Tasha Hammond is studying for a PhD in Ecology and Conservation. She is based at Penryn Campus.
My name is Tasha, I am a PhD student at Penryn and I recently joined the Wellbeing Network as a way of promoting open conversations about mental health!
As today is World Mental Health Day, I thought I would share a little about my experience as a mature PhD student and some of the mental health challenges that have accompanied me on my postgraduate journey, along with the support I have accessed through the University.
In August 2021 I was awarded a BBSRC studentship and had five weeks to pack up my life in Milton Keynes and move to Penryn, Cornwall. I resigned from my job in pharmaceuticals, served notice on my tenancy and moved all of my belongings into storage. I moved to Cornwall in September, to a dirty, mouldy rental room that I had only been able to view via video call, and said farewell to my boyfriend of 3 years who felt that relocating to Cornwall wasn’t the right move for him. Right from the get-go it was a pretty rocky foundation for starting a new life!
Having never attended university before, I can see now that I was extremely unprepared for the cultural shift of moving from a career in industry to a life in academia, along with the challenges of trying to build a new friend circle and social network when you’re nearly 40 years old and don’t know another soul within a 200-mile radius! Understandably, my mental health took a severe downward trajectory and earlier this year I reached out to the university’s wellbeing department for support.
I spoke with multiple members of staff within the department and they were all extraordinarily kind, compassionate and supportive. I had been considering an interruption from my studies, but was holding back because of the sense of failure I had associated with the idea and worries about how I would pay my rent if I took a break. The wellbeing team helped me to change my mindset so that I viewed an interruption as a form of practicing self-care, rather than being “unable to cope”. They also gave me all the information I need to proceed, and reassured me that if I had a sick note from my GP then my interruption would be classified as sick leave and I would still receive my stipend payments. They also referred me to the free counselling service that staff and PGRs can access through Spectrum Life; the sessions started within a few weeks and were valuable CBT-based therapy for helping me deal with day-to-day mental health challenges. I combined this therapy with additional online psychotherapy sessions through Better Help, and after speaking to my GP was prescribed antidepressant medication.
Thankfully this multi-faceted intervention has been working and I was able to resume my PhD after 3 months. My experience has prompted me to be far more proactive about vocalising the mental health challenges faced by PGRs and in doing so I have discovered that there are many others just like me, who have been suffering in silence and unsure about the options available to them.
If you are in this position I strongly recommend reaching out to the Wellbeing service and accessing the support that you are entitled to! You can reach them at welfare.PGR@exeter.ac.uk
There is an awful lot going on in the world right now so remember to be kind to yourself and devote a little bit of time to looking after your mental and emotional wellbeing 😊