The University of Southampton
International Voices

Mental Health Awareness

Reflecting on my recent experience, I think it’s better to share how to cope with your wellbeing. Besides, May 2017 is also the month that Instagram has set as the mental health awareness month. The University of Southampton and Union Southampton also had thrown events this month, WellFest and You Are More Than Your Studies.

These weeks must have been hard weeks for most of students because of final exams and assignments. It’s not uncommon to find students with depressed conditions. While those responsibilities’ deadlines are approaching and required to be done, problems that are unrelated to our academic life and not able to be controlled can be hard to cope but it is affecting our progress in studying.

My experience in dealing with stress, depression, and anxiety was related to non-academic problems but affecting my academic. It was also escalated by the feeling of being lonely. It cannot be helped that you will be desperately feeling lonely because of being a PhD student. Despite of how social you are, sometimes the research itself drags you into it. Indeed you do a big chunk of a research topic collaboratively with your supervisors, other PhD students, and might be also with postdoctoral research fellows. However, the details can only be handled by yourself.

It’s not only a case or two I had dealing with difficult situations. From illness and physical injury although we had trained for health and safety, the funding problem, the loss of a person that motivated you to pursue higher degree, to facing many unexpected situations, I had overcome the situations by doing the following things. I hope it can help you, but several things are related to PhD students.

  1. Keep communicating with your family.
    I always tell my parents how I have been here weekly through video call. Sometimes I call them, well, my mum, immediately when I really am in urgent or pretty happy situations. Of course we would like to share our achievements first to them rather than to others. I cannot have a video call on daily basis like my several friends do because my parents have works to do and so do I. So weekend is the perfect time to do a long video call. If I do not have a weekend getaway, we can talk for hours. And because the time difference makes it matched with the dinner at my parents’ home and lunch time here, we can eat together at that time although we are in separate continents. Your family is the one to know first your happiness and sadness, and they always comfort you.
  2. Your supervisors are also your main advisers.
    Don’t hesitate to tell them your problems because you are also responsible for the progress of your research. They can give you the advice of what to do, especially the one related to academic, system, and rules. I am grateful for having supervisors who are understanding and very helpful when I am facing problems. Sometimes they advise me to take a break to help me refreshing my mind and energy. They also know where I should meet certain people when the problem is specific. To me, they are also like my parents here.
  3. Make friends and always keep in touch to them that can be trusted.
    Even you are an introvert like me, I believe you need friends too. Don’t always be in a circle of people of your country, but try too to be engaged with people from other countries. In my first year here, I rarely engaged with friends from other countries or them from outside my research group. But then Residences Support Team encouraged me to come to weekly tea and cake time in my student hall and I met some new friends. Unexpectedly, when I was in a hopeless situation that could not be shared or ask a help from friends of my country and research group, these new friends helped me. They become my best friends until now and helped me not only once. Two of them had graduated and had PhDs, so sometimes they share their experience in dealing with PhD related problems when we are hanging out together.
  4. Don’t hesitate to contact your Director of Graduate School when problems are related to academic.
    In some certain academic cases, you need to meet him/her discussing the best way to solve the problem. Don’t hesitate to meet them before your case becomes very difficult to solve and there is a risk you are failed for your study because of a thing you don’t deserve.
  5. Don’t be ashamed to admit that you are dealing with mental health problems.
    In many cultures, having a mental health problem can be judged as a sin or a crime. But it is about your wellbeing, and it can affect your study. We cannot avoid events that cannot be controlled, and sometimes we do not know how to tackle them. You can tolerate problems to some extent, but in some cases it explodes. Notice yourself when you do a behaviour or two that are not your habit, such as sleeping too much or having insomnia. I experienced these and I knew I had problem couldn’t be solved by myself, so that I was encouraging myself to discuss it and asked a help.
  6. Don’t hesitate to come to Enabling Services.
    They really help you, honestly. You can discuss and get counselling to improve your wellbeing. No one will judge you, they will hear you, and help you to solve your problems. You can contact them every day. Moreover, if you are living within university student halls, there is Residences Support Team that you can meet at night. It’s not only once I had met this team and also the First Support Team in the day. Sometimes you feel a hesitation to tell your problems with your family or friends because they also have problems, and we don’t want to add problems to them. Enabling Services will not reluctant to hear you.
  7. Your GP is helping you for not only physical matters, but also mental situations.
    For one case I was suggested to come to my GP by Enabling Services after I had experienced a panic attack. At some point, your mental problem affects your body. Here the GP helps you to maintain your physical being and direct you to come to the appropriate place such as an advance counselling, a psychiatric practitioner, or a therapy class.
  8. Don’t be afraid and ashamed to take therapies.
    Let alone having a mental health problem, taking a mental therapy can be judged more as a sin or a crime. Just ignore that and encourage yourself for the better situation. You do want to be better and pursue your goals than be dragged on unsolved problem, or even you don’t want to be shoved to do a criminal thing. Discussing it with your GP and/or psychiatric practitioner, you can take a therapy that suits you. It can be a routine counselling, taking medication, or attending a therapy class.
  9. Help your friends that also deal with difficult situations.
    I got helps from many friends, that’s why I also want to forward their helps to my friends. By helping your friends, you also add your experience in coping with problems. Sometimes their problems are harder than yours so you can learn too.
  10. Do activities that can help balancing your wellbeing.
    You can choose what activities that make you calm and relax. I found several activities that help me balancing my wellbeing after a discussion with First Support Team. Attending a yoga class is quite a must to help my body relax. Meeting friends at some point is a must to keep my sanity. I spend a lot of time to work from home now, but of course I cannot stay at my room forever and meet no one to discuss everything we like. I like an adventure. So I spend some of my weekends to visit some places with some friends. And I like photography too, so it is like to kill two birds with one stone. Thank you for the opportunity to join the International Student Digital Ambassador team so that I can learn improving how to take the pictures. So, here are pictures of my several mini adventures around Southampton in these recent months.
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