Looking after yourself at university

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Loughborough University Mental Health Service Interview with Dan Doran- extended version; original published in our Label Freshers’ Special Issue. 

Katie Wilson caught up with Loughborough University’s Mhst Mental Health Co-Ordinator, Dan Doran to find out a bit more about staying healthy at university and where the best places are to seek help from. 

What does the Mhst do?

Dan: The Mental Health Support Team is here specifically to support students who experience mental health difficulties, and provide advice and information on mental health issues. We firmly believe that there is a great deal that people can do to take control over their difficulties and the impact they may be having on their studies. We have a practical focus so, in collaboration with each student, we work out what arrangements, resources or strategies could be developed to assist with their difficulties. With a student’s permission, we liaise to ensure such support is in place. We are well known across campus and integrate with academic departments, student services and other local services. When you experience mental health difficulties, you are often encouraged to use talking therapy, counselling or medication, so this may be a new approach for some people.

How can people make an appointment if they would like to see someone? 

Dan: You can self-refer, no problem. The easiest way is using our online booking form (www.lboro.ac.uk/mentalhealth), emailing mhst@lboro.ac.uk or telephoning 01509-222780. It would be helpful to know why you’re contacting us or how you feel we can help, but we understand you may not feel confident doing so until you’ve met one of the team.

How quick, usually, would someone be seen?

Dan: Usually you can expect to see someone for a first appointment within 2 weeks, but we may be able to see you quicker than that at certain times of year. I would suggest contacting us in the knowledge that we will get back to you. The first appointment with us can be extremely helpful – we listen, non-judgementally, and will work out with you what options there are to help. Together, we will work out a plan.

Where are you situated on campus? 

Dan: We’re based in the Bridgeman Building, right in the middle of campus, not far from the Medical Centre. This is where a lot of student services are based, like Student Advice, Careers and Employability, Disability Office and Counselling. As well as the online, email or telephone means of getting in touch, you can drop by the front desk in the Bridgeman Building to book a first appointment too.

*Further information* – What are the best ways of approaching mental health issues when coming to university? Should they let their tutors know straight away? What about their flat mates?

Dan: There is no right way or wrong way really; there’s a way that works well for each person, and at different times. Some people are forthcoming about their difficulties, others wish to maintain privacy for a number of reasons. However, if you are experiencing difficulties, please don’t suffer in silence – there are a number of people or services that can help. Who you have a discussion with also depends on what’s going on for you and what you would want the person you are speaking to do. For example, a hall warden or tutor is not going to be able to offer the type of advice and help that you get from a doctor (and vice versa). With regards letting tutors or flat mates know; again, this is a personal decision, and you may wish to wait until you know them reasonably well. If you need a confidential discussion on disclosing, it is worthwhile meeting with the Team. We understand that disclosing can be an empowering thing to do, but not everyone may feel this way.

*Additional question* -Are there any other groups in Loughborough who students can talk to/ get involved with for help on health issues?

Dan: Yes, there are local counselling and therapy services (such as the University Counselling Service and NHS Let’s Talk Wellbeing), as well as specialist eating disorder services and community mental health teams. There are also lots of local services available in Leicestershire; you can find these using the LAMPDirect website (www.lampdirect.org.uk).

In terms of getting involved, you already are! By being there for friends; by acknowledging the struggles that people may be going through and valuing them; by creating opportunities to connect with one another, being active and compassionate! Looking after your mental health is essential too, so ensuring you are educated on the issues is important, so sign up to mental health groups.

You may be especially interested to know that there is a Lboro student-led, mental health campaigning and social group too, called HeadsUp. The MHST helped establish HeadsUp a few years ago, and it is now a thriving committee and volunteering presence on campus, with a programme of events through the year including Uni Mental Health Day in Semester 2. If you have some ideas for local campaigns or for Uni Mental Health Day, get in touch! Together, the MHST and HeadsUp also run the Mental Health Forum, which is an opportunity for anyone interested in the mental health of students to attend and contribute to future campaigns. The MHST and HeadsUp are both on Facebook and Twitter, and these are the best ways of staying in touch and up-to-date on the issues.

Can you share with us a couple of ways to overcome nerves or anxiety, for instance, as a fresher, about to experience lots of new things over the next few weeks and months?  

Dan: There’s a few things to bear in mind:

1) Everyone is different, and for Freshers, everyone will be trying to find their feet and establish a social network. Play it calmly and coolly in forming relationships in the first few weeks.

2) Try not to compare yourself with others and ensure you are doing what feels right for you, including taking time out to rest. Seek out groups of people with similar interests as you, and expect that diverse interests are exactly what Universities are about. The union’s clubs and societies cater for most things, and not all of them involve drinking.

3) Challenge the idea of an ideal University life – there isn’t one. (Ok, as a member of staff I’m probably obliged to say Lboro Uni is!) Similarly, you don’t have to be “ideal”; in fact, people are more comfortable and accepting around those who acknowledge their own imperfections. Don’t have really high expectations that you’ll be getting things right all the time or straight away.

4) If things aren’t working out, and you’re beginning to struggle, or your old ways of coping with a mental health difficulty aren’t working well, seek some advice.

Can you give us 3 simple tips on staying healthy at university?

Dan:

1) Physically: Eat, sleep, take some exercise, and be safe.

2) Get a balance to your work-social life-rest. Planning can help you stay on top of commitments and identify where pressure points may be, especially academically, but do leave slack in a plan for the unexpected.

3) Do your own thing, but also allow yourself to try new things – these may bring unanticipated and positive experiences.

Many thanks to Dan Doran, Mental Health Co-Ordinator for the interview and tips.

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About Author

This is Katie's third year involved with LSU Media. Last year she was Label Features Editor and LSU Media Head of News (Content Coordinator). As Label Editor, Katie sits on Senate and also plans on increasing Label's readership, quality and connections with the other sections of LSU Media. Katie was awarded three LSU Media awards at the end of last year for her work with Label, Features and News.

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