Mental health in academia

For many of you, your exams are fastly approaching; including mine. For others of you, you may be about to face a challenge in your life. Which ever it is, this will be a very important time where your mental health needs to be considered.

Recently I read a very important article on academia and mental health specifically focusing on those who are studying for PHD's; you can read this article here. Although it's not surprising to me that mental health seems to be affected around exam time, the article still managed to shock me. There were students who had eating disorders, suicidal thoughts and who were battling depression due to their academics. I know from experience that it's not unusual for a student to put their exams above their mental health, but it is an issue we all need to consider and is sadly often avoided. 

When seeing the sacrifices students face written down, it brings the issue to the forefront. The article notes how some students quit their PHD without finishing, or feel so much pressure that the only way to escape is to commit suicide, and unfortunately some do as a result. This too can be applied to all areas of education. I am currently studying for my A-levels and it's true to say that many of my peers and myself included are beginning to feel the stress. Often, you can get so overwhelmed with your exams and feel so trapped because of the pressure.

Mental health in academia is very rarely addressed in open discussion and this can apply to work too. Let's just remember that one in four of us will experience a mental health condition in any one year; it's common! In my experience throughout education, my school and teachers have been amazing in helping me with any troubles I may face and I cannot thank them enough. However, I know some people aren't as fortunate.

Let me reassure you, there are so many people out there who are willing to support you and there are so many people that have felt the way that you do about your exams and the challenges they are facing and have survived. 'Survived' seems a word that exaggerates the situation, but unfortunately it doesn't. To get through being suicidal or having suicidal thoughts and to come out of the other side is something that you have battled through.

Because these feelings cannot be seen and because mental illness is hidden, too often we find ourselves oblivious. But, you'd be so surprised at how many people need a helping hand and are feeling the pressure just like you are. Asking someone how they're doing now and then is a step in the right direction for better mental health.

One final point is based upon this quote written in the article:
"It is not OK for PhD students to become so affected by their studies that they kill themselves.
It is not OK for PhD students to maintain the culture of working yourself to the point of illness.
It is not OK for academics to wash their hands of the situation."
I will tell you exactly the same. Whether it be your GCSE's, A-levels, Degree or any other challenge, it is not okay for someone to suffer so much that they feel they can no longer cope. Unfortunately this is too often the case and closer to home than we think. 

I want to reassure you that this will come and pass. I know that in the future many say that these problems won't seem as big as they once were, but for you at this time in your life it is the main issue your life surrounds. I remember my GCSE's and felt overwhelming pressure. But the important thing is, that I and many of my peers managed to get through it. Please, it is really important to find someone to talk to if you are feeling stressed, regardless of exams. Whether that be your teachers, your family, friends or a charity. People are willing to help you and talking was the best thing I ever did.

I wish all the best with what challenges you are facing at the moment. As mentioned in my assembly this morning "whether you think you can or you can't, you're right." - you can do it! You can only do your best and I wish you good luck. Remember, talk to someone if you're feeling stressed and most importantly, look after your mental health. 

I'll leave you with this video:

I hope this has helped some of you and by sharing this post, you will be helping others and raising awareness of mental health in academia. 

Best Wishes,

Tips for social anxiety

Here are a few tips which I have used for social anxiety:

1. Behavioural experiments - I have done a few of these as part of my therapy sessions. Behavioural experiments are where you write down what you think will happen and what actually happens. For example, I had to do a behavioural experiment for asking for something in a shop and had to record what happened.

2. Start off small - Always work your way up through your fears of social anxiety; I guess this is a bit like CBT. For example, I used to always wear black, no jewellery or make up so no one would look at me. In order to overcome this, I would start off wearing a piece of jewellery for a week, then work my way to changing the colour of my clothes.

3. What if - often the "what if" is always present in our minds. For example, "What if I stutter when I'm on the phone?" "What happens if I panic?" "They'll think I'm stupid". You've got to remember, that very rarely do people react to this. In fact, my therapist did a survey and found out that if someone did stutter, they wouldn't think them to be stupid. Although it's extremely hard to stop the "what if", we all must try to do so. In reality, what you think will happen, will rarely happen. For example, I did a phone interview with the fear I was going to stutter, and it turns out I didn't.

