We need to talk

So how exactly do you talk about mental health? It’s a tough one – an elephant in the room, if you’ll pardon the pun. But it’s a conversation we need to have.


If you ask me how I’m doing, the chances are you’ll get one of three answers:

  1. The “meh”: this means that I’m not feeling great but don’t really want to talk about it. It’ll pass and I’m probably in a mood for no reason.
  2. The “great thanks, how are you?”: this means that I’m in a pretty good mood – the day is going well, I’ve done something interesting and I’ve had the right amount of caffeine so that I can function like a person.
  3. The “I’m not feeling so good”: if you hear this, you know I’m having a bad day and could do with a break, a cup of coffee and a chat.

So that’s great – I’m easy to read. There’s a 3 step guide to evaluating how I’m feeling and how to talk to me. This might not be the case for everyone. In fact, it almost definitely isn’t.

It’s a sad fact that more people would rather avoid talking about mental health than sit down and have an honest and frank discussion about how they’re feeling. But they’ll happily talk about their physical health and fitness – so much so that I’m sick of hearing about the gym. There’s something about this that just doesn’t feel right to me – our mental health and wellbeing is just as important, if not more so, as our physical health.

So if you’re feeling down, talk about it. Air your feelings with a friend. Sit down and have a chat over a coffee. But don’t bottle it up.

And what if you see someone else who doesn’t seem to be doing well? Sit down and have a chat. Ask them how they’re doing, offer a friendly conversation. Buy them a cake if they’re the kind of person that isn’t obsessed with the gym.

Sometimes a little attention is all it takes to get someone on the road to feeling better. Sometimes it takes more than that – and that’s okay too. The chances are you’re not going to be able to take someone from feeling like 0% to 100% with some coffee and a cake or a hug. But maybe you’ll take them from 0 to 20%, and that’s always an improvement. And sometimes that’s all you need – for things to get just a little bit better.

My own battle: Recovering from an attack

On a cold and bitter November morning, I was casually going about my normal routine walk, when I was stopped and asked what the time was. I naturally looked down at my watch and answered…until part way through my answer the sudden shock and realisation of being a victim of attack became apparent.

In that precise time it’s difficult to consciously do anything. You do what you can to make the whole process end as soon as possible and get away from the mess. When it’s over and you’re left alone, you regain your surroundings coming to the senses of the shock and reality of what has just happened. But this isn’t even the worst part; what comes in the aftermath really hits you.

Why did they choose me? All for pride? To gain satisfaction? To boost their ego? These were the questions I raised to myself every day for the next couple of years. It took me even longer to get over the paranoia and fear of walking alone. Even when a car use to stop by the driveway I would question who it was, why they have stopped outside my house, how long they would stop for – this was the clear mistrust of other people in the months after the attack. All this upset just for a cheap phone?

Being attacked, feeling defeated at the time, worrying excessively afterwards, and difficulties sleeping meant paranoid fears remained a part of my life comprehensively after the attack. The long term mental trauma outweighed the physical discomfort, that’s for sure.

It takes time – to accept what has happened and to learn to live with it. You are not expected to just accept and move on from what has happened, because ‘life goes on’ – no. Research shows that four out of five victims became more fearful of other people after being mugged? Traditionally, it was thought paranoid thinking was rare in the aftermath of an attack. But that is simply not true.

The bottom line is an incident like this can trigger a range of strong emotions that may be hard to handle and can change over time. The end result is that whatever you’re going through is normal, from shock, loneliness and unhappiness, but in every sense of these elements it helps to open up about them. Confiding in someone you trust, can help the situation, and allow you to move on. All of this needs time.

Post-University Anxiety

Being a first generation immigrant I never had my parents share their stories with me or give me that pep talk about what to expect when I arrive at university. So a lot of what I expected to happen was based off of what I saw in American movies.

What I expected to happen was that I sit in a big lecture theatre and have a lecturer talk at me. On the face of it, this was true, because the first actual thing I did at university after I had done all of my induction was sit in a lecture theatre and have a lecturer talk me. I later realised that there was a lot more to university than just a lecture theatre filled with 200 not so eager students. Before I began university I had it all planned out, everything was so structured, I get As in my GCSEs get As in A-levels, get all my offers on UCAS then go to university. This was all perfect. This was all structured.

The plan was after I finish university I would get a job. In my first year of university I really didn’t pay this ‘job’ much thought. I didn’t think I needed to. It would just be there waiting for me. I have a degree, I have good grades that automatically equated to a good job, a stable job, a job that gave me a regular income.

