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This week is Mental Health Awareness Week 2022. This year we’re tackling loneliness and creating opportunities to focus on how we can achieve good mental health. According to the 2019 University Mental Health Charter, student loneliness is the strongest overall predictor of mental distress in the student population. In 2021, The Thriving Learners study found more than half of university students (57%) reported concealing a mental health problem for fear of stigmatisation.
Loneliness is a normal part of life, with most of us feeling lonely at some point and experiencing how it can make us feel. Throughout the pandemic, loneliness has been almost 3 times that of pre-pandemic levels making it an important topic to tackle this Mental Health Awareness Week. We chatted with some of the Advisors at the Union to offer practical steps to help you manage your mental health and deal with feelings of loneliness.
It can be overwhelming to take steps forward when you’re feeling lonely, especially if you’ve been feeling that way for a long time and aren’t sure what to do. You don’t need to jump into lots of new activities or groups overnight - you can take things at your own pace. It can be so hard to establish new connections, routines, and friendships, and it takes time, so allowing yourself space and kindness as you try out something new is so important. Something not being the immediate right fit doesn’t mean you’ve failed or there’s anything wrong with you - it’s just not the choice for you.
Remember that there will always be someone who can offer advice and support when you’re experiencing loneliness, whether that be someone you know or a service like Hear to Listen or Nightline. Confiding in someone to let them know that you’re feeling lonely can feel like a huge weight has been lifted off your shoulders, as even your close friends or family might not realise you feel this way.
There’s also a big difference between feeling anxious (which is a normal part of being human and helps keep us alert, safe, and comfortable) and having an anxiety disorder. If you’re worried that feeling anxious is impacting your day to day life, affecting how you talk to people, and preventing you from giving something new a try, it might be worth speaking with a doctor or mental health professional who may be able to help support you in managing overwhelming feelings like that.
There are lots of things you can try out to see what fits if you think you might need a little more direct support. None of us is identical so what works for one person might not work for you and that’s okay, and sometimes it takes a little time to figure out what we need.
Sometimes the most useful thing for us is speaking to someone like us, whether it’s another student or someone who also struggles with feeling lonely. Although they are not professional support services, peer support projects can be a vital resource for anyone that just needs a space to be heard, not judged, and compassionately listened to for a little while.
If you’re thinking that things have gotten too overwhelming, you’re too anxious, or you’re not sure how to break through how you’re feeling, it might be worth reaching out to a professional who can help you navigate options.
Disability and Wellbeing are a University service that offers a range of support for students, including 1:1 counselling, and online resources, group programmes, mental health assessments, and mentoring.
Frequent breaks away from your books or screen. Taking 10 minutes to grab a drink or to get some fresh air can provide clarity and improve your studying. We sometimes forget that taking care of ourselves is important during exams and doing things we enjoy alongside this can help reduce stress. If you tend to timetable out your study time, make sure that you actively schedule a time to relax and do something you enjoy, whether that’s exercise, playing a video game for an hour, or watching some Netflix. Being deliberate in this and making conscious decisions rather than just letting it happen accidentally can make it easier to build routines.
Catastrophic thinking can be really common for students dealing with exam stress and thoughts like “I’m going to fail everything” or “I may as well drop out” are normal and can be anxiety-inducing and cause panic. Using a simple CBT evidence exercise (a good template for this is here) can be valuable for some in dealing with this:
Find more info at Tips on preparing for exams - NHS
Liberation Reps | Societies & Student groups
If you feel comfortable sharing your experience of loneliness, get involved on social media to shatter the stigma around loneliness by using the hashtags #IveBeenThere and #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek.