Encouraging good mental health has always been something I have been passionate about, having suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, anxiety and depression for the majority of my life. Coming to university, I found that my illnesses were exacerbated at first, as having to completely adjust to a new life can be stressful for anyone. Through a lot of trial and error, I have found ways to cope with my mental health and all the stress that comes with being mentally ill. Hopefully some of my experiences will help other people during their time at uni too.
I was privileged to have joined UKC Student Minds and be the President of the society for the past two years. Working alongside and forming friendships with other students who have had similar experiences to me was fantastic for not only normalising my experience but allowing me to develop a strong support system that has uplifted me throughout my time at Kent. As a society, we have pioneered important conversations around mental health, expanded our reach and created a safe space for mentally ill students in Kent to find support and assurance. Joining a society like ours is fantastic for creating these support systems for yourself, but any society where bonding and friendship is encouraged will be hugely beneficial to your mental health; humans are not solitary creatures, and we thrive with one another.
One of the most important things I had to learn on my mental health journey was the art of self-care. A lot of people think that it’s all bath bombs and face masks, and whilst I do love nothing better than wearing a sheet mask and watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians, there is a lot more to it than that. Self-care is doing the ‘boring’ things, like cleaning your room or brushing your teeth. It’s practising CBT techniques like Socratic thinking and thought journaling. It’s allowing yourself the opportunity to cry. Your feelings and emotions are valid and acknowledging them and allowing yourself to feel them is essential to nourishing your soul and furthering the healing process.
Seeking help is never something to be ashamed of or avoided. It is undeniable that access to mental health services is getting increasingly difficult, and the cost of these services can perturb people from utilising them. However, there are a lot of free services that you can access, especially during your time at uni. I have been very lucky to have accessed the therapy services at University during my time at Kent; I had an assessment with the Wellbeing Centre, who then organised twelve free sessions for me. In my second year I went through a charity called ThinkAction, who helped me address my OCD and the behaviours behind it. I made the decision to begin medication and consulted with my doctor about whether or not it was the right thing for me. I utilised online services like BigWhiteWall, where you can anonymously talk with your peers and develop an online support system.
Everyone’s mental health journey is different. We all cope in different ways, experience things in different ways. But as long as you form your support system, share your thoughts and feelings, and take the time to give yourself the love and care that you deserve, things will become more manageable. You’re never alone, I promise.
-Ellen Dean, English and American Literature and Creative Writing