• Molly van der Heiden

What does mental health mean to you? Answered by Male Bristol Medical students

We asked male Bristol medical students to tell us what mental health means to them. We have included a small selection of these quotes below:

Mental health is something of an enigma for me at times. When I'm struggling I don't always realise the impact it has on the rest of my day to day until I really think about it. This is where talking has been so important for me, I've found opening up and externally processing the lows gives me a perspective. You don't always need someone to give you a solution (they usually can't), you just need them to listen. The bottom of the valley never provides the clearest view - Matt Haig. Cliché but true

For me mental health is really scary. I don’t know when it could hit me or any one of the people close to me. It’s so scary because if it does hit, the stigma and lack of good service provision nationally make this a really challenging issue to deal with. That’s why I think prevention is so key - being aware of your own mental health and what your warning signs are, having a release mechanism, a support network and a crisis plan. I’ve lost too many people personally to not live these techniques in my life.

Whilst I have been lucky enough to have had pretty good mental health all my life, I have often noticed that I have handled situations better or worse depending on how I have felt the previous few days. Whilst some of this is inevitably circumstantial I have also found ways within my control to try and influence this. I often wonder if one of my friends approached me who was having a more serious dip in their mental health, such as depression, I feel like I would struggle to be able to advise them or know what to say without sounding condescending through lack of understanding of what they were going through. It also makes me wonder if I had a bad dip in my mental health, who would I feel most comfortable talking to about it. Since we don’t really talk about mental health amongst each other I don’t really know who has or hasn’t experienced it and so who would be better to go to for advice or guidance from previous experience.

Mental health is more important than we realise and usually gets neglected over our physical health. It is often overlooked and a difficult issue to handle, I feel like similar to our physical health it is a personal journey of understanding ourselves and something our future selves would thank us for.

I recently realised that mental health means a lot more to me and has a larger impact on me than I previously thought. It is a part of my health that I am prone to overlooking even though it has such a large impact on how we live our lives. It effects my ability to have a productive day of studying, it also can impact how well I can have a good time and chill with my friends. Since realising this I am trying to devote more time and effort to understanding, looking after and speaking about my mental health.

As a man, I’m acutely aware of the stigma surrounding mental health, and as someone who is Black, I’m also mindful of the traditional cultural norms, which can both act as barriers to seeking help. Nonetheless, my awareness has transformed me into someone who is now more conscious of their emotions and responds to them positively to maintain my wellbeing. Men need to have safe spaces with other men where they can speak healthily about their problems, and I have found that with the ‘Black Men Talk’ scheme that is run by the BME Success programme at the University of Bristol. These are sessions where you converse with other Black men at the University (a minority) and talk about any issues you've had in a comfortable setting while also practising mental wellbeing techniques. This has been a conducive environment that has fostered introspection and has made me realise that 'it is okay to feel down sometimes.' Apart from that, speaking and listening to friends is another way I look after my mental wellbeing and that of others. It's vital to listen but also be heedful of what other people may be going through.

To me mental health means your ability to understand and process your emotions in a personal way. I think the fact it means something different to everyone can make it difficult to express and communicate sometimes.

When we refer to physical health, there are literally countless numbers of health issues we talk about. but mental health is often thought of as one thing and the term is used in such a vague way. mental health is so much more than just depression and anxiety and to me is any issue that someone faces within them that prevents them from coping with the challenges of everyday life and being the best version of themself.

This past year has made me think about mental health more than at any other time in my life - both that of my own and those around me. There’s been times when I’ve been feeling low and haven’t opened up to my friends or family, usually due to the fact that I perceive my circumstances and hardships to be ‘nothing’ compared to other people’s and I have no right to be feeling this way. In reality, everything matters and different things affect different people to varying degrees. You shouldn’t feel like your concerns are invalid and don’t count, because trust me, they do; no matter how small. So - let’s talk about it.

As someone who had never struggled with their mental health, I found mine put to the test when I was involved in an accident that left me permanently physically disabled. With long days spent watching the world go by from my hospital bed, for months I struggled with ideas of not being “enough” or “normal” anymore. My mental resilience and ability to get through what had happened to me was what saved my life – and I attribute that almost entirely to the people around me that encouraged me to talk. We, as men, are made to feel as though we aren’t meant to struggle, that everything should always be okay. But things are never always okay, and it is important to talk about that. We, as humans, are not made to suffer in silence, even if we feel as though our burdens are ours to carry alone. We can’t give people our struggles to deal with, but we can share the load so that it doesn’t feel so heavy: so that we don’t feel so alone. If you sense that someone you know is struggling, ask them if everything is okay – it might be weird, you might feel awkward, but you might save a life.

Mental health is important to me because it determines how I feel about everything. My health and my life seems entangled with how I feel about it, every thought and emotion. So I wouldn’t call it meditation but I try to pause in the evening, have a think about the day and look inwards before moving onwards to the next day.