Prioritise your subjective wellbeing: there is NO Shame in experiencing mental health difficulties and struggling to tackle them
Wellbeing is usually described as a state of balance or equilibrium between psychological, social as well as physical resources and challenges. However, it is important to acknowledge that wellbeing is a construct that cannot be objectively described or measured because it is subjective to every individual (Seligman, 2011). Therefore, I think it is important to show individual attitude to every student who feels any sort of distress.
I am an international student from Armenia and when I first came to study in the UK, I struggled to fit in. During my first year I constantly felt some sort of guilt of not being able to understand the academic requirements and find a new style of studying that had to be different from what I had been used to in my home town. I started to feel fatigue and trouble concentrating on my studies. I thought that my struggles were not shared by my friends but later when I started to discuss my challenges with others, I found out that not only international students struggle to fit in but also some British students who come to Manchester from other smaller cities. Realising that I am not alone in my struggles actually helped me a lot.
Here are several tips from my own experience that may work for other students as well:
- Be aware– let’s look at what it is like to feel depressed: people experiencing depression usually have emotional, physiological, behavioural, and cognitive changes. Emotional changes include the feeling of sadness, guilt, hopelessness, sometimes also anger that might not be considered direct consequence of depression. Changes can be seen in amount of sleep, energy, eating and most importantly in studying. Behavioural changes usually involve reduced activity and crying as an expression of sadness. Depressed individuals can also experience increase in negative thoughts, difficulty in memorising things and concentration problems as a cognitive change.
It might be useful if universities would hold informative sessions that are free for people who want to know more about what is mental distress and how to overcome it.
- Do Not feel ashamed – I think it is crucial to know that you are not alone and actually, depression is considered the most common disorder nowadays with more than 13% of people who visit their GP being diagnosed to have depression symptoms.
Maybe universities could create anonymous platforms for discussions where student could share their stories. I think this could help other students to overcome feelings of shame by realising that others also have struggled with mental health problems.
I also think that providing alternative sessions, where students could discuss any troubling issues with another student, could be more efficient and easier step to take for someone who feels mentally distressed. Maybe trained psychology students could provide motivational talks or just provide some helpful advice. In fact, a research showed that 40 per cent of students would much rather conceal their condition than discuss it with a mental health professional.
- Exercise regularly– it has been shown that exercise can actually reduce stress levels and even treat depression. Also, studies have shown there is a significant correlation between mental health problems and lifestyle choices. For example, Melynk et al. (2006) found a correlation between anxiety and depressive symptoms and healthy lifestyle beliefs.
Similarly, Trudel-Fitzgerald et al. (2015) discovered that anxiety and depression reduce the likelihood of engaging in healthy behaviours.
It might be really helpful to promote active lifestyle for students at university through discounts at gyms in different areas not only at university facilities.