Category Archives: student support

Enjoying the roller coaster – how to be a resilient student

This short guide was developed for students in the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, the Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne and the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne. However, it contains advice about building resilience and dealing with mental illness that will be of use to students anywhere.

Like many things in life, including roller-coasters, completing a graduate or postgraduate degree can be both enjoyable and scary. Building resilience means that you will enjoy the highs and protect yourself from over-reacting to, and speeding your recovery from, the lows. Such lows could include:

  • Exams
  • Public speaking
  • Pressure to write reports/theses/papers
  • Pressure to finish within the allotted time
  • Financial stress
  • Loneliness
  • Disagreements with supervisors
  • Issues with work/life balance

  So, how can we build up resilience? There are many different ways in which each of us can build up our resilience. These can be grouped as:

  1. Keeping fit
  2. Eating well
  3. Looking after our mind, emotions and spirit

All three are equally important and overwhelming evidence has shown that the brain and the body influence each other. In addition, there is mounting evidence that all three factors can change your genes for the better. Apart from the links in groups 1 and 2 above, this guide will focus mainly on the third component: the mind   How do I look after my mind? You can look after your mind using a number of different techniques, a few of which are outlined below. Mindfulness is the act of focusing your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is simple to learn and practice, and needs no specialized equipment or mantra. Many workplaces run regular mindfulness sessions and mindfulness resources can be found here. Meditation in a broad sense involves turning the mind and attention inward and focusing on a single thought, image, object or feeling. It can take a number of different forms and may or may not involve mantras. Some workplaces have prayer and meditation spaces that provides a welcoming sanctuary for silence, prayer, contemplation or meditation. Prayer: Yes, praying is another kind of mindfulness or meditation. You can contact your local religious or spiritual centre for more information. Other resources for looking after your mind can be found at Smiling Mind, Beyond Blue and Sane Australia. Recognising the lows A mental illness is a health problem that significantly affects how a person thinks, behaves and interacts with other people. Such illnesses include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders and personality disorders. They are caused by a combination of genetics, stress at home or work, and may be exacerbated by substance use, for example alcohol or drugs. Each year, a quarter of all those of student age (18-24) will experience mental illness and a third of all people in this age group will have had an episode of mental illness by the age of 25. Two-thirds of those with a mental illness do not access any treatment. Over 4 million students, or 5% of the total student population, have terminated their course due to mental illness. You are not alone. Act now. Treatment If you think you have a mental illness, there are a number of ways that can seek help   Immediate help:

  • Pick up the phone and call one of the following:
    • Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636
    • Sane Australia on 1800 18 7263
    • Samaritans on 13 52 47
    • Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14
  • Have a web-based chat or email with one of the following:

Help from those around you Talk to your supervisor, mentor or colleagues. A mentor is s useful contact to set up – ideally they are not connected with your immediate work group and can provide independent advice Speak to your GP: there are a number of Medicare-covered mental health services you can use. See also the Australian Dept. of Health web sites here and here. Seek resources from within your place of work. Locally we have the following:   University of Melbourne University of Melbourne Counselling and Psychological Services Includes a guide for students with a mental illness. Individual counselling Information and self-help resources Other universities will have similar resources. Other resources and further reading Thedesk: a free online program aimed at providing Australian tertiary students with strategies and skills for success and wellbeing during their time at university or TAFE. Information for secondary schools and tertiary students from BeyondBlue Headspace (“Is it just me?”) is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation. We help young people who are going through a tough time. Smiling Mind: is a unique web and App-based program developed by a team of psychologists with expertise in youth and adolescent therapy. Apps and websites that can complement treatment. More, helpful contacts and websites University Student Mental Health: the Australian Context – Australian Medical Students’ Association A report. Great, short article on “Professional resilience” The Thesis Whisperer blog: PhD detachment and PhD Grief and How to survive a mid-PhD crisis. With thanks to Nathalie Martinek and others who have provided information and links for this guide.

See also this great article from Cathy Sorbara: 7 Ways PhD Students And Academics Can Deal With Stress, Anxiety And Depression


Everybody Hurts – REM. Hang on.