Students Against Depression: How to cope at uni

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In September of 1997, a young man named Charlie Waller took his own life because he was suffering from depression and just couldn’t cope anymore. Shortly after, his family founded The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust in order to education young people on the importance of staying mentally well, as well as to increase awareness about the signs of depression amongst young people. As part of this, in 2005, the Trust established a site called Students Against Depression in the hopes of helping students learn the skills they need to keep depression at arm’s length (or at least how to constructively cope).

Because of this, the first section of the website is called ‘Understanding Depression’, and they write, ‘Knowledge is power – understand depression so that you will be able to tackle it.’ If you’re not sure whether or not what you’re struggling with is depression, this is a great place to start. The site will go through some of the warning signs and the changes you might be seeing in your life. It also comments that ‘It can be hard to tell whether what you’re feeling is part of a normal period of stress or whether it’s something more’ and the goal is to catch things before they get worse.

But identifying the signs is just the first part. The site also seeks to help students get support, including how to check suicidal thoughts and keep yourself safe and how to build support networks, since depression can often times occur during or be made worse by isolation. There is also a section which addresses both how to seek support from a peer as well as, as a peer, how to support someone struggling with depression. The website also calls attention to the fact that most universities have additional support available for students, even within departments. As a student registered with Disabilities, I received an email from a professor within my department asking if I needed any additional support because she was acting as a liaison – but for some departments, it might just be a simple matter of talking to the department secretary about which professors can assist you with mental health concerns. Having a professor in your department aware of your situation ensures that you have an additional advocate later on down the road if anything does crop up. You don’t need to have a host of documentation to prove to an academic committee that things have been rough; you just need to be willing to be open about what you’re struggling with.

Perhaps one of the most useful tools on the website, however, is under ‘Tackle Depression’. Here, you can learn about small steps that you can make to move forward, as well as how to establish a healthier daily routine, including managing your sleep, understanding how eating habits impact your mood, and focusing on managing alcohol consumption and modifying stress levels through relaxation techniques.

Finally, the website invites students to challenge unhelpful thinking. All-or-nothing thinking, perfectionism, self-bullying, disappointment insurance, and over-personalisation can all be symptoms of depressed thinking. If you realise that you’re starting to fall into a habit of saying things like ‘No one really likes me anyway, so what’s the point?’ make sure you check out the website and see how they recommend you bust that kind of thinking before it gets the best of you!

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