We asked nine boys about a time they worked through some unhappiness

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week


A couple of months ago I started a new job alongside my Master’s. I was lucky enough to have lots of good friends and supportive family around me. And yet I felt like my world was caving in.

I felt huge pressure to succeed immediately in everything I’d taken on, focusing on the things I was struggling with and not the things I was doing well at. This lead to a string of panic attacks, feeling tired all the time and extended periods of low mood. On the surface I had everything, but deep down I just felt like shit. And then on top of that, I felt ridiculous for feeling upset because I’m a privileged, middle class man who’s been dealt a pretty decent hand in life. What right do I have to not be happy? And then I’d beat myself up for that.

After a fair bit of sulking, I tried to get myself out of this slump. I made sure I was exercising, started cooking better meals, had a couple of  “Arlo Parks walks” and a fair few baths. But the main thing that got me through was reaching out to friends and family, telling them how I was feeling and hearing their understanding responses. I took the pressure off myself, relaxed a lot and took comfort from the idea that everything will probably turn out okay. It did turn out okay and I’m now in a really good place, loving my job and enjoying life.

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Me

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Unfortunately, mental health issues still disproportionately affect men in the UK. Men are three times more likely than women to die by suicide, three times more likely to become dependent on alcohol and three times as likely to report frequent drug use. Men are also less likely to seek help, with only 36 per cent of referrals to the NHS for talking therapies being made for men.

A lot has been done to try and rectify issues affecting male mental health but unfortunately, there’s still a massive stigma around men talking about their feelings. What is clear is that people tend to benefit not only from talking about their experiences of negative emotions, but also from hearing others do the same.

With that in mind, here are nine more men talking about a time when they were unhappy and explaining how they got through that tough period.

Alex, University of Manchester

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Alex

I had a rough start to uni. I built up this image of it in my head and it never lived up to those expectations. I wasn’t enjoying my course and my accommodation was awful. It got to a stage where almost every day I would just stay in bed, go down for tea in the evening and then go out. The people I met there were incredible, but in some ways that made me feel worse because I thought that I should be having a good time, being in such a privileged position with so many good people. I also didn’t really speak to them or anyone about how I was feeling.

But I knew what I was doing wasn’t healthy and something needed to change. I kept saying to myself this was the last day of feeling shit and I would change my life around for the better tomorrow. I would plan to get up at 8am and go for a run and attend all my lectures. Then, when I inevitably stayed in bed past 8am, I would feel so much worse because I’d feel like I failed again. The cycle would start all over again and I just got into this massive rut.

The way I got out of it was by setting realistic goals and by not trying to completely change my mental state with the snap of my fingers. If you broke your leg you wouldn’t try to do a marathon as soon as you got your cast off. I said to myself that I would try to get out of bed and out of my accommodation before midday and have a walk, then gradually made it earlier and included more things that I wanted to do (go to this lecture, run, do a shop, do a wash etc).

Also, it’s such a cliché but talking to friends and family about your situation does really help. My friends would knock on my door to walk with me into uni, which gave me more motivation to actually do it. Eventually you’re at a stage where you can get up at 8am and go for a run, but it does take time to get there and that is perfectly fine.

George, University of Birmingham

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George

In my first year of university, I went through a very difficult time where my mental health completely plummeted. I was completely lost, didn’t know where to turn, and felt like I was supposed to be living the best time of my life but was living my worst.

I got through the rough patch by trying to connect with who I was and who I wanted to be, by reflecting on myself. I did this through journaling and making videos. I feel like journaling is something that we often overlook and mock, but I found writing my feelings down really allowed me to understand where my head was at and what I could do to overcome the feelings – almost like a step by step guide.

Three years on, I still occasionally journal and write how I’m feeling down and I’m now happier than ever!

Ruaidhri, University of Edinburgh

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Ruaidhri

This last term, my anxiety has been higher than ever, with the uncertainty of finishing university, leaving the city I have lived in and the friends I have made over the last four years, and dealing with the pressure of finals. Not to mention the limitations Covid-19 has put on seeing friends and loved ones.

What I’ve found difficult about anxiety is that I often haven’t been able to understand why I have been feeling this way and have been unable to rationalise the mental and physical effects it has had on me. This all became so much easier when I opened up to friends and took a policy of total honesty with regards to how I have been feeling. Being able to admit problems with mental health to those close to me has made it easier to accept it myself and has allowed my friends to understand and support me better.

