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Students and Society: York Student Minds

Emily Mellows talks to York Student Minds about their mental health support during these unusual times

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Image Credit: @YorkStudentMinds via Instagram

The pandemic has proved an incredibly difficult time for societies and clubs to navigate. Some societies have found it trickier than others, especially when their services and work are necessary for so many students. The York branch of Student Minds is one such society who have had to step up rather than wind down during the pandemic, with so many students experiencing loss, relationship breakdowns and dwindling job prospects. Earlier this year, I spoke to society president Laura Burke and vice-president Caitlin Allison to discuss the important work Student Minds York have been doing in the pandemic.

What has your team been getting up to since the pandemic started?

We have been working hard to adapt all of our usual content and events into an online format so that we can continue to support student mental health during this difficult time. We’ve tried to increase and diversify our online content, with one such example being the creation of our newsletter, the aim of which is to provide students with monthly content covering all things mental health, self-care and wellbeing. We hope that the newsletter will help to take our online content beyond just social media so that we can reach even more students.

We have also been working to create lockdown-specific content that responds directly to some of the issues students are facing. As a campaign group we recently created a ‘Guide to Self-Isolation’ which includes a range of activities, resources and recommendations for students who are stuck inside, including indoor workouts for all abilities, recommendations for books, podcasts, mindfulness activities, movies and recipes, as well as mental health resources and fun things to do in the house. We are hoping that this has been able to help students feel a little less alone when stuck inside. We’ve also been running online events, including adapting our Sport and Mental Wellbeing talk into an online format and putting on a mental health blogging workshop with the central charity. We’ve also taken this opportunity to expand our volunteering team and it’s been amazing to have more people involved.

How do you think lockdown has impacted student mental health?

The Government’s latest report on mental health in the pandemic found that 63% of students’ wellbeing has worsened since the beginning of lockdown last year. Students are isolated from their friends and family, with loneliness and anxiety being a common feeling amongst students. University is undoubtedly challenging on student mental health in normal years, with the challenges of homesickness, independence, meeting friends and the academic pressure of university work. On top of that, university students in the pandemic are overwhelmed by having to adjust to online learning, frustrated at the seemingly never-ending restrictions, and often unsupported by university staff and peers at a time when they need support more than ever.

We’re always told that university is meant to be the best three years of our lives, and living through it during lockdown definitely creates a common feeling amongst students that we’re missing out on the opportunities that university provides. This is especially true for first year students, who haven’t had the same opportunities to meet friends and socialise outside of their accommodation. As a result of this, many students’ mental health is worsened by the fear of missing out on these key years, and disappointed builds from being unable to experience “normal university life”.

Additionally, graduating students have missed out on graduations and a chance to say goodbye to the people they have spent the past three years living with, only to enter a challenging job market which has further increased in competitiveness given the pandemic. Alongside the devastating mortality rates from Covid and the physical impact of lockdown, mental health, particularly in young people, has been impacted severely in the past year. We need to do more to support young adults and students, to remind them that it’s OK not to be OK, and that support is always here for them.

What’s your favourite thing about being part of Student Minds?

I have loved everything about being part of York Student Minds, but I think the answer to this has to be the people and the community. Student Minds has given me the opportunity to meet the most incredible people and to come together with the shared goal of making a difference to students at York. I think, as well as the people, I’ve also loved hearing feedback from students who share how Student Minds has helped them to feel alone, and consequently watching the campaign grow and reach more students. It has genuinely been the most incredible, fulfilling thing to see students engage in what we do and to really open that conversation surrounding student mental health.

What’s a common misconception that students have about mental health?

A common misconception that students have about mental health is the perceived feeling that they are the only ones struggling. Students too often isolate themselves when they are struggling and fail to realise that taking care of your mental health is an ongoing challenge that everyone struggles with. I think there is a really damaging misconception that some people have everything together and always seem to be fine, when in reality you never really know what someone is going through and the mental health struggles that they are facing.

I think a really important thing for students to know about mental health is that everyone has their struggles with it, and if you are struggling with your own mental health at the moment, you are absolutely never alone in that. Everyone has their own battles to face and just because you might not be able to physically see someone struggling, it doesn’t mean they aren’t. I think that’s why it’s so important to be proactive in discussing mental health amongst students and opening up a much-needed conversation, because we all struggle with our mental health from time to time, and so we need to be able to support students and to let them know that they are never alone.

If you could say one thing to someone struggling with their mental health, what would it be?

Reach out for help. You are not alone, even when it feels like you are and even when it feels like nothing will help. You are never alone, there is always someone there to listen, there is always a support service that is right for you so please, please don’t suffer in silence. You are worthy of help and it is out there. We have a comprehensive guide of mental health resources available both on and off-campus on our Instagram and website, and always recommend going to the University’s Help and Support page for more information and resources.

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