Comment: students need their mental 5-a-dayby Natasha Clark
at University of Warwick 01st March 2012 09:33:33
Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week at Warwick University, with a number of engaging and inspiring talks being held by a range of speakers to raise awareness on a variety of mental health issues; from anorexia to suicide, personality disorders to depression. Whilst there is no doubt that this week of raising awareness was brilliant, I think we need to make maintaining student mental health a year-round focus. We need to make sure that students are getting their mental five-a-day, every day.
The statistic that is widely published by government bodies and charitable organisations 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 first-hand, or as a result of someone we know suffering.
Many of the issues covered by the term 'mental health' may not be those traditionally associated with the problem: insomnia, excessive worry and irregular eating patterns can all be sympotms of underlying health problems. As stress is one of the key triggers for mental health problems, it should come as no surprise 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 to sit down and publish it over the internet where, even more people will be to read this. During my life, I have suffered from anxiety, depression, and of course, stress; I have seen four counselors over the past seven years, and have a beautifully coloured box in my shelf filled with self-help books and information. These teach me about coping and cognitive behavioural therapy, and are there to use as and when I need them.
I have had days where I’ve barely been able to stop crying, or drag myself out of bed. But that’s okay because now, I’m alright.
I have incredible friends and family who are there for me on my bad days. I know myself much better. And I am in a far healthier place than when I was 13. This is all because I make sure I have 5 servings of healthy treats for my mind, I remind myself to take a few minutes out of each day to relax to 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 eating healthy, encouraging us to have 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. To keep our bodies healthy we know that we should cut down on fatty foods, stock up on healthy grub and take part in regular exercise. However, there is very little focus on mental health in Britain, despite the fact that we have some of the longest working hours, and highest records of stress-related leave, in Europe.
As students, many of us face daily stress from all areas of our lives. We focus on keeping up with work, doing all of our seminar reading and pulling all-nighters to finish lab reports; we worry about our finances, constantly aware that next month we'll have more bills to pay; all this whie trying to keep up with our social lives, busily attending society events and friends’ birthday parties. We focus much more on these issues than on our own mental wellbeing and often neglect doing the small things that make us happy.
There is no doubt that it is great to eat three apples a day 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 try not to think about getting a few hundred words of that essay plan done, forget about 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 www.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.Similar services are provided by most UK University Students' Unions.