Responding to the mental health needs of others


 Whether a problem arises in you or a friend it is vitally important to use the services available to you and do something about it. Recognising that there is a problem can be difficult as you feel you can justify the symptoms as normal in your circumstances, but if they persist for a long time and start interrupting day-to-day activities it is important to acknowledge the possibility of a deeper meaning.

If you notice a problematic thought pattern or anything that may constitute a mental health problem, the first and most important thing you should do is decide to help yourself. In the same way that an addict will not recover if they do not want to, you will not feel better unless you want to.

Escaping from cycles of negative thinking can be difficult, and replacing those patterns with positive, constructive thoughts can be even harder but there are ways.

Many studies show that exercising can help to elevate your mood and energy levels and it will naturally improve your appetite and sleep pattern. This doesn’t mean you have to fork out and join a gym – it could be a good walk or spending a fiver on an exercise DVD and doing it in your bedroom, you don’t even have to leave the house. Looking after your diet is also important – try to eat healthily but allow yourself treats every now and again.

Reconnecting with your friends will help to break that cycle, or finding a self-help group for people with the same problems. The mental health charity Mind show local groups on their website, or your GP will be able to introduce you to one. Student Minds also offer support sessions.

The University’s Student Support Centre offers a range of services to help you get back on track. You can request an appointment by filling out a form online, and then receive a 90 minute therapeutic consultation which can then lead on to regular counselling. This can be done face-to-face or even online through Skype or instant messaging. They also offer specific workshops to help students to improve certain areas of concern that you can book online. Wellbeing walk-in sessions are available without appointment daily during specific times, in which you get to speak to someone for 15 minutes for specific advice or to borrow a self-help book. All of their services are completely confidential and your information will not be passed on to anyone else unless you specifically ask them to or the law requires them to (for example, in the unlikely scenario that you pose an immediate danger to yourself or anybody else).

Going to your GP when you are feeling vulnerable will give you targeted help. There are a range of ways your problems can be dealt with, including self-help groups and therapies designed precisely to improve your state of mind. On the NHS website you can search what services are available in your area directly so you have an idea before you speak to your GP. During your appointment take your time to explain what you think your symptoms might be and if you are aware of local services then ask about them – get the most out of your time and be assertive if there is something you want. Your information will not be passed on to anyone, as we are adults your parents do not need to be informed of any treatment you receive.

There is also a great range of self-help available just by visiting some of the mental health charities’ websites. Mind outlines detailed ways you can help yourself for specific mental health problems and will also show you their local self-help groups, one of which is in Roath (a ward adjacent to Cathays). They even have a button on the website saying ‘I need urgent help’ that will ask you a few questions and direct you to the right phone line to call for instant help. The Mental Health Foundation website offer online courses that introduce techniques for controlling your problems and making you feel better. The NHS website will give information on strategies for dealing with mental health problems as well as informing you what is available through your GP in your local area.

If you think a friend is not coping with their mental health there are things you can do. The most important thing is to encourage them to get help, and if they choose to use the Student Support services you can even go along with them to give support. Being a listener is also vital – by getting them to explain how they feel, you may be able to see solutions and proactive steps that they just can’t see, so offer your advice. Be encouraging with small steps and challenges that will gradually build their confidence and make them feel more in control. Find a way to let them express their feelings, if they’re angry let them be angry, if they’re sad let them cry, and if they need to have a good time organise something fun you know they’ll enjoy. Be supportive, give them the time they need and never criticise. Treatment doesn’t work overnight, it can take some time before they start to feel better but encouragement will keep them on the right track.

Having good mental health is such an important part of student life, you need to stay all-round healthy to get the most out of your studies as well as enjoying this time. So don’t ignore it – whether in yourself or a friend seek help that is confidential so you can make the most of your university life.

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