Leaving home for the first time and embarking on your journey to university can be incredibly challenging in itself. However, medicine in particular is a long and demanding course, and the competition it often breeds can put your physical and mental health at risk. Here are my tips on looking after your mental health whilst at university.
Eat well. This may seem obvious, but you’ll feel better if you’re well fed! So, if there’s one thing you should learn before starting university, learn to cook.
Sleep well. More often than not, sleep takes a backseat as socialising, all-nighters and exam cramming become all too common amongst medical students. Maintaining a good sleeping pattern, however, is paramount in maintaining your physical and mental health, so try not to undermine it.
Exercise. If you did a sport before medical school, try to keep it up at university, and if you have never taken up a sport before, consider joining a society as exercise will help keep you in shape both physically and mentally.
In order to look after your mental health, you need to be able to recognise the signs.
Just like any other medical condition, mental health problems require medical attention. Take your friends seriously if they ever raise a concern and remember that mental health problems can take many shapes and forms, from addiction to eating disorders, making them harder to recognise.
Medical students and doctors are notorious for not seeking medical help, particularly for mental health. This is partly due to the mental health stigma within the NHS, the fear that disclosing such issues may put your studies or future career at risk, or the misconception that mental health is a sign of weakness.
But mental health problems are incredibly common, particularly within the medical community. Remember that you are not alone, and the earlier you can seek help the better. All universities offer student support services and all students should have access to a student support advisor.
You may also wish to seek advice from your own GP, the university’s anonymous helpline or your peers.
Unlike students from other courses, medical students are in the unique situation that they work within the medical profession. Particularly in smaller medical schools, it isn’t impossible that you may know your GP from your placement or lectures, and this can put people off from seeking help.
However, the GMC explicitly states that “doctors in the medical school must not be responsible for the clinical care of individual students, and any treatment that students receive must be managed separately from the medical school.” So do not be afraid to seek help from your university’s student support who should then direct you appropriately.
With the appropriate support, there is absolutely no reason why you should not be successful at medical school. I personally know medical students who have dealt with serious mental health problems during their studies and have proceeded to pass all their exams with flying colours and get their first choice of job.
Some of these tips may seem obvious, but they are easily overlooked. Simple steps to keeping generally healthy will help look after your physical as well as your mental health. Remember that if you are dealing with mental health problems, you are not alone, so speak up sooner rather than later. There’s more help available out there than you may expect!
Words: Natalia Kyrtata
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