Anxiety, depression and self–injury

What the JCR, College and University can do for you

In Week 5 of Lent Term, CUSU and the JCR Welfare Officers run a Mental Health Awareness Week, full of exciting events. In the past, these have included a “Blues for Blues” Concert, a daily internet “Chill Pill” posted on the JCR website, yoga, Tai Chi, free donuts and Salsa dancing lessons.

All year long, you can get in touch with the welfare officers both from CUSU and the JCR, the Chaplain, you tutor, the Senior Tutor, the college counsellor, or other trained members from various organisations. It can seem scary to get in touch with members of the College staff, but they really are lovely and willing to help.

Tips: Cambridge University is a stressful place to live, work and play, but it is important to maintain positive mental health, even when not suffering from an illness.

  • Regular exercise, plenty of sleep and healthy food not only keep your body but also your mind healthy.
  • Take breaks when working and squeeze as much social time into every day as work allows.

Illnesses such as depression, eating disorders, self–harm, addictions and anxiety should not be taboo illnesses, but talked about and understood. If you know about them it will be easier to cope and relieve suffering.


Why does it occur? Anxiety can result from general circumstances (for example, leaving home, coping with work, issues surrounding sexuality or dealing with a relationship) or may derive from specific situations (such as health worries or preparing for an exam).

Various ways of dealing with anxiety: The first step is to recognise what the problem is. By identifying a specific part of your life which is causing stress you can then look for practical ways to deal with it. For example, a problem with a piece of work could be resolved through talking to your DoS, Supervisor or Tutor. They should be willing to offer help or an alternative.
Students may want to distract themselves if the problems appear to be getting too much – listening to music, having a warm bath, going for a walk or using relaxation techniques will often put things into perspective.

In any case, talking to the JCR Welfare Officers can be relieving, and they will often be able to advise gently and point in a healthy direction.


What is it? The term depression is very hard to define, but is generally characterised by low mood for a long time.

What causes depression? There are many causes, including personal disappointment, the loss of a loved one, a response to a past event or chemical or hormonal changes in the body.

Symptoms: Depression may manifest itself in loss of interest in life, changes in diet, weight or sleeping patterns, lack of energy, lethargy, poor concentration, feelings of worthlessness, feeling irritable, short-tempered or tearful.

It is important to remember that depression is common in young people and students suffering are not alone. There are plenty of avenues of support.

Dealing with depression: Depression causes negative thinking, which then exacerbate the depression. By analysing thoughts, you can try to help yourself, or a fellow student break the pattern. For example, if some is feeling negative about themselves (“Person X hates me”) that may take one to irrational conclusions (“X hates me, nobody likes me, therefore I must be horrible. What’s the point in trying, nobody likes me anyway” etc). By analysing the first point in the train of thought, thoughts can be altered, e.g. by trying to find alternative explanations. In this example, does X not talking to someone at dinner really reflect on them or were they simply distracted by their own worries, their work, their relationship? Were they simply feeling shy? By challenging the thoughts, you are challenging the depression itself, getting to the core of negative feelings.

If you are feeling depressed, it is important not to lock yourself away. See friends, do sports, go to lectures. Not only will the effort of actively doing something make you feel better but the interaction will help lift your mood.

Supporting a friend/student: If you are supporting a friend/student who is depressed, and really do not want to take the problem any higher (as in, to a counselling service) make sure you look after yourself as well. Spending all your time with that person may not be good for you. Look for a network of friends who can help, and always use the JCR Welfare Officers for support. It is important to let your friend know you are there for them as this builds their confidence as well as helping them practically.


What is it? This illness takes many forms, for example, cutting, burning, hair pulling and self–hitting, and are all often a means to cope with life. Most people who self–harm are not necessarily suicidal. Whereas suicide is an attempt to end all feeling, a person who self–harms usually does so in order to feel better. Some people self–harm to gain a sense of control over their body, create feelings of euphoria or gain a sense of reality.

Putting an end to self–injury: If a student is suffering from self–injury it is important to know that the decision to stop MUST come from them, it is very personal. They may find it useful to use distracting methods such as hitting a pillow, doing exercise, dancing or ripping up a newspaper or magazine. Always ensure, if possible, that people in College know, and that you have a solid network of support when trying to help someone through this.