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If you are one of the 6,000 new students to enter medical school this year - welcome!
It is said that university offers some of the best times of your life and I tend to agree. Yet beneath the brimming excitement for new beginnings, there’s no doubt that many of you are feeling anxious and afraid. Some of you may even, like me, be part of the one in four who suffer from mental illness.
We know that mental ill-health is more frequent in medical students than the general population and yet it is not emphasised enough that a history of mental illness does not have to stop you from becoming a good doctor. With the correct support and treatment, many doctors go on to become even more resilient and understanding healthcare professionals.
Below are my tips for taking better care of your mental health at medical school:
1. Remember - You are here for a reason.
In times of panic and self-doubt it is important to remind yourself of what you have already achieved. You worked hard and your university saw something special in you - you deserve to be here just as much as everyone else.
2. Be honest.
Frequent partying and social events may leave us feeling pressured to appear constantly happy, meaning that being honest with others about how we really feel can be a scary prospect. However you know yourself better than anyone else, so it is important to trust your own judgement when something does not feel right. If you don’t feel okay, let someone know.
3. Self care; self care; self care.
Self care can mean many things, such as taking time out to play sport, learn a new skill or socialise with friends. However it could be as simple as giving yourself a day to do absolutely nothing. Whatever you decide to do, make sure to listen to your body and how you feel, as understanding your needs is one major step towards becoming a more resilient person.
3. Be colleagues; not competitors.
Though mental illness can feel extremely isolating, it is important to remember that we are not alone. Emotions are collective phenomena, meaning we hurt and feel as a society, not simply as individuals. Learning to see your peers not as competition to compare yourself against, but as a source of community and support, will help you cope with the many challenges that you may face in medical school. Remember that we all have our individual strengths and it is impossible to be the best at everything.
4. Help is everywhere.
There are so many services available to you, whether they be within your university or outside it; details of these services can be found here. Be sure to seek help as soon as you can and, very importantly, if you don't find the right help at first - keep trying. There is nothing that cannot be solved through perseverance.
“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” - Hippocrates
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