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Being a student, friend, partner, sibling, child comes with expectations and responsibilities. One must balance classes while trying find community, remain connected with family and friends, and seek career opportunities. It is a lot of work to navigate the different aspects of your life. It is common to experience occasional setbacks in these, or other areas of your life. The key to living a balanced life is prioritizing your happiness and wellbeing at all times.
Mental health is a key component of our overall wellbeing. It involves our social, emotional and psychological wellbeing, as such it influences how we act, think and feel. Everyone’s mental health journeys is unique but there is power in learning about each other’s struggles as we navigate our own.
“I wasn’t motivated to attend class or school. I wanted to isolate from friends. I didn’t know exactly what was happening but I knew there was something wrong. One day, I broke down in my doctor’s office. He referred me to a mental health hospital but I was hesitant to go. I struggled to see why it was necessary. “That’s extreme,” I thought, but he didn’t budge. With the support of friends and a trusted adult from my university, I agreed to go to the hospital.
I found out through therapy that this breakdown was a result of past experiences I hadn’t healed from. While I thought I was coping fine, it bubbled over when my mind and body couldn’t handle the stress anymore.
I realized that accepting myself meant accepting all aspects of me, including my mental health challenge. I have to learn to forgive myself for holding unto these hurts. I felt empowered when I could name my condition because it gave me control and the tools to handle my condition. Now, I know my external triggers and communicate my needs to the people in my life. And more importantly, I am pushing myself to ask for and accept help when it is offered because I cannot do everything alone. – Final year student
I am direct and passionate when I speak (I credit the Nigerian and Lagosian in me), yet I have always been liked by everybody. I came to university expecting to get along with everyone here too. Imagine the cultural shock when I butted heads with others because of differences in our communication styles. People would say things and I wouldn’t hear them, or I’d say something and they would hear a completely different thing. In class and beyond, I was spending a lot of time explaining why I speak the way I do. I lost one too many friends because they mistook my passion for meanness. The heartache was a lot to deal with. At some point I questioned if there was anything wrong with my upbringing. I found validation from my ALA friends and other international students. They were very helpful in me realizing that being authentically me is ok. I also found journaling useful as I could write down my feelings and freely express my emotions. Fikemi, final year student
I became my family’s breadwinner when I got to university. There was so much pressure coming from them. Sometime last year, I began questioning my existence. That’s when I realized I wasn’t doing well mentally. I felt like there was no one I could talk to, so I kept everything to myself. I was reluctant to see a counsellor for fear of judgement. Someone put in an anonymous referral for me so one reached out. Group therapy was very helpful in allowing me to appreciate the importance of mental health. I realized doing well in school required me to prioritize my mental health. One of the hardest things I had to do was putting myself first even when it meant distancing myself from my family during certain periods. For me to be there for them, I need to first be there for me. – Third year student
Our mental health can change over time so it is important to recognize the triggers and signs and understand how they can play out. Common mental health conditions include:
- Depression: Mood disorder that affects how you feel, think and deal with daily activities.
- Anxiety: Persistent worry that does not go away and interferes with your daily life.
- Eating disorder: Disruption in eating habits and related emotions and thoughts.
- Suicidal ideation: The intent to harm yourself.
- Substance abuse: An unhealthy relationship with stimulants, such as drugs and/or alcohol.
These and other mental health challenges affect students’ concentration and ability to handle the demands of school, their energy, confidence and how they relate and socialize with others. When you see any of these signs in your life or in that of a friend or family, reach out for help. There are different support structures available to you, so there is no reason to isolate and struggle alone. Even when you are not sure whether what you are experiencing requires assistance, still reach out. It is always better to ask for support and not need it versus remaining silent when you in fact need help.
This is not an exhaustive list but a good place to start when seeking help will be:
- Within ALA: University Support, in-person and virtual Peer Supporters, and other trusted members of the community such as former advisors, friends, etc.
- Outside ALA: Student support offices (such as counselling service, academic advisors, International Student Office, medical professionals), trusted professors and faculty members, faith-based groups, mentors, etc.
There is a lot students can do regularly to take care of their mental health:
Take care of your body through eating well, regular exercising, getting enough sleep.
Feel your emotions: Prioritize alone time to reflect and process what is happening in your life.
Do things you enjoy, be it taking walks or dancing in your room.
Find community and actively engage with them.
Create boundaries to filter who/what energy you let into your life.
Be kind to yourself. Do not add more pressure to what you have going on.
It is important to acknowledge that no student is the same, so invest time in educating yourself on mental health and more importantly how it relates to you specifically. You can do this by identifying if you have any symptoms, seeking out the appropriate help when needed, and committing to a routine which brings you joy and fulfilment.