Tab Meets: Student Minds

JOE WHITWELL talks to Student Minds at the start of their Mental Health Week, about what they do and the pressures of being a student in Cambridge.

8 week term Cambridge coping with stress healthy living interview Joe Whitwell mental health pressure stress tutors

Who are you and what do you do?

We are called Student Minds. and we have merged with Mental Wealth. Student Minds a national campaign which runs throughout the whole year in almost every university, with the biggest events running during Mental Health Week which starts on the 17th of February. The role of Student Minds is to advocate mental health issues, to break down the stigma by getting people to understand and getting people to talk.

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How do you have a conversation about mental health?

Well I think you approach it from a very informal point of view. Look at it the same way you would look at your body’s health, just as you might tell me that you’ve been going to the gym. It’s easy to approach it in that sense. If you’re stressed at work, if things are going really well or not: it’s those things which are mental health. You don’t have to sit someone down and say “so do you think you’re depressed” because you’re not going to get a good response. It’s better to come at it from a lifestyle angle. And eventually if people have issues, they will come out.

You are students and not health professionals. What’s your role? What lines can’t you cross?

We are not at any point providing a direct service because we are not professionals but we will direct you to services within Cambridge. There are a lot of them but some of them are poorly advertised or have bad reputations themselves. But some are actually really good.
We are keen for mental health to be more frequently discussed – Cambridge is a high pressure environment, there is a lot of pressure to be involved in everything that is going on. It’s all about knowing how to kinda pull it back.

Is Cambridge in itself, the whole student thing, an unhealthy atmosphere to live in?

I don’t think it’s unhealthy in itself but you’ve got to be aware that it is a more stressful environment to be in. Sometimes our coping strategies can be quite unhealthy. It’s only an 8 week term. You are doing more than you think is humanly possible. It’s ok not to cope when you are presented with such a workload. I feel like there is a real fear of appearing weak and this is something we are trying to uncover. Our second project is a video short film to be released during mental wealth week. It will be 5 or 6 students talking about having mental health issues in Cambridge and how they have managed to cope with them. It doesn’t aim to solve problems or offer advice. Just students saying ‘this has happened to me, this is a part of me, this is not a weakness’. It doesn’t mean you are any less useful or any less likely to do well.

We all know how this feels

We all know how this feels

Is the Tutor system fit for its purpose?

On paper its brilliant. Having a closed circuit welfare system means that you’re not just a number and we should be proud of that system. There are tutors who are extremely good. But equally there are tutors who don’t provide the services necessary for the caring for the wellbeing of their students. It’s better to deal with that minority and develop strategies to deal with them than to attack the whole system. Because, as I said, the system is very good on paper, it just needs to be be checked more because an academic may not be the most sensitive person in the world or the most well trained. Some of them are going to have very old fashioned attitudes and that’s not necessarily their fault.

What is some advice you would give to someone struggling with their mental health?

1) Healthy body healthy mind. Eat well, get some fresh air do a little exercise

2) Know that your best is enough. Stop comparing yourself to other people. Be your own person and do what you want to do.

3) Take some steps to have positive thinking everyday. OU produced a study on mindfulness which we are going to push quite a lot. They reckon that if you put 10 minutes a day into positive thinking, it hugely decresed your chances of depression in later life. It’s like CBT. You can write down three positive things you’ve done every day or a gratitude journal. Is great at the end of the day you just have a book full of things

4) Another technique is to make a three step plan for getting better. So when you are in a good state think of three things that make you feel better. It can be a specific song, or eating chocolate or going for a run and then thats your action plan when you are having an awful day. Because when you are having a bad day it is really hard to rationalise what you are going to do to get out of it.

Find your happy place

Find your happy place