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There’s no need to suffer in silence: how university Mental Health Mentors can help you develop your emotional wellbeing 

There’s no need to suffer in silence: how university Mental Health Mentors can help you develop your emotional wellbeing 

Welcome back to our “Conversations with Experts” series. In this post, Edgar Rodriguez-Dorans discusses the support provided for students by Mental Health Mentors at the University of Edinburgh.     

A narrative of struggling with depression    

Jerome has a long history of depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. To his peers, he seems smiley and ‘in control’, despite his underlying nervousness and restlessness. At times, he’s had dependence of alcohol. He was diagnosed with depression aged 18 but his GP concluded from their discussion he had had the condition a long time. Aged 14, he sometimes felt ‘really, really low’, but he didn’t understand why. He believed he was worthless, and that life wasn’t worth living. He thought that was normal. He has a supportive family, has friends – he’s played sports since being a child and made friends there, some of them are still his friends, he goes to matches across the UK and they have a laugh – and he’s doing a degree he likes, and he’s had jobs, so his life seems fine. His depression seems unjustified. Still, he feels sad, or nothing… numb, empty.

How do Mental Health Mentors help?   

Depression can vary from mild to severe, and at its worst, is incapacitating. It can prevent you from getting out of bed, even when you have things to do and the best intentions to accomplish them. Mental Health Mentors at the Student Disability Service work with you to discuss strategies for dealing with particular mental health issues and we also help you seek further support within the university and beyond. We know that trying to focus on your studies while dealing with mental ill-health is hard. While we take multiple approaches, there are common elements to our work.     

Developing everyday life skills    

It’ll be difficult for someone who’s never had depression to understand that sometimes just having a shower can be the achievement of the day. The support provided by a Mental Health Mentor ranges from helping you identify your resources and developing everyday life skills, to liaising with other professionals when necessary. While initially the session might seem mundane because it centres on eating, drinking, exercising, and sleeping well, for example, you’ll realise this helps build a strong foundation for more sophisticated work, like building study skills, discussing your essays, exams, or talking about your thesis!    

Mental Health Mentoring sessions provide a reflexive space   

Mental health issues affect students in ways that aren’t always evident. It might take a long time to realise you need help. When you first talk with your mentor, perhaps you wonder how these sessions could make any difference. But having the support of a non-judgemental person can be crucial.  

One of the most important realisations you might have throughout the sessions is that mental health issues are real and there shouldn’t be shame or stigma around them; support is required and it’s not a question of ‘putting yourself together’.    

Also, it’s okay to be vulnerable; if you’re used to saying: ‘I’m fine’ and keeping your feelings secret, perhaps you’ll be able to say: ‘I’m not feeling okay’. Talking is important because otherwise nobody knows you’re struggling. Speaking to a professional about it will help you feel liberated. While talking is one of the main mediums we use to address these issues, it’s important to acknowledge that putting these difficult mental states into words can be difficult, so we’re prepared to be patient and support you in the process.   

Get in touch   

Mental Health Mentors support students with all forms of mental illness. If mental ill-health is making your studies a struggle, it’s important to recognise that it isn’t about laziness or lack of will power. These can be serious issues. Get in touch with the Student Disability and Learning Support Service or the Student Counselling Service now.     

Edgar Rodriguez-Dorans is a Mental Health Mentor at the Student Disability Service, where his work centres on people living with chronic conditions. He holds a PhD in Counselling Studies and is interested in the study of creative research methodologies, LGBTQIA+ lives, identities, sexualities, relationships, and the use of arts in research. He has presented his work in Mexico, Spain, Canada, U.K., Malta, France, and New Zealand. 




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