How To Look After Your Mental Health During Postgraduate Studies
In recent years, students’ mental health is starting to receive the attention it desperately needs. Although undergraduates are often in the limelight, postgraduate students are often largely ignored. A global research study into 2279 (primarily PhD students) postgraduates conducted by Nature Biotechnology in 2018, found postgraduates are 6 times more likely to experience depression and anxiety.
But since then, the pandemic has been the catalyst of mental health. A survey conducted by the National Union of Students (NUS) [article “Over half of students mental health is worse than before the pandemic] found more than 50% of students think their mental health has worsened. universities are ramping up support for all students as the switch to remote teaching has made many experience anxiety and depression. Postgraduate education faces unique challenges, as many have been an isolating experience, they rely on a good relationship with a research superior or tutor.
But it’s not just those who are studying full time who are affected by mental health. It’s argued those who study part-time or juggle education with a work commitment, family relationships, or other adult responsibilities are hit the hardest. The transition can be a huge trigger for mental health problems where the rates of anxiety, depression, disorders, self-harm and suicide are higher.
Now more than ever, students are disclosing their mental illnesses to their universities or professional counsellors. There are reports of mental distress being higher within the student population compared to their non-student peers. Some triggers include bullying, homesickness, money worries, relationship trouble, study workload, and work pressure. With the increased efforts by institutions to cramp down on the issue, postgraduates should be aware of the wealth of support on offer.
As today is World Mental Health Day (10 October 2022), we have put together some tips to help you combat stress and improve your mental health.
What are the early signs?
The first step to accessing help is to admit you or someone you know is struggling. Some of the signs you can look out for include:
- Avoiding certain situations – such as events, social gatherings, being active
- Changes in eating habits and sleeping patterns
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Low mood or increased irritability – feeling tearful, angry, on edge
- New physical symptoms – such as headaches and physical pains which disconnect your mind and body
- Risk-taking or addictive behaviours – such as increasing intake of alcohol, or taking drugs
- Socially withdrawn – becoming more isolated and not looking after yourself
You may not experience all of the above, in fact, you may not experience any at all. This is because there is no simple way of knowing if someone is struggling.
What help is available?
The best place to start is your university’s well-being department. The team can provide a few options to help you get back on track. They can signpost you to appropriate services such as dedicated mental health advisers, drop-in counselling, support groups or mental well-being sessions – some may even provide access to animal therapy sessions. To find out what services they offer, you can contact their student services or look online.
Whilst universities have taken the extra step to take the well-being of their students seriously, more still needs to be done. In time, universities will bring mental well-being into their curriculums to help students better equip themselves with the knowledge and understanding of the importance of self-improvement.
Services you could try outside of university include:
- GP – if you’re worried, your doctor could refer you to appropriate services such as the local council or county mental health services. They can also give you a medical diagnosis and prescribe you medication.
- Charities – There are various organisations such as Mental Health UK, Mind, Rethink, Student Minds, Together, and Young Minds providing excellent advice and support.
- Family & Friends – talking to someone close to you about your struggles can be a huge relief.
If you’re not based in the UK, make sure you do a quick online search on local charities in the country you are currently living in.
What things could you try to help look after your mental health?
There are plenty of things you can do to look after your mental health whilst completing your postgraduate studies. Some things you may try include:
Eating healthily doesn’t have to be expensive, there are many ways to make it cheap. healthy eating doesn’t have to be costly. By creating your own cheap healthy meal, you will feel happier and guilt-free from all those takeaways and quick frozen-oven meals. Head over to BBC foods or similar sites to help you choose your meals for the week – keep it refreshed by alternating meals every week.
Research has shown at least 20-30 minutes of exercise a day can help keep your mood high and live longer. You can help beat deadly diseases and keep yourself happy and in shape. There are a number of different exercise activities you can do – jog outside, join a gym, join a sports club or various other social and sporting activities/events.
Keep your home/room clean
You may have heard this a few times from your parents – “A clean room keeps a clean mind.”
Keeping a clean room removes any distress and stress you may have from that delayed weekly clean. Also, when you invite your friends or a potential partner over, they won’t find you revolting.
Open those windows, let fresh air in and get cleaned.
With the impending deadlines and potential social events, you may become sleep deprived. By not sleeping the recommended eight hours, your body will feel exhausted and mentally unmotivated to challenge the following day. Consider establishing a sleep pattern and stick to it.
Set achievable goals
You should dismiss all the unachievable and impossible goals that were previously set out for you. You need to set your own goals which will challenge you enough to finish. Remember, these goals shouldn’t stretch your body and mind over your potentially limit – as this will cause negative effects.
Don’t take on too much at once
Some people are impressive enough they are able to multi-task all the time. But not everyone is the same, so you should limit yourself to tasks you can finish within a period of time. If you cannot multitask, consider taking one task at a time until you have crossed them all off. By maintaining a balance, you will keep yourself stress-free and content without the fear of failure.
Download helpful apps
The app store has plenty of free apps that one can download to improve their mental health. Some apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Student Health App can help you improve your mood. There are others such as Meetup which aimed to join social groups in your area.
Seek altnerate support
The first step towards improvement is admitting you are struggling. By seeking support early, you can help prevent your health from worsening. If you feel uncomfortable reaching out, you could contact a charity anonymously or contact someone whom you’re close with.
You should consider speaking with your GP as soon as possible as medications can help boost your mood.
Join a club or society
It’s imperative for people to have hobbies and interests – it helps shape our personality. By keeping an active and social life, you should look to join some clubs or societies where you can spend quality time with like-minded people. This can be a great mood booster as it provides a sense of community, friendship, and belonging. In addition, it could help you from feeling down, homesick or lonely.
Keep in touch
Humans are contact and social species, this means we require constant communication or touch with one another. Thus, it’s essential to maintain social connections with people around us, whether it’s family, friends or a community/group. By keeping contact with these, you will always have someone you can rely on and bounce back from, keeping you from falling alone deep in a well.
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This blog is not intended as financial advice. Lendwise does not offer any financial advice. If you are struggling financially, consider speaking to an independent financial advisor or a charity for more information.
This blog is not intended to mirror professional assistance. Lendwise does not offer professional health assistance services. If you are struggling with your mental health, consider speaking to your local GP (or doctors), university counsellor, or charity or refer to a mental health group for more assistance.