Monday, 9 March 2015

Because to 'pull yourself together' is not a remedy

As someone who has faced mental health problems at university, and also spoken to other students, one often-given piece of advice in a university environment is ‘pull yourself together.’ The sad statement itself is metaphorical – ultimately revealing the lack of reality with which mental health is still regarded in many circles.
How can someone pull themselves together when they are struggling for a conception of what the ‘self’ is at all?

University is often advocated as a place where everything is ‘made’ – friends, an outlook, a future. Yet what is not as well publicised is the discussion that this is not a reality for many people. University is filled with its own obstacles – unfamiliarity, an array of new people, moving away from home.  In these circumstances alone it could be difficult to know what to ‘pull together’ to feel complete, so to speak.
Yet ‘pull yourself together’ is so often doled out as a recommendation, as conceptually it seems pragmatic, active.  Yet in reality, the phrase makes little sense.  In fact, how can you pull yourself together, when so much seems to be based on taking problems, situations, even your thought processes, apart? Ultimately, university is evaluated on the output of your mind. It offers promise for every individual, but also can be hugely frightening. (Editor’s comment - Student debt can also pray on the mind - £27k upper limit etc..)

Evaluation of the mind. It seems almost a cruel phrase in its singularity. But it does not have to be. That is why I am passionate about encouraging ‘evaluation of the mind’ in every sense, whether at university or not – starting with talking about it.

Having been to university myself, I was aware of growing support groups, often for specific mental health issues – such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders. These in themselves were very significant and doing great work,  but where I think more focus is needed is at the most basic level; encouraging people to talk about their minds, without any particular definition.  I myself, although suffering from depression, before talking to my GP, found the concept of attending a group designated from sufferers of ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’, a difficult concept – I was half in denial, then feared that other attendees would be much more in need of help than I was. I was terrified of what I believed to be ‘wasting time’ – both other peoples and my own.

Time is such a significant factor. Not that I have more time to reflect myself, what I have learned is actually the importance in taking those necessary minutes to think about the mind, to talk about it. This means discussion of feelings, attitudes etc. What might sit at the edge of your thoughts and upset you, worry you etc. This is what the “Time to talk” Campaign in February emphasized. And there is hope for this to continue.

That is why I want to take action and advocate ‘pulling together’ in a new light – bringing conversations about the mind, and how we look after it, to the table. From talking about worries and fears to relaxation techniques, it is time to emphasize the importance of openness rather than a closed conduct.
We need to pull stigma apart, and pull conversation together.

Writer: Emily Oldfield - currently on leave from university. @EmilyvOldfield

Editor: Scott Waple -Mental Health campaigner & long-time mental health sufferer.  His blog is accessible at or visit his Twitter at @ScottMHC14

This is the first of what we hope to be many joint posts in terms of promoting an awareness of mental health. We were brought together creatively by discussing and raising awareness and want to show others that  through openness and honesty, there is the possibility for so much connection.

Comments? Ideas? Something you would particularly like to see discussed or discuss yourself with us, potentially part of a blog post? Help us to build a positive project, do comment below :)

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