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How to Manage your Mental Health at Medical School

For the majority of students, medical school will be one of the toughest mental experiences in their lives. Being at university for so long invites unfortunate events, whether that’s a breakdown in mental health, financial or family problems, health issues or friendship troubles. All of these can contribute towards making medical school a much tougher experience.

Managing your mental health in medical school needs to become a priority. With long hours, overachieving colleagues and large class sizes, it can be easy to feel burnt out, alienated and under achieving.

1. Value your friends

One of the most important things you can do is have a group of friends you can talk to outside of medicine, who remind you that being a doctor is not the be all and end all in the world; that there are wonderful things happening outside of university, and that your identity is not solely around being a medical student.

2. Try a sport

Many medics choose to play a sport as a way to improve their mental health- not only for the exercise but for the camaraderie and friendships playing in a team affords them. Setting aside time to do what you love and get some exercise is a massive part of maintaining good mental health, helping to keep both your body and mind fit.

Whether you choose to play a team sport with your medic team, or you choose to run alone, sport provides a much needed headspace for you to concentrate on what you’re doing and not what is happening in the hospital.

3. It’s okay to ask for help

It can be tempting to believe that as a medical student you are not allowed to feel weak. With everyone around you seemingly managing masses of extra-curriculars as well as being brilliant in lectures and understanding everything, accepting and acknowledging you don’t feel as strong can be difficult. However, what you see around you is false – around 33% of medical students will experience a mental health difficulty whilst still at school, but you’d never guess from looking at them.

4. Speak to your medical school about your mental health

Talking to your GP, your friends, your medical school are all important steps, whether you feel like you’re struggling a little or a lot. Getting help early means the problem is easier to correct and you can spend more time at university enjoying the experience. Your medical school is very much used to looking after students – so use them, and keep trying. You may not find a GP or staff member you feel able to talk to straight away, but there is always someone you’ll be able to chat with, and professionals are used to students trying multiple avenues before finding the one they are comfortable with.

5. Get lots of rest and eat well

Maintaining a good physical health is also important for maintaining a good mental health. Whether that’s making sure you get some good quality sleep as well as partying with your friends, or taking the time out to batch cook healthy meals for the week ahead, planning is important.

Knowing when you’re too tired or run-down to commit to your normal activities is ok – resting is good for you, and will ensure when you do go back into the game, that you’re on top form. Medical students are in the unfortunate situation of having many more contact hours than other university counterparts- so remember to act accordingly!

You might not be able to fit in all the Netflix and partying they manage, but you can fit in some time for exercise, healthy meals and talking to your friends. If it makes you feel good, it’s important you stick to it.

If you don’t feel comfortable with your mental health, there are plenty of spaces for you to work through anything that might be worrying you. Whether that’s talking to an anonymous service specifically for students like Nightline, or looking up the blogs of medical students to see how they cope, there are plenty of choices for you to look after yourself.

Medical school can be one of the most exciting and fun times of your life, so if it isn’t, remember you’re not alone and you deserve to have some help with it. It doesn’t make you weak – it makes you strong for recognising you have an issue and seeking help early.

Words: Katie Hodgkinson

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