In my final year at university, I spoke to previous graduates, majority were unemployed because they left their application too late. So, I decided to be organised. I put together a list of all the firms I wanted to apply to, their application open date and close date. I even fell back on my readings and assignments because I understood that applying to jobs was a priority.

I went on all the graduate recruitment pages, signed up my details, sent out my CV and waited… And I waited.

I did all of my Situational Judgment Tests, I passed a few, didn’t pass others, and then I waited.

When it became time to graduate, there was lots of joy and happiness in the air, lots of optimism. We posed for photos, uploaded them to Instagram and had the likes and comments rolling in, but it ignored the reality of what was to come.

Come September, after months of applying I had nothing, nothing to wake up early in the mornings for, nothing to challenge me, nothing to excite me, no regular income. My biggest embarrassment is having to ask my parents for my bus fare. I am left asking myself, what is wrong with me, what have I done wrong, what is this secret to getting a job that I am not in on.


Pressure and Expectations

Often success appears as a fleeting, momentary occurrence, present only briefly before my mind moves onto the next thing I have yet to achieve or something else that I’m not doing so well on. It’s never been about pausing and taking the time to enjoy my own victories, however small or large they may be. To me, success is expected, and rather than focussing on where things are going right, often my focus will be on where I’m falling short. There’s always room for improvement.

It’s not the case that this is the result of any external pressure from friends or family, just my own method of driving me towards success.

And it’s utterly incompatible with a concept of self-worth and confidence tied to your own successes.

If you can’t stop to appreciate when you’ve done well, then it goes without saying that there won’t be much increase in your self-confidence even when you succeed. Despite recognising this over the course of many years, I’ve never been able to fully break free of this way of thinking.

Rather than focussing on internal validation, instead my confidence and self-worth has tended focus on external validation and the praise of others. External validation is fantastic for motivation and affirmation in your efforts if its forthcoming, but this isn’t always the case (irrespective of whether or not you deserve it).

If anything, reliance on such a volatile source of motivation is sometimes even worse than the constant self-deprecation I’m used to applying, but it’s so much less mentally tiring than feeling like I’m always falling short because of my own high expectations.

Equally, measuring yourself against others on a constant basis is a sure-fire way to demoralise yourself. I can’t count the number of times I’ve looked at something I’ve achieved whether it be academic, sporting or career-based, achievements which were things to be truly proud of, and gone in my head “but it wasn’t as good as what others have done”.

It’s easy enough justify this as a motivation mechanism, a way to push myself onwards and upwards, and it’s so easy to slip into this line of thinking, constantly comparing yourself to your peers.

But sometimes the time needs to be taken to appreciate success in absolute rather than relative terms. Otherwise it can feel like you’re no longer in control of your own self-confidence and over time, the result is a fear of the judgement of others simply because I’ve made it such an important part of how I view myself.

While I’ve never been able to fully put this thought process to rest, I’ve had moments of reprieve by considering a very simple fact: you’re not doing these things for others, you’re doing them for yourself. Yes in some cases success relative to others is the end goal, but equally other times success will be measured against your own benchmarks and objectives.

Similarly external validation and praise should be a supplement to your own confidence in yourself: all the praise in the world from others won’t mean a thing if you don’t believe it.

What others think will always be important to me, but it should never be as important as what I think of myself. With that realisation comes responsibility: it’s my job to define my successes and celebrate them where I think it’s appropriate. Sometimes I’ll probably be too harsh, and sometimes over-zealous, but as long as I take the time to appreciate my own successes, at least I’m in the driver’s seat with a great view of where to aim for next.

Another side of depression

Hi everyone, today’s post is from a friend on their personal experience of depression and anxiety;

I have been dealing with my issues for as long as I can remember.

Depression and anxiety seem so integral to who I am as a person now that I cannot think of a time when they were not there. Even when I was a child I remember every day being such a struggle to get through that I just wanted the days to end. For my life to end. They’re a black shadow that seems to be connected to me at all times. No matter how content I am in life they’re lurking in the back somewhere I just can’t quite see but I know is there. I imagine that for many of you this might be a familiar feeling and like me you are beyond tired of feeling this way. There is a life out there to be enjoyed and you want to be able to truly appreciate it all. You wish to feel better about yourself and by reading this blog you are taking the right steps in the right direction for yourself.

As odd as it may sound you should congratulate yourself on taking these steps. Not only because it helps you keep a positive frame of mind but because just like recovering from a physical issue it is important to keep motivated, something this helps with. It is something my therapist recommended to me to help me cope with my issues. That, regardless of how small or silly it may seem, if I do something positive in my life that is something I should be proud of. It helps to keep me in a positive frame of mind and it is a technique I would recommend. The short version of this: make the most of the little things. Tell yourself every day that you are worth it.

