all nine colleges are trying to open up to the concept of mental health support, and they seeking to get the word out about drop-in sessions via email and newsletters sent across campus. The hope of the colleges is that students will see these sessions as informal chats, in which they can open up to someone and allow their voices to be heard.

Mental health is not something we should be taking lightly: the stigma attached to it is a big problem. Please take the time when you are feeling unsure to use these resources and talk to people. By spotting the signs and feeling confident to open up you have the greatest potential to stop the stigma.

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