Ed, University of Bristol

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Ed

My grandpa passed away in January. On his birthday March, I just needed some time to think, so I went for a long walk with music playing. I’d previously spoken to a musician recently who describes his headphones as an anti-anxiety pill, which I think is so accurate. Like when I get serious anxiety, music does have the ability to calm me down.

But also on top of this, in really low moments, periods of anxiety, during sad events in your life like breakups or close ones passing, speaking to people helps so much. You don’t realise how much it weighs on you bottling everything in and people want to listen.

Ollie Stubbs, University of Leeds

Ollie

Back in January, I was in my living room, I’d felt really down that week and I was looking at my bookshelf. I was thinking about where all these books came from, thinking about all the people who’d spent time looking at them, all the trees that formed the paper and I just couldn’t cope with that mentally. My brain just went off on one at 50,000 miles per hour. It was proper stressful.

And then I spoke to my two dream gals, who are just the best people in the world, and they dropped round non-stop cards to just be like, ‘everything is going to be okay.’ They would always call and check on me. They basically saved my life. They are bomb.com. I love them the absolute most.

Joe, Durham

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Joe

During my year abroad, I really struggled with feelings of loneliness. I lived in an isolated city in the north of Peru and the time difference made it very difficult to stay in regular contact with my family and friends who were at home. Whilst I was visiting my friends who lived in Lima, I broke down in tears to my friend Josh.

Even though I’m sure I was a blubbering mess, speaking things through with him made me realise that I wasn’t on my own. Whilst the feeling of loneliness didn’t disappear, knowing that I had someone to speak to whenever I needed it, helped me massively.

Charlie, University of Oxford

I’m a pretty sociable person normally, and when the pandemic first hit I just threw myself into revision and tried not to think about what was happening or what I was missing out on. However, when the exams finished, the summer ended, and the lockdowns returned, I found myself scrolling through social media constantly.

I had put on a load of weight, couldn’t do the things I enjoyed, and got into a rut of spending my evenings watching mindless TV or doomscrolling through Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram. So, while I couldn’t do sport, I started with small steps like making time for walks in the evening after work, I got back into reading novels for fun, and I tried to organise regular catchups and check in on people I hadn’t seen in a while.

Just because people are rubbish at replying, doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk to you.

Oscar, University of Bristol

Oscar

Uni can be tough. Deadlines, lectures, projects, exams, all come one after another with very little time in between to really pause. This year in particular has been difficult. Not being able to go into the library meant that I was working at home all day, sometimes getting into a routine where I would not leave the house for four or five days, only getting out of the house to go shopping.

I’m sure everyone has had this where you’ve been cooped up in the house not really doing much. And in my experience, the worst thing to do in that situation, analogous to being hungover, is staying in. So if I’m feeling this way, I try and force myself to get up, make a smoothie or something and get out of the house. Without fail, after a skate, a run or even just a walk, I feel much better.

Freddie, University of Birmingham

Freddie

When I look back, I definitely wasn’t in a good place for most of second year. I didn’t feel like I had a social group that was actually mine, didn’t enjoy spending time with my house, and had a lot of FOMO seeing everyone from home having such a good time at uni (at least it looked like that on social media).

I think what helped me through it was when I went home over summer. I got a job and threw myself into that, which brought a lot of structure that uni often doesn’t, as well as a social group. I spent a lot of time with my family and home friends which I think helped a lot in regaining my confidence socially. I also picked up a couple of hobbies. I was listening to a lot more music, started getting really into cooking, playing a bit more guitar too.

I’m not sure how conscious I was in making decisions that would help me start to feel better, but when I think about it now, what mostly helped me was focusing on things I could control. When I was at home, I just focused on my immediate friendships and family, what I was doing day to day, and thinking about what I wanted to do with my time.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story, please speak to someone or contact Samaritans on 116 123 at any time. You can also contact Anxiety UK on 03444 775 774, Mind on 0300 123 3393, and Calm (Campaign against living miserably, for men aged 15 to 35) on 0800 58 58 58.

The Tab’s You Matter campaign is putting a focus on student mental health right now. If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell us – whether it’s difficulties with getting uni support, or anything you think we should hear, get in touch in confidence by emailing [email protected]

You matter.

Read more from The Tab’s You Matter campaign:

• We asked a mental health expert how to deal with not being allowed back to uni this term

• At least 39 ambulances have been called to unis for suicide and self-harm this term

• Named and shamed: Eleven unis didn’t appoint any new mental health staff this year