STP Support | “Hey, how are you?”

How many times do you ask or get asked that a day? How many times do you answer honestly? Increasingly throughout my STP training I’d reply “yeah, fine thanks, are you?” when really I was far from it.

Accurate reflection of what was actually going on in my head!

I’d previously suffered from depression & anxiety at other points in my life, so when it started to creep back into my life during the second year of my training it wasn’t an entirely unfamiliar feeling. I realised I wasn’t coping when I went to Manchester for an MSc teaching block. It really was a struggle to attend lectures and participate in group work whilst pretending I was doing ok – I’d go back to my accommodation and just cry, never mind attempt to socialise with my cohort or revise for an upcoming exam. I decided to book in for a GP appointment as soon as I was back and was put on medication and referred for counselling.

I returned to my workplace after that teaching block, having just started my medication, feeling rather numb and robotic. A concerned colleague knew I wasn’t myself and asked if I really was ok. I decided to open up and tell her I was struggling. To my surprise she said she’d had similar struggles in the past. Knowing I wasn’t the only one to feel like this was a huge relief. She encouraged me to tell my Training Officer. At the time I was reluctant, but looking back I am so glad I did this; my Training Officer was very understanding and a huge support throughout the rest of my training. She made the effort to check up on me and adjust my training which I truly appreciated.

Thankfully the medication and counselling really helped me out; I managed to get through the rest of my training and I am now a Clinical Scientist. During my training I learnt a few things that helped me get through this period of anxiety and depression. Hopefully one or two of these tips might help you out also if you are currently struggling:

1) Speak out – please do speak to your GP if you are struggling with your mental health. I’d also encourage you to speak to your Training Officer. They can help direct you to occupational health resources or adjust your training plan if appropriate. If you don’t feel able to speak directly to your Training Officer hopefully you have a colleague you could chat to, or you can speak to your University tutor, or the National School of Healthcare Science.

2) Do more of what makes you feel good – it’s your training so try and tailor it to suit you. One of the main things I struggled with during the training was the adjustment of being an integral member of the team in my previous job, to a supernumerary member of staff. In order to try and combat this I became competent in a particular section in the lab and helped them out with routine work whenever I had a chance throughout my training. I’m sure there would be a section of your workplace that would be glad of an extra pair of hands if you felt this would help you too.

3) Remember it’s ok to make mistakes – this is a training programme, you aren’t expected to have all of the answers all of the time! This programme is your opportunity to ask as many questions as you need.

4) Don’t isolate yourself – I know when I’m feeling low I tend to withdraw, but a friendly chat with someone can really lift you mood. Hopefully you have other STPs in your department or region who will also understand the pressure of the training programme and can relate to what you are going through and possibly how you are feeling – often a problem shared is a problem halved!

5) Celebrate your achievements – I found that having a ‘to do’ list and ticking off tasks helpful. Write down small things that you can achieve throughout the day and finish your day feeling satisfied.

6) Visualisation – quite a cheesy one, but I find this quite effective. Whenever I was particularly struggling during my training and felt like giving up I remembered the end goal – becoming a registered Clinical Scientist. I’d wanted to get on the STP for years so I’d visualise how proud I would be if I stuck the training out and reached my goal.

7) Be grateful for something every day – another cheesy but effective one. One of my favourite quotes is “every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day”. Writing down three things that you are grateful for on that particular day can really help change your mind set and mood. It can be a bit challenging to begin with (the first time I was asked what I was grateful for in a therapy session I burst into tears because I couldn’t think of ANYTHING that day), but it gets easier the more you do it. They can just be small things like the sun was shining, you had the energy to wash your hair that day, a friend text you etc.

8) Physically look after yourself – I know it’s so easy when you are mentally struggling to not physically look after yourself. Take some time to look after yourself – get out of bed, eat some fruit & veggies, and try to do some exercise (running really helps me!).

Finally, know that you are not alone, these feelings don’t last forever and you can get through this.

Charlotte Knowles, STP Genomics 2016-2019

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