One of the hardest things I found was actually getting around to thinking that I should work on my issues. This is something that others I have spoken to have found difficult. Their issues are so developed and they are so consumed by them that they think they are hopeless and worthless. That there is no point. They have no motivation to get better because they do not believe that they deserve anything better. I know I feel this way and it was so hard to even conceive the idea to get help. I remember for me the turning point was being drunk again and sleeping outside at 5 in the morning again in the middle of London. I had places to stay but I deliberately made myself sleep outside. Why? Because I wasn’t worth a home or any form of comfort. Why was I drunk? Because it made me feel good. It was at this stage that I had my revelation. That I finally turned around and said that this was enough. I was punishing myself and making myself suffer so much that I was tired of it. This coupled with friends telling me it had to stop meant that I had finally hit breaking point.

You may look at what I have written here and think that you’re lower or that you’re worse than I am. You may have had similar experiences to my own of feeling like you have hit the bottom but are still doing the same thing and so feel bad reading this. Like you have failed. I know because it’s something I did when trying to get better. I would read things like this and think “oh well they’re doing better, why aren’t I?” If that is the case then all I can say is that you have not failed. That you are still trying even now in ways you do not realise. Each day you go through is an achievement and testament to your perseverance. I know taking that first step is so hard that to many it seems impossible. But you owe it to yourself to try and to keep going at it no matter how many times it hurts or how taxing it is. You deserve a good life and living your days in contentment.

My advice to you based on my experience is two things. One is to have a support network. It has been invaluable to me to have positive influences in my life and people who can support me when I regress. If you’re sitting there thinking that you do not have one, chances are you do. It’s just working up the courage to tell those who love you. They won’t judge and if they do, they are not worth your precious time. If you’re still convinced you don’t then I would encourage you to seek professional help. Go to mental health classes or go to a therapist. These have both proved essential to my mental health. I cannot truly stress how useful and vital they are. I honestly feel everyone should have their own therapist.

The second piece of advice is that it’s never too late to start working on yourself and for things to change. You do not have to hit the bottom to start moving up. You can do it at anytime and for those who feel like they are at the bottom, as hard as it may sound, you can still work on yourself. It doesn’t have to be today, it doesn’t have to be immediate and rapid. As long as you try each day to help yourself, to feel better about yourself then you will find one day you are more content. However if you slip, then that is fine too. We are not perfect and it is not helpful to yourself to beat yourself up so much over things. We all have down days and times when we are not at our best. So it is perfectly reasonable to say to yourself that you are feeling this way because funnily enough having that kind of acceptance makes it easier to then get back to self-improvement.

I remember one technique my therapist used to do with me was just to question every negative thought I had. To basically keep asking why; sort of like that annoying child who is trying to outsmart you. The thing was, much like with the child, you eventually run out of things to say and realise the negative thoughts are not coming out of anywhere useful or realistic. Another useful thing that they said to me was that whatever happened in the past happened the way it did. I am aware this sounds like Rafiki from the Lion King but for me it has been a huge help in accepting my life and working on it. There are things I massively regret doing and feel guilty about. Yet if I const go over them I will never get better. I do have control over my present and what I choose to do in it and so I can use that to better myself.

I’ll leave you now with some final thoughts. One of the biggest lies I have been told is what the norm is and how alone I am in my issues. I have never yet met someone who does not have some kind of problem, issue or some form of mental health issue. I would like to meet the person who invented what “normal” is in society and show them what they have done to so many people. You are not alone in your struggles and there are always people willing to help. You just have to look for them.

The journey towards feeling better about yourself is a long one but it’s still one worth doing. I have been doing mine for over 20 years and whilst I am not exactly where I would like to be I am living a better life than I could have conceived having even 5 years ago. It does get better. I promise you that but it takes effort from you. Words like this can only do so much, so use this as motivation to help yourself and do it for yourself. Find out works for you. The advice I give here is based off my own life and experiences. Just because it works for me doesn’t mean that it’s gospel for you. Take whatever solution works for you and use it. No matter how silly it may seem to others. If dancing in the street helps you feel good then go for it. Do whatever makes you feel better and feels like an improvement to your day and life in general. Just do not do what I used to and look for the solutions at 5 in the morning in the gutter face down in a dodgy kebab. The kebab alone will make you feel bad enough.


There’s that age old saying; “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. I’m not sure where this originated but I find it hard to believe that this person experienced anyone saying nasty things to them.

Bullying comes in a multitude of forms. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the physical type. Personally, I find that emotional bullying leaves a longer-lasting scar but that’s just my opinion.

