On the occasion of the #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, it is good to celebrate the hard work of those who understand the struggle and are willing to contribute to the well-being of others.
Ashley Cairns, Vineet Atwal and Laura Jukes are all less than 20 years old, but they have already taken on a great deal of responsibility last year by joining one of Childline‘s Glasgow offices as volunteers. Their involvement is even more significant in the Year of Young People, as it shows that the new generation’s awareness of mental health and sense of empathy are put into practice on a daily basis across Scotland. Among the problems that callers most frequently discuss with them are the feeling of loneliness and stress, on which this year’s campaign focuses; the three volunteers trace them back to social media, bullying and body image issues.
What strikes them the most is the increasing number of young people referring themselves for support during the exam season, when the aspiration to perfection becomes a need. Our generation is fighting to gain a place in an increasingly competitive world, and university seems to be a mandatory step in that selection process. It is no surprise that our minds feel out of energy in front of such a challenge, while other crucial things happen at the same time.
I myself have struggled with anxiety and loneliness since I was 17: after a year and a half of relative quiet from my last anxiety attack, an unexpected break-up triggered off those feelings again. I continued to do well in my assessment and managed to secure a place for an exchange to France, but I did not get any sense of recognition or happiness from it. A daunting exam schedule was waiting for me, but the concentration needed for it had abandoned me once the last in-course essay had been handed in. Complete numbness.
It was by recognising the mental and physical impact that this was having, that I finally decided to ask for help. Talking to my friends and realising they previously went through a similar rough patch was a realisation of how normal it is to feel down even though everything else seems to be fine. They pushed me to book an appointment with the university’s psychological services: I had the chance to put things in perspective thanks to a graduate trainee and find the strength to start behavioural therapy.
Like Ashley, Vineet and Laura, the graduate trainee Gillian used her age as a means to help to open up about my problems, especially because of the sympathy shown for my situation as a full-time student. It allowed me to lower my defences and understand the importance of a support network to rely on. If there is one thing the #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek teaches us, it is that we are all part of this, as listeners and speakers: it is just a matter of embracing both sides.
Need support? Your university’s counselling services are the first port of call:
0141 330 4528
0141 548 3510
0131 650 4170
Words by Lucia Posteraro