As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we asked our alumni volunteers what ‘good’ mental health meant to them, how they managed their wellbeing and what tips they had for current students. We’ll be adding to this page with their thoughts throughout the week and you can also read how Future First staff are balancing their own wellbeing here.
Monica is a former student from Ashmole Academy, Southgate and is a writer and poet studying English Literature at university.
As someone who has struggled with mental health, writing is my source of joy and expression.
We are constantly surrounded by and immersed in pressure. Whether that is dealing with societal pressures or cultural or familial pressures from people around us that have a vision for what they want us to achieve and what they want our lives to look like. It can be difficult to navigate our own identities and find our voice and sense of ‘self’ because these external pressures do not always grant us enough space to do so.
When I allow myself time to write, my mind is able to take a break from overthinking and over-analysing every aspect of my life. This is because I become so immersed in either the new reality I am constructing in a fictional scene or pouring emotions and thoughts into my poetry that I didn’t even realise I needed to release. I love how freeing it feels to write candidly and passionately and how it is not something arduous that I am obligated to complete, its sole purpose is for myself because I genuinely love it and it brings me happiness.
One piece of advice I would offer my younger self is to do more things in service of myself such as seek counselling because doing so later in life really helped me to discover more about myself and recognise things that I need to heal. And I would also encourage myself to journal, read more non-fiction and write frequently to nurture my writing skills so that when I am older, they are more developed. I would also encourage myself to not fixate so much on things beyond my control but to be a little more care free and enjoy the present because I’ll feel nostalgic over it in years to come.
I would absolutely suggest that young people take part in writing. Learning to carve a voice for yourself through this medium is really empowering. Writing can help you to connect with yourself and explore your different layers. It is a form of expression and as emotions are complicated and often difficult to understand, let alone articulate to others, writing aids in processing and releasing them and this can feel really healing and cathartic. Language and words are extremely powerful and yours may resonate deeply for someone reading. They may feel represented and acknowledged through your work so it can be rewarding knowing that your words have connected with someone else’s heart and mind so intimately. Writing is so versatile; there is no one way or right way to write and that’s why it is so beautiful. You can experiment with different forms and styles and discover where your voice thrives the most. Ultimately it is important to do things for ourselves that bring us joy to illuminate the mundanity of life. Writing offers the possibility of that, so I would definitely recommend young people explore it.
Xenia is a former student of Southgate School, Enfield, and is now a successful personal trainer. We asked Xenia to share her experience of balancing mental wellbeing with daily life and what her advice would be for her younger self.
What impact does training have on your mental health?
Training is a way of taking some time out for myself. Weight training makes me feel strong, it challenges me and allows me to mentally focus on one thing- rather than listen to all the chatter in my head. Whenever I feel anxious, apathetic or I start to ruminate, exercising helps me remain in the here and now. I guess you could liken it to meditation in the sense that I focus on my breathing, my movement and my intention. Plus, the rush of endorphins I get after a session always lifts my mood!
Can you share any of your own experiences with balancing your mental health and wellbeing with daily life and work?
I suffer from OCD and GAD (generalised anxiety disorder), things often overwhelm me or play on my mind. I’ve found that taking some time to practice a few things before I get out of bed really helps me calm down before the day has even begun. I always meditate in the morning, even if it’s just for five minutes. I try to journal, sometimes I write a whole paragraph, sometimes I write down three things I’m grateful for. I’ll take time to answer any messages I have on my phone. Sometimes, I read a little or listen to an audiobook just to kick start my day. Routine is key for me so I try to stick to it most days, without putting too much pressure on myself.
If there was one piece of advice you could give your younger self, what would it be?
Stop worrying about things that are out of your control. You can’t control other people’s feelings towards you – as long as you know you are a kind and respectful person and you demonstrate that in your daily life – it really doesn’t matter what other people think of you.
Why do you think fitness and exercising could be helpful to young people?
For a young person in today’s society, everything can be so overwhelming – it’s all larger than life and it’s all out there for everyone to see. Training will give a young person another outlet in which they can challenge themselves and feel strong. Strong, not only physically but also emotionally – it gives you confidence to try something new whilst also allowing you to be vulnerable in situations that may make you feel a little anxious. This strength can be translated into daily life.
Daksha is a former student from Whitmore High School, Harrow, she shares her top five tips for current students and young people:
- Don’t ever feel guilty or ashamed about how you feel. If you face up to how you feel, you can then address it.
- It’s important to like yourself and not focus on whether others like you. Looking for affirmation from others will always lead to disappointment.
- Have someone who you can call to offload on if needed. They may not be able to help you, but they can listen. Even if you say, “I’m having a bad day and don’t have a lot to say, so tell me about your day instead” or “I know you can’t help but I just needed to say how I’m feeling out loud”. Being honest helps people help you better.
- It’s OK to fail. It’s what you do afterwards that’s more important. Failure should not be about how bad you feel or what you did, but what you learn from it and what you will do differently next time.
- Turn negative to positives. It’s sometimes hard to do this but it can be something simple, for example: change “I don’t feel like getting out of bed today” to “I don’t feel like getting of bed today, but I will shower and freshen up, put on fresh pyjamas and get back into bed”.
Mind provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health issue.
Young Minds provides information, advice and training for young people, parents, carers and professionals.
Student Minds is a mental health charity that works with students, service users, professionals and academics to develop new and innovative ways to improve the mental health of students.
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a helpline for young males aged 16 to 35 years, suffering from depression and low self-esteem.
Nightline is a student listening service which is open at night and run by students for students.