Wednesday 28 February 2018

Finding a community of support at university

For University mental health day, Emma shares her experiences of building supportive networks and the importance of communities for dealing with your mental health at university.
- Emma

No matter your situation, community plays a massive role in mental wellbeing. Loneliness and isolation often worsen anxiety and depression, and having a social circle or someone you can talk to is important. This is heightened during University for many people, leaving their comfort zone and entering adulthood and independence. 

I’m a student at the University of Winchester, five hours away from the little Wirral peninsula where I grew up and the people I’ve spent my whole life with. As someone with generalised anxiety disorder, it was my mission to build up a community and support network straight away, to ensure I’d be able to manage. On my first day, I spoke to the student mental health team and they helped me go to my first class. At Winchester, we have learning agreements for students who need extra support for any disability or illness. So, during my second week, I spoke to Disability Support and we wrote a list of my needs, such as: leaving the room at any time, rest breaks in exams, separate exam rooms, and all my lecturers being aware of my anxiety. 

I have also taken the time to speak to every one of my lecturers and explained my anxiety in more detail so that they don’t think I’m rude or not interested in their subject. Just today, I missed my radio production lecture due to an anxiety attack, so I spoke to my lecturer and he was understanding and supportive. It’s really important to let people know what’s going on and seek any help you may need. I know it sometimes feels like a weakness or failure but to achieve the best experience and best grades, your mental health has to be a priority. 

I try to help other students at university too, since we are all in the same situation and sometimes knowing that someone understands can lessen the burden. I have an upcoming radio project and I’ve decided to base mine on mental health support at university. I plan to interview students who suffer from different mental health difficulties, as well as representatives from support teams. I hope that this will help people who are afraid to speak up to know that there’s a huge community of people who understand. I’m very open about my struggles, usually making jokes about my anxiety to let people know what’s going on in a light-hearted way. For example, if I know that going to a lecture is out of the question, I’ll say to my friends, ‘don’t think I’ll make it this morning, classic anxious me.’ This way of being open might not suit everyone but it helps me keep people in the loop without feeling like I’m complaining or being negative. It has helped friends speak to me about their own problems, because I think it makes me more approachable, and I’ve created a strong social circle that is open and understanding. 

As well as the support I have in place at university, I’ve also made a habit of using positive coping techniques when I’m in my flat too. I make sure the flat is always (reasonably) clean and tidy, I write down the issues I’m having and their solutions, I practice mindfulness, and I make lists of all the assignments that I need to work on. My course has a group chat on Facebook too so we all help each other stay on top of the work and help each other out when there’s room changes or upcoming deadlines. 

I feel very much part of a community at University and I feel confident that my mental illness will not hinder my experience or my final grades, and it’s important that you put support in place to feel the same too.

Take action and be part of a growing movement to transform the state of student mental health. Join a Student Minds group on your campus or set up a group today

I’m Emma and I’m studying Journalism at the University of Winchester. I’ve suffered with anxiety and anorexia for a long time so thought I’d share my own experiences to hopefully help others on the same journey to recovery.

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