Some people don’t realise the damage they are inflicting; they think of it as a joke or “just a bit of banter”. Maybe it is to them but it might not be “just a bit of banter” to the person who is being told that they are chubby or that they look ugly today. These people need to be made aware of the impact that their seemingly harmless words are having on their victim.

Some people know exactly what they are doing. These people intentionally inflict pain on others with their words and I don’t know why they do it. Maybe they do it because they are hurting. Maybe it’s because they are jealous and want to feel better about themselves by putting other people down. I was recently a victim of bullying where the person knew what they were doing and saying. Those people are negative influences on your life and they drag you down.

I’m not sure why some feel like they have to drag people down- that’s something I feel like I will never understand. Nobody ever wants to be labelled as a bully.

Believe me, I get it. It’s so hard to ignore people when they consistently bully you. The worst kind is when they bully you for a particular negative aspect that you are self-conscious about to begin with. It’s like an affirmation. More often than not, these people see something in you that they are envious of. Please don’t let other people’s destructive comments change you. My self-esteem has been crushed because of bullies and it has taken a long time for me to get to a point where I can even attempt to shut them out.

The thing that I’ve started to realise is that most bullies are just mean people who don’t care who they hurt to make themselves feel better. These people are not worth your time or energy. My mother and father always taught me to be kind. To treat people with respect and to be a good person. Life is too hard as it is without creating more drama. If you are being bullied in any way, I implore you to talk to someone. I know it’s easy to sit here and type and everyone says it but even telling friends or family is a step forward. Anyone you trust. Honestly, it makes all the difference. They can be there to tell you that it isn’t true and will stop you from believing a lie. Remember, your friends don’t have to be your friends. They choose to be because they see things in you that they love. Don’t forget that.

I’m still working on not taking bullies’ words to heart but I’ve tried to tackle that by surrounding myself with people that make me feel good about myself; people who tell me every day that I’m not who the bullies say I am. My low self-esteem (and my typical English, self-deprecating attitude) means that I don’t always accept the nice comments said about me but it’s a learning curve and one that I’m going to do whilst leaving those negative people behind.

University pressures

“Going to University is the best thing ever”, “you’re going to have so much fun”, “honestly university was the best time of my life”, “enjoy it while it lasts because the real world is misery”. These are but a few of the remarks that people often said to me before going to university.

I, like many, was sold this dream of freedom, spare time, and relaxation with a mild element of work. What many do not speak of, nor boast about, is the stress, depression, isolation, loneliness and often periods of hopelessness that comes with being a student. I knew I was at university for a purpose; to work hard and get a degree that would ultimately get me a job I wanted. I also saw this as an opportunity to broaden my horizons through other means like meeting people from across the world, being part of projects I cared about and trying something I had never come across before (for instance my universities Quidditch society!). I saw university as a means of pushing myself outside my comfort zone.

Initially what I had been told was true. University was fun, exciting, and so much better than the real world. Soon however, reality hit. The reading piled up, essay deadlines cluttered my calendar and exams were just around the corner. It felt as though there was not enough time and the easy-going lifestyle I had been promised quickly evaporated.

I was fighting time itself, trying to utilise every last second of the day and pushing every productive fibre in my mind to the limit. Slowly but surely I began to shut myself away from the close friends I had made and the societies I enjoyed to appease the self-induced guilt and pressure I was feeling about my studies. I knew that what I was experiencing was not healthy, and that mentally I was burning out.

It was only, however, at a one-to-one with my seminar leader Francesca, where I made some joke about struggling with this particular course, that I recognised I was not alone in how I felt. Francesca, who at the time was studying for her doctorate, disclosed her battle with depression: an illness which had forced her to take time off from her postgrad for 6 months, knocked her confidence and at times had made her feel isolated from the world. Sitting there in the dimly lit concrete-walled seminar room, a wave of relief hit me. I had heard many brag about the “amazing” nights out they had, how easy it was getting a first on their essay, and generally how well they were coping with university. However, unlike most, Francesca was the first who was willing to disclose the not so perfect side of life at university, and this for once was a story I actually wanted, and needed, to hear.

Don’t get me wrong, university for a lot of people is the best thing ever, and at times it’s easy to see why. Nevertheless, we have to take into account those people for whom this is not the case. For starters, there needs to be better support in universities for those who have mental illnesses; an environment that encourages openness among students. We also need to stop trying to perpetuate this hyper-reality that everything is fantastic, amazing and wonderful, all the time.

If you find that you can relate to this article and find yourself struggling to cope with the huge burden and demands that university can place on your mental health, this article from the charity Student Minds might be helpful.