Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week at Warwick University, and it featured a number of engaging and inspiring talks from a range of speakers on issues from anorexia and suicide to personality disorders and depression. Whilst the awareness was brilliant, I think we need to be focusing on mental health for more than just a week – we need to be getting our 5-a-day everyday.
The fairly common statistic that is thrown around in regards to mental health is that a staggering 1 in 4 of us will be affected by it at some point in our lives, whether that be through experiencing health problems ourselves, or that someone we know will.
These may not be traditionally thought of as mental health problems, but many issues that students face such as insomnia, trouble eating and worrying are all common symptoms of an underlying health issue. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that during a stressful and busy time such as at University, many students will experience mental health problems.
I am one of those people.
It takes a lot of courage to stand up and say that, or rather broadcast it over the internet where, arguably, more people will hear/read this. I’ve experienced anxiety, depression, and of course stress. I’ve seen four counselors over the past seven years. I have a beautifully coloured box on my shelf filled with self-help books and information about coping and cognitive behavioural therapy, which I use as and when I need it. I’ve had days where I’ve barely been able to stop crying, or drag myself out of bed altogether. And that’s okay.
Because now, I’m alright. I have incredible friends and family to rely on during my bad days, I know myself much better and I’m in a far healthier place than when I was 13, and I have my 5-a-day mind-apple to constantly remind me to take a few minutes out of my day to relax and do the little things that I enjoy and that make me smile.
There is a lot of focus in today’s media about the importance of our 5-a-day in terms of fruit and vegetables. To keep our bodies healthy we should cut down on fatty foods, stock up on healthy grub and take part in regular exercise in order to ensure our bodies are as healthy as can be. However, there is very little focus on mental health in Britain, despite having some of the longest working hours and highest records of stress related leave in Europe.
As students, many of us focus on doing all of our seminar reading, struggling to pay our bills and worrying about finances, trying to keep up with our social lives through attending society events and friends’ birthday parties and pulling all nighters in the grid trying to finish those lab reports. We focus much more on these issues than on our own mental wellbeing and doing the small things that make us happy.
It’s all virtuous to eat three apples and a bowl of bran flakes for breakfast, but unless you take care of your mental health too, there’s a risk you can develop serious problems such as depression or an eating disorder. So, next time you have five minutes, don’t think about getting a few hundreds words of that essay plan done, forget your next presentation, and take just a little bit of time out of your day to do something you enjoy. Whether it’s baking a cake, walking through the park or playing a bit of FIFA, take some time out and do something just for you.
For more information of mental health, see mind.co.uk. Warwick University offer a range of support services, including counselling services, Nightline and the Students’ Advice Centre. Izzy John the Students’ Union Welfare Officer also works to secure student well-being.