Today, March 7th, marks University Mental Health Day 2019. This year’s theme is “Use Your Voice”, so we’re using ours to highlight the need for good mental health care in the university setting, to highlight the work of our Student Advice & Counselling team, and to share some top tips for maintaining positive mental health for yourself and others.
Hi, and thanks for us to talking to us today. Please can you introduce yourselves, and tell us what you do here at LSHTM?
Olivia: I’m Olivia Cunningham and I’m one of the Student Counsellors.
Flo: I’m Flo, and I’m a Student Adviser.
Olivia: Our team is the Student Advice and Counselling team, which is responsible for providing counselling to students on a one to one basis, give inductions to students at the start of their programmes and deliver advice on wellbeing throughout the year, too.
Flo: I work closely with the Student Counselling team to assist students with disabilities and also advise on accommodation, hardship and general welfare.
How do you ensure that you deliver good mental healthcare for students?
Olivia: We listen effectively to students, and are very responsive – waiting lists for counselling and advice are very short compared with some other universities. We provide services like exam stress workshops and mindfulness groups at key times throughout the year.
Flo: We keep really good communication between each other and with students. The good thing about being such a small institution is that we can keep a close eye on students we are worried about as we have a close working relationship with them.
What support do you offer specifically for international students?
Olivia: Many of our students are international, so we have a lot of experience working with these students and know the issues they tend to face: culture shock, loneliness and isolation – we do offer an orientation session at the start of the academic year which addresses these types of issues.
Flo: Many students are coming to the UK for the first time, so we touch on logistical issues such as setting up a bank account, but we also talk about wellbeing and cultural differences and arrange social activities to help students meet one another and settle in.
How can students look out for each other’s mental health?
Olivia: It’s about noticing fluctuations in someone’s mood that may indicate that they’re in distress, if someone seems withdrawn or disengaged, be empathetic and sensitive, listen actively, ask some open questions about how they’re doing and allow them space to talk. Also, know your own limits in terms of looking after others – sometimes it can be more beneficial to signpost someone to professional services like student counselling or nightline. Most of all it is important that they feel heard and listened to, and that they are not alone.
Flo: I would say it is important not to give advice to someone unless you are asked for it. Sometimes people just want to be listened to.
Olivia: Yes, do not underestimate the power of just listening to someone, without trying to fix things or make things better.
What are your top tips for maintaining balance day-to-day?
Flo: Doing things that don’t involve school – going for a walk at lunchtime, swimming after class, Pilates, attending our mindfulness sessions – just things we can all be doing to improve our wellbeing and don’t involve taking on issues that might be challenging. Doing things “just for fun”. I’ve also found apps like Calm and Headspace very useful, as well as Simple Habits. I also recommend the Honest Bros YouTube channel. Be mindful of your caffeine and sugar intake, too – these have a real impact on stress and anxiety levels.
Olivia: It can be a bubble here, so it is important to maintain balance in such a pressurised environment. It can be helpful to talk to other students but be aware that speaking to someone who is anxious may make you anxious too, so those hobbies are key in maintaining that sense of balance. The foundation of wellbeing is to sleep well, eat well, do something that you love and maintain outside relationships – this is the bedrock to coping with your academic demands. Timetabling activities in can make it a lot easier to maintain this balance – structure helps! Even factor time in to do nothing. It’s constructive rest!
The theme of this year’s University Mental Health Day is “use your voice”. What does that mean for you?
Flo: for me, it means finding a way of being comfortable with who you are and saying how you feel.
Olivia: I think using your voice to support yourself and stand up for yourself, but also to stand up for others who are unable to use theirs. Speak up for people who might need support.
If you have serious concerns about someone’s safety, you should contact the police. If you are worried about someone’s mental health, you can refer to student advice & counselling. You can find out more about the student advice and counselling service at lshtm.ac.uk/study/studentservices/student-advice-counselling-service or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more about the #UniMentalHealthDay campaign at www.unimentalhealthday.co.uk