This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week (14th – 20th May). The focus this year is understanding stress, and the impacts that it can have on the lives of those dealing with it. Stress can induce insomnia, loss of appetite, lack of concentration, and lead to many other damaging side effects that will almost definitely be a detriment to the potential of all students during this already hectic exam period.

Mental health has always been something that we need to be paying more attention to. The lack of education on mental health and well-being in schools makes awareness weeks, and similar events like this fundamental to our understanding of these issues.

Most of us will have seen friends, relatives or colleagues go through the torture that is a mental illness, which makes it ever more important to allay the stereotypes and stigmas surrounding it. Mental health can effect anyone, in a number of different ways. Even those who seem happy and content on the outside. Their personalities can disappear leaving a shell with no desire to step out of their comfort zone or go out. Slowing ebbing away at the person, a mental illness leaves an existence, a silhouette of the life that someone once had.

Watching someone suffer can be almost as difficult as the person dealing with this illness. Knowing how to approach such a challenging situation is what many people don’t really feel comfortable doing. However, nobody should feel ashamed for needing to talk about how they are feeling, just because a professional has put a label on their symptoms.  Particularly amongst students, mental health issues are on the rise, yet many of these students are not confident enough to talk about what they are going through.

The BBC released the figure that 1 in 4 students have openly admitted to struggling with stress during their university experiences. Over a 210% increase of students were reported to have dropped out of university, as a result of a mental health illness, and suicide rates have almost doubled in the past 10 years, in the student population. It is more important than ever to learn about, talk about and understand this invisible illness, to prevent the next student from feeling so alone and unable to cope that they are forced to run away from their potential.

Talking about the things that are going on in your personal life can seem scary, daunting, embarrassing even, but there are people there to help. It sounds cliché to say: “a problem shared is a problem halved”, but it’s not far from the truth. The first steps in dealing with any problem, and particularly mental health issues, are accepting and acknowledging that there is an issue that needs dealing with.

If you see a friend beginning to shy away from a change in their behaviour, don’t be scared, let them know that you are there for them. Support is one of the most reassuring things for someone suffering with a mental illness. Knowing that someone is there for you, regardless, can help that person to open up, or face the demons that are causing them such distress.

So, this week, and every week from now, let your guard down; tell someone how you are feeling if you’re feeling lost. Let someone know if you’re getting stressed over your exams. Talk about your anxieties, food restriction, feelings of loneliness and stress.  Don’t suffer alone and in silence; someone is always there, and this difficult period will pass.

For more help, advice and information, please see the following places for support: