Being at school or college can be a huge challenge for those with a mental health issue as well as for those without. To put it into context, according to the Mental Health Foundation in the UK 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year, 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 rising to 75% by age 24. 10% of children and young people aged 5-16 years have a clinically diagnosable mental health issue yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.
Even though we all have mental health in the same way we have physical health, it is not something that we learn about in school or talk about in our day to day lives. If you are struggling with mental health issues you are not alone! You might feel like you are the only one, but I guarantee you that there are others. Don’t be afraid to speak up and reach out. Here are some things that I think might help you cope during the school year.
Check in with yourself
Ask yourself how you are feeling, if you are eating well, doing enough exercise, meeting up with friends, getting out of the house and sleeping enough.
Give yourself mental health days
It’s perfectly acceptable to take days off when you aren’t feeling mentally strong enough, just like you would when you aren’t feeling physically well. There is no shame in admitting you need a break. It is good to take some time out every once in a while, to recharge your batteries and take some time for yourself. You know yourself better than anyone but be careful of not falling into the trap of staying home. It’s important to find a balance between knowing when to push yourself and when not to.
Keep up your hobbies
Think of what you enjoyed doing as a child or try something new. We all have a talent or something we enjoy doing. It can be overwhelming trying something new, especially if you are anxious or a perfectionist so maybe start with something you can do at home like knitting or sewing. Joining a club is also a great way to get to know people and have support from others.
Try and do some exercise every week
You don’t have to become the next world-class athlete but even a brisk walk, trampolining, dancing around your room to your favourite songs or playing catch with younger family members/neighbours counts. This might seem daunting at first but remember that some exercise is better than none and try not to fall into the black and white thinking trap of having to be perfect.
The 10-minute rule
If when you wake up you know it’s going to be a bad day and you can’t face getting up (not just the usual Monday blues) relax and tell yourself that you’ll get up for 10 minutes. If it seems impossible to face the day and you don’t know how you will cope tell yourself that once you get up you can go back to bed in 10 minutes. Get up, get dressed, brush your teeth, have breakfast. Try and get into your normal routine and hopefully after 10 minutes you will feel better able to face the day. This trick also works for going for a run where you tell yourself you can turn back after 10 minutes or tidying your room or studying. Even if you only manage 10 minutes, this is still a huge achievement and you can always try another 10 minutes again later in the day.
Alcohol and drugs are not your friends
I am aware of the huge peer pressure linked with alcohol or drugs and going out but know you don’t have to take these. For me, I know alcohol makes me feel worse the next day even if in the moment it might lessen the social anxiety and make it easier to feel carefree. This year, I have decided not to drink on nights out and I have even found others who are joining me in not drinking. I know it sounds clichéd, but you can have fun without alcohol.The peace of mind knowing I’m not damaging my mental or physical health makes it worth it.
Let someone know
Talk to your year head, course coordinator, tutor, teacher, the administration whoever it may be. It is easier if you tell them so that they can put the necessary supports in place or even just so you have a place to go if you need some space and a time out during the day. There is no shame in admitting you have a mental health problem. You are allowed to do whatever makes it easiest for you to get through the day.
Whatever happens, there is no need to feel alone. What you are going through is normal and happens to lots of people. Whatever you are experiencing is ok. We all feel sad, lonely, angry, upset, numb at some point or other even if we don’t talk about it and our social media feeds show us that everyone around us seems to have the “perfect” life. Finally, not all health professionals are understanding and validating so keep going until you find someone who listens and understands. You are deserving of help and support and you don’t have to fight this alone. Last but not least, it’s the little things that count so do your best to help yourself and those around you who might be struggling.
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