A few weeks ago, I attended the mental health first aid (MHFA) training day (see Molly’s post), a one-day training course available to all King’s College London staff. The course is designed to foster discussion about spotting and supporting mental health issues in peers and colleagues. However, what the course really made me reflect upon, was my own well-being, and all the ways in which King’s and the KCLSU support their students.
For me, the MHFA course was really effective in highlighting just how much of a major transition moving to university is in a young adult’s life. Changes to support networks, lifestyle, and growing into new roles and responsibilities can all combine and impact a young person’s mental well-being. As such, it may be unsurprising that the typical ages young people attend university (18-21) also coincide with the reported age-of-onset distributions for major DSM-IV disorders, including anxiety and mood disorders, with three quarters of all lifetime cases starting by age 24 years (Kessler et al. 2005).
“Like other students finding themselves in an academic workplace environment for the first time, I find that there are many challenges to be faced”
A couple of years ago, I left home to study at university. I am now midway through my degree, working on a placement year as a member of the EDITlab research team. Like other students finding themselves in an academic workplace environment for the first time, I find that there are many challenges to be faced, such as making effort with new circles of friends, adapting to a new city, and striving to accomplish your best as a student.
I am sure we have all been lectured with the ways in which we should be supporting ourselves both physically and mentally. The MHFA course highlighted to me how to make small changes to our daily routines, and how beneficial such small changes can be.
How does King’s and the KCLSU support well-being?
We all know that exercise improves physical well-being, but how does it support mental health? How can students stay active on a budget?
Penedo and Dahn (2005) highlight a number of studies, providing a clinically documented effect of physical activity on a number of mental health outcomes, including a better quality of life, functional capacity and better mood states. While many of the studies they discuss may be limited by factors including small sample size, limited post-intervention follow ups, and highly variable exercise components, these findings do seem to support the notion that exercise can improve emotional well-being.
“The MHFA course highlighted to me how to make small changes to our daily routines, and how beneficial such small changes can be.”
For £15 for 15 weeks, the King’s Sport BeActive Programme is a great way to get involved in different social sports, available to all King’s students, regardless of ability. This programme offers members a chance to join a variety of recreational and non-competitive classes, including yoga, table tennis, and swimming, all of which are located close to each campus. In addition, the Active Wellness Scheme is designed to support the King’s community who suffer with mental or physical health issues, to help improve both experience and skills in the gym, improving overall well-being.
Yoga classes are a great way to improve mental as well as physical well-being. These are offered through the BeActive programme close to the Denmark Hill campus on a Tuesday and Thursday at the Western Education Centre. For those feeling skeptical, there is some (limited) emerging evidence about the benefits of yoga. For example, in one randomised clinical trial, an 8-week yoga intervention resulted in improved working memory task performance, compared to a stretching-only control group (Gothe et al. 2016).
One of the best ways to manage your well-being is to invest in healthy peer relationships. It’s important to have a safe space to discuss problems. The KCLSU support open conversations through a series of workshops available on SkillsForge. This includes ‘dealing with relational conflict,’ ‘Look after your mate’ (supporting others experiencing mental health difficulties), and interactive mindfulness workshops, teaching mindfulness ideas and techniques.
As a student, I definitely find comfort in both exercise and friends to deal with a sometimes overwhelming sense of stress. However, it is important to note that if you ever feel this becomes unmanageable, or an issue which needs medical attention, that both the counselling service at Kings, or your local GP should be informed, so that professional help can be sought.
With all this in mind, I am hopeful that though the rest of my degree and graduation seems rather out of reach, that we too can get through to achieving our goals, whilst maintaining positive mental well-being.
Gothe, N. P., Keswani, R. K., & McAuley, E. (2016). Yoga practice improves executive function by attenuating stress levels. Biological psychology, 121, 109-116.
Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of general psychiatry, 62(6), 593-602.
Penedo, F. J., & Dahn, J. R. (2005). Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current opinion in psychiatry, 18(2), 189-193.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]