4. Talking - One thing I've always encouraged you guys to do, is to talk. Please, if you find yourself struggling talk to someone. Often, talking to someone about your social phobia will help you to think clearly. The person may even be willing to help you through the situations that give you social anxiety. Talking to someone with a different point of view, may be beneficial to you.

5. Plan - If you have a fear of talking on the phone, in front of class and so forth you can make a plan of what you're going to say. In this way, you'll have a few sentences to pick from whilst you are talking, which will ultimately calm you down.

Best Wishes,

What is social anxiety?

According to the NHS website, social anxiety is defined as: 'a persistent fear about social situations and being around people'.

It could be said that many experience this type of anxiety in one form or another. However for the people who truly suffer from this disorder, it may severely consume their life to the extent that they may not be able to do certain things. This social anxiety can come in different severities. For some, it will be extremely debilitating and for others, it will only affect certain aspects.

It can affect a range of areas in life and situations. For example: speaking in front of people, talking to strangers, speaking on the phone, avoiding eye contact, hating criticism, having low self esteem and so on. It can affect a range of things and there are definitely more aspects and situations than I've just mentioned. Sometimes, it can also lead to panic attacks, and I have written a post on this, here.

I'm writing about this as I have experienced social anxiety in one form or another. For me, it did and sometimes still does affect aspects of my life. For example, I still struggle fairly severely with picking up the phone and talking to a stranger, I.e ordering something, or asking for information. Until recently, I used to hardly look people in the eye when speaking to them. Speaking in front of class is something I still hate, asking for things and so forth. It was even at the point where I would wear dark clothes and no make up in the hope that no one would look at me or would bring my attention to myself.

I know social anxiety can make life just that little bit more difficult, with you thinking about what people will think of you and it affecting the places you go and the people you meet. You're not alone; this is the most common type of anxiety disorder.

I hope this post has helped you. 

Best wishes,

I'm quitting!

Don't start panicking as I'm not actually quitting, but I know many of you reading this may be thinking of doing so in one way or another. 

There will always be things that we try in life that just don't suit us as a person. There will be sports you won't like and clubs you want to run away from. This is normal and you shouldn't feel ashamed if you don't want to continue with the activity anymore.

However, education is a completely different game. Many a time throughout my time in education, I've wanted to quit. Not because I cannot be bothered, but because of the pressure and the overwhelming fear that I won't be able to do well. On the other hand, my anxiety has been a major factor in wanting to quit education because it's often become too hard to try and get out of bed to get there every day. This may sound very weird, but you may get a better understanding if you read my post on school. 

Exam time is slowly approaching and I know there will be many of you which are thinking of quitting before the exams, whether that be in not trying or actually leaving education itself. This period of time will be extremely hard, but just remember that there are hundreds of thousands that have gone through this before and survived and so can you. It may sound strange about 'surviving' exams, but you may be surprised to know that suicide rates are at their highest around exam time, and this is why it's important to bring light to the topic. However, this will be discussed in more detail in a future post.

Before you think about giving up completely; whether that be with education or anything else in your life; make sure you give yourself a few weeks to fully dwell over the pros and cons of the situation. Then you'll be able to make a fully informed decision. Secondly, look back at what you've achieved. If it's education you're questioning, think about all of those years of your life you've been to school, and all of those hours you've shed, blood, sweat and tears to get the grades you've always wanted. It's important to talk to someone when you're worried or feel like quitting in any way, and this is what I did as many a time I thought the only way to survive was to quit school. However, even though this is an occasional thought, my family have been there to try and talk me through it. If you are to do anything, then talk as this is the key to all.

I wish you luck with whatever challenges you are facing in life at the moment and good luck to those who are taking exams. Only you know what choice is right for you, and I wish all the best in what decisions you make.

Best Wishes,