Student-made Wellbeing

Time to Talk: the importance of communication and community

Reading Time: 4 minutes

When dealing with poor mental health and mental illness, it’s so easy to fall into a pattern of reclusion and isolation, but maintaining communication with friends and family is an incredibly useful way of combatting such struggles. Whilst alone time can prompt mental awareness and productivity, it’s important to highlight that open communication is an effective way to cope with problems you may be facing.

Communication helps us to understand and process the world around us, allowing us to build and maintain a wide variety of relationships; a huge source of comfort for many people. A sense of community is formed when we work together in acknowledging that mental struggles are something that we all endure, helping to recognise that mental illness isn’t something to be concealed or stigmatised but rather spoken about and thoroughly acknowledged within society. As someone who suffers with OCD and depression, communication is what has helped me the most in maintaining a good mental state and has helped to clear and organise my thoughts on many occasions. The more we talk, the more it brings us closer together and simultaneously makes us feel understood and more aware of the community of survivors around us.

It is seemingly too easy to feel low or mentally ill right now: with cold, wet wintery weather consuming the days, less sunlight and nights that draw into darkness before five o’clock. This is without the daily struggles that we already face that others aren’t even aware of. But I strongly encourage you to talk to someone if you are feeling down. Communicate with your friends, your partner, your family or anybody significant in your life that you are comfortable with. Most importantly, be honest with yourself. Once you acknowledge that you are struggling, you’ve already overcome the hardest battle in your journey to a better mental state.

The following advice and reminders are derived from my own interactions and relationships with the world as a fellow student that is well-versed in the turmoil of mental illness:

Words of wisdom, affirmations and realities:

  • You have gotten through 100% of your dark days, there’s no reason why you can’t get through this one too – a great thing to remember and one that I remembered getting me through the very first lockdown.
  • You don’t have to be on the verge of a breakdown or feeling your worst to take a break. Enjoy some ‘me-time’, seek help from those around you or go to therapy. Partaking in these things will improve your wellbeing and give your mind the refresh it needs, no matter what the issue is.
  • Talk to someone, anyone! Try to start with your closest person, someone that knows you best – the friends around you have your best interests at heart.

Tips and advice:

  • If you’re not sure how to start a conversation about mental health, the Student Wellbeing Team has devised a handy list of conversation starters besides ‘How are you?’ for you to use.
  • It’s important to point out that just as you might find meaningful and positive relationships and friendships at university, you will also interact with people you dislike or end up disliking. Not everybody is your cup of tea and you’re not everyone’s cup of tea either – and that’s perfectly okay! If you’re struggling, read Dorsa’s advice for bonding with your flatmates, or Archie’s blog on connecting with new people at university.
  • It’s important to always make sure you’re checking in with the person you wish to confide in to see whether they have the capacity to help before you start to speak to them. Remember that everyone is fighting their own battles and there will always be someone else that can help you, so make sure to check first.
  • Tidy and organise your space. This is a massive one that I always use to keep calm. When my space is organised, my mind automatically feels neater and everything seems that bit clearer.
  • Make lists. I don’t know about you, but a big stressor for me is having a mental to-do list that is through the roof as it causes me to overthink and makes the smallest tasks feel unmanageable. When you have a lot to do, write things down and make it easily accessible – whether it be in written format or on your phone – as this creates a pipeline for success. You’ll be able to clearly see your progress, helping your wellbeing stay in check: from thinking about your responsibilities, to noting them down and then marking them off with a big tick once completed.
  • Sort out your sleeping pattern. As university students it’s easy to glamorise staying up late and waking up late as it’s seen as the common and almost correct thing to be doing. This might be perfect for some people but if you struggle with the bad weather and dark nights, I would recommend waking up earlier to get more exposure to daylight and sunlight. Read Cameron’s tips for staying happy in the winter.
  • Journal. You know those days where you can’t stop obsessing over certain thoughts or things that happened during your day? Or even if you’re just trying to process something and it won’t leave your head. Journaling gives you the space to be entirely honest with yourself (which can be incredibly hard). It can help you recognise the positives, constructively acknowledge your own weaknesses and can even help uncover things you hadn’t considered before, offering a way to silence fleeting thoughts and an overcrowded mind or negative patterns.
  • Exercise. I am not referencing physicality or appearance here. Exercise is fantastic for the mind! It releases all the good stuff: endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. With Semester 2 approaching, it is the perfect opportunity to start something new and include it as part of your routine, having a positive impact on your mental health.
  • Read! Depending on your relationship with words and the English language of course, reading is one of the most stabilising and distracting activities to partake in – and takes you away from a screen! You can find a book on absolutely anything your heart desires and there are even ones that focus specifically on mental health (Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, for example).
  • Therapy/counselling. There exists an array of talking therapies that are accessible at the University of Manchester and also on the NHS, as well as private therapies for those who can afford to explore such avenues.
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