The theme of the 2018 University Mental Health Day – a national campaign supporting the mental health of people who live, work and study in Higher Education settings - is community. So we asked our supportive community of students and alumni what advice they’d give to those studying with mental health issues.
The OU has more students who tell us about their mental health issues than any other university in the UK. From talking to your tutor to binge studying on the good days, from planning your day to embracing even the smallest achievement, here’s some sage advice from those who’ve been there...
1) It’s good to talk
After graduating with a BA Hons with distinction and then an MA, this student says: “Be honest with your course mates and talk to your tutor. The great thing about the OU is that nearly everyone has baggage - whether they've felt trapped by work or family or just haven't had the confidence to do something new. It might be distance learning but it certainly isn't distant.”
Keep comms open with your tutor and student support team, there is so much support available! In the two years I’ve studied with the OU I’ve received more support than my 13 years of schooling! It’s not easy but it can be done!
“The tutors are so good and listen and help every step of the way! Talk to them and keep them updated, they are there to help!”
“Don’t be afraid to ask for extensions from your tutor. They were so supportive and helped me through my five years of study, while managing mental health issues. Keep going. You can do this. I got my BA and even eventually braved the degree ceremony after several deferrals due to anxiety. Amazing.”
2) Celebrate the small wins
“I have an achievement log and each day I write down the date and something I've achieved. Some days it could be ‘completed assignment’ and other days it could just be ‘read through notes for 10 minutes’. It helps me feel good about my progress on the tough days and it helps to keep me motivated.”
Another student adds: “My advice - having been there - is to strip everything back and focus on your basic care, and try to find the enjoyment in the little things rather than seeing things as a chore. Enjoy that hot shower that you don’t feel like taking. Enjoy the way your hair feels after you brush it. Be kind to yourself and, if you are having a tough day, go with it and let yourself feel a little bit down. You’ve got this.”
3) Take it one step at a time
Don’t see study as a marathon, says student Katrina. Break it down into a series of short runs…
“Take one module at a time and take it one assessment at a time; bite size chunks will help avoid being overwhelmed by the whole. Talk to your tutor when having difficulties. If your employer is sponsoring your course, ask if they can help with extra time to study. Keep seeing your doctor. I am doing really well with it despite my illness due to the support of my tutors, my doctor and my work. Over half way there. Staying strong. Will be so worth it in the end.”
Another student added: “Break down tasks and schedule rests, don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t do as much as you planned to, be flexible about the order you do tasks in sometimes you need to watch the videos instead of doing the reading that day.”
4) Utilise the good days
A common theme from current students is getting ahead – or binge studying - on the good days so bad ones don’t make such an impact on your overall study:
I try to get ahead on my good days so if a week comes by when I can’t pick up my books it doesn't hit my studies as hard as it could.
“Don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t achieve much on a particular day. Anxiety makes me procrastinate so I know I’ll catch up on a better day. Whatever you achieve is a bonus and the OU provides so much help to get you through.”
5) Be proud of your achievements
“Be proud of every step you take. I now find that my OU study has actually become my saviour as it makes me concentrate and home in on one thing. For me and my particular kind of anxiety this helps greatly. But whatever your issues, be very proud of every achievement.”
6) Make a plan
Having spent much of the past three years on a psychiatric ward, this student knows first-hand the value of studying with mental health issues, and how to cope:
“My tips are to make a daily schedule and put everything in it, breakfast, lunch, dinner, school runs, exercise, study, housework, absolutely everything and run your day to that schedule. If you start to fall behind get straight on to your tutor, mine have been a massive support. Don’t feel you need to do more than one module at a time, it’s not a competition, you need to do what is right for you. Maybe look up some self-soothing such as mindfulness or meditation. Top tip, enjoy it, embrace the experience and remember having a mental illness is something you have, not something you are.”
So you’ve planned throughout your studies, but what happens when they come to an end and you start to miss them? Make another plan, says this student, who’s been there:
“Plan for when you finish. At the beginning of your final year make a plan for when you have completed your studies. I had a massive gap in my life which I used to fill with studying, then suddenly it was gone. I have been using OpenLearn courses to help transition out of things. I honestly had no idea how much of my time was used up when I was doing my degree, especially my last year, and really struggled when it was just gone!”
Or you could come back for more…
“After completing an open degree with mental health issues and a learning disability on top of personal problems, volunteering commitments, a family and a house, I can honestly say that the OU is great at supporting students! So much so that I'm now on my second Open University degree!”
7) Have faith in your abilities
“My studies have helped to focus my attention on something more positive than my chronic anxiety and panic disorder. It's given me back my drive and ambition. I can't speak highly enough of my current tutors. To all potential students of the OU suffering from mental health issues, just have faith in your abilities and the proven excellence of a world renowned university.”
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