Thursday 12 March 2020

Coping With Mental Health Struggles At University: Accepting Help

Namwila shares her experience of coping with mental health struggles at university whilst studying law and her tips for opening up and accepting help. 
- Namwila

The prospect of university can be daunting for anyone. However, throw mental health into the mix, and everything changes entirely. As someone who has dealt with mental health issues for a while (and I mean...a while), I had felt the need to hide my experiences or keep everything to myself because (or so I thought) no one cared. BUT one of the main things that helped me was understanding that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. 

But what if I don't feel comfortable talking to anyone? 
This is something I worried about too (for a long time), and it definitely affected my perception of my mental health - which at the time was quite negative. Personally, I didn't want to open up because I felt like I would be judged, or a burden, or that what I said would seem so ridiculous that I'd be ridiculed (I mean, how do I explain feeling the need to miss a lecture the moment I'm even 1 minute late because the thought of being late gave me panic attacks?). It was these things that were a challenge for me, but the very same things pushed me to open up.

As soon as I realised that a) I needed help and b) it was okay to ask for help, a weight was lifted off my shoulders because...I didn't have to hide anymore. I didn't have to pretend to be okay, and that was okay. If you find yourself feeling burdensome, know that a lot of the time, it really isn't the case, and it is our head fuelling all these panicked thoughts or emotions, giving rise to these assumptions. For me, it wasn't until I decided to open up that I realised: I'm not a burden. These people train all their life to do just that - help those who need help. And in understanding that your mind simply doesn't work the same way (thank you 'Mind Explained' for that) you can learn to cut yourself some slack and understand how you can work with your mind rather than against it. DISCLAIMER: I know, trust me I know, it is all easier said than done. But everything is a milestone, and even the smallest steps (talking to a friend, a tutor, or a member of student wellbeing) is a big step towards control and owning your identity. 

What if my University doesn't offer mental health support? 
Sadly, we live in an era where mental health is not yet valued in the same way as physical health. And though things are slowly shifting, there is a lot to be done on improving student mental health at a time where everything is so competitive. The best advice I can offer in this case is:

1. Contacting your GP: In doing so, not only do you receive professional care (assuming your GP is helpful), but you get offered services that you would not get otherwise (e.g. therapy, counselling etc.)

2. Selfcare-selfcare-selfcare: I say this all the time, but there's not much else to it other than valuing yourself enough to understand when your mind and your body needs help. Remember - putting yourself first is not selfish. It is you recognising your mental health is important, more so than many other things. I talked about this in a recent video, but selfcare is one of the first steps to helping yourself, since it aids you in understanding what works for you. 

3. Helplines: In the same way that one may get help at university, there are many helplines out there that offer support to those struggling with mental health. Many are 24 hours (and even offer text services for those out there who might not want to pick up the phone #ifeelyou). 

In this short post, I hope I offered some advice and guidance that can help anyone out there struggling with mental health at university. And remember - you come first. 

For more information on finding support at University, please visit the Student Minds page on 'Support for Me'

Hi! My name is Namwila, and I am a third-year law student at university. After having dealt with mental illness for a while and never really opening up about it, I really wanted to share my experience in case anyone out there feels alone. I also post some videos about this on my YouTube

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