Wednesday 18 February 2015

Reaching Out: Opening up to a friend at Uni

-Emmy Gilmour, The Recover Clinic

It’s probably fair to say we’ve all experienced stress on a variety of different levels from deciding what to wear, to panicking about deadlines.  While coming to university can be exciting and fun for some, for others it may be lonely, isolating and highly stressful.

You may feel like you’re juggling a lot: moving away from home, meeting new people, receiving that new timetable packed with an overload of information, having to look after yourself and of course finding time to fit in work with all that socialising. “The only way to make sense of change, is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan Watts

The first term at university can be overwhelming and chaotic and the chances are you haven’t experienced this level of stress and anxiety.  Many people start to feel that they are unable to cope.

Being in charge of choosing, buying and cooking your own food combined with this new found freedom and responsibility can easily result in developing eating disordered behaviours as a way of attempting to control the chaos.  What may start off a seemingly harmless coping strategy can soon develop into a full-blown eating disorder that takes control of your whole life.

You are not alone

Every university will have support services available to those who need it, if not a specialised eating disorders service then a counselling service that will be able to help. They may also have a free helpline that can give you guidance and advice.

If you can feel yourself slipping into unhealthy patterns or you notice a housemate or friend is presenting with eating disorder behaviours then please do make use of these services.  Please do get help, keeping it to yourself and dealing with it alone will only make it worse.

Reaching out

It takes an immense amount of courage to ask for help. It may be too scary, too overwhelming or we don’t want to be seen as vulnerable or dependent on anyone. Remind yourself that reaching out for help can act as a life anchor and marks the first step of your journey to recovery

If the prospect of reaching out to professionals is too daunting for you, confiding in a friend can provide you with much needed support and encouragement as well.

Start by identifying at least 1 person that you can go to for support, whether it is your partner, friend, family member or mentor. Make sure you can trust this person and also ensure they are readily available to help you.

When you approach this person, make sure you communicate exactly what you need from them. This is very important, as they may know that they want to help you but are unsure how to go about this. Communicate that you are ready to seek support and cannot do this alone.

Be prepared for any reaction. Your friend or loved one may feel anything from compassion to helplessness to guilt. Bear in mind their first reaction is not indicative of how supportive they will be in the future.

Taking this initial step and sharing your struggles can be terrifying, but the rewards will amaze you. Just one leap of faith will give you a chance to live the life you deserve.  Reaching out is not a sign of weakness, but one of courage.

This University Mental Health Day, Student Minds is backing the #IChoseToDisclose campaign, which gives students the resources and guidance to make an informed decision about disclosing mental health difficulties to their universities. Since 3 out of 4 students say that friends had been supportive following disclosure, we're encouraging students to open up to their friends, and giving friends tips on how to look after their mate. Join the all-day conversation about student mental health by following #unimentalhealthday or tweeting @StudentMindsOrg and @UMHANUK.

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