Dealing with grief, life-threatening illnesses, and everything and anything in-between… (now more important than ever)

This post was written for the University community by one of our students

Dear staff members and students,

These past months have been a challenge for us all – everything grounding to a halt during ‘lockdown’, disruptions to university teach, working and studying from home, and new difficulties such as quarantine. A lot of staff members and students will have had to deal with isolation from loved ones, illness in the family, and bereavement.

Facing grief and illness, or the anxiety of the possibility, has perhaps never been more widespread. Covid-19 has brought home hard truths and moved to centre stage the possibility of losing someone or getting ill. Dealing with illness and grief can be life-changing and the current restrictions add additional difficulties.

For our staff members and students to feel more supported through these challenging times and beyond, we need to encourage discussions about grief and illness and normalise the topic within our university. That does not mean only focusing on doom and gloom, but rather speaking openly about mechanisms to deal with these challenges and where to go to access support, raising awareness among the student and staff community.

Most students will deal with some sort of loss or potential loss during their university degree, whether that is a close family member, or a distant friend or relative. Staff members will most likely come across students who are struggling with a family member or relative who is ill, or grieving the loss of someone they love. Staff members and colleagues will also experience similar challenging life situations. What is the best thing to do? Below are some tips for how you can help others in this situation, or help yourself:

  • Actively listen: Listen attentively when the situation arises, concentrate, understand and respond to what is being said.
  • Check-in regularly: Drop the student/ staff member an email when you can to check in to see how they are doing.
  • Offer advice or reassurance: It might be helpful to offer them gentle advice, which could be anything from “look after yourself”, “surround yourself with friends”, “make sure you are looking after your wellbeing”, “studies can wait”, “take some time out”.
  • Offer help (but first ask them how they want to be supported): You could help them with extending deadlines for pieces of work, contacting staff members, referring them to or informing them about student or staff wellbeing and counselling, referring them to other help resources on the SU website, or sign-posting to external support services.
  • Engage in self-disclosure: this is if relevant, helpful or possible from your perspective.
  • Watch for warning signs of depression: Grief and/or dealing with illness can lead to mental struggles. Keep an eye out for concerning behaviour, like inability to function in everyday life or enjoy life, obsession with death, bitterness/anger/guilt, withdrawing behaviour, or talking openly about dying and suicide. If you are concerned speak to them and help them help by referring them to student wellbeing who can offer support and access to services including counselling.

Depending on your capacity to deal with this, please seek help and advice from others where needed.

Resources:

If you feel that your mental health is at breaking point, you can speak to the Bristol Mental Health Crisis Team.

The Samaritans: When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

University services:

  • Student Wellbeing and Student Counselling website
  • The SU Wellbeing Network – societies like Nightline and Peace of Mind (amongst others) are listed on here, with links that will take you to their webpages.
  • Internal support groups – check the SU Wellbeing Network site for the internal support groups that are running this year. Support groups appear throughout the year, so keep checking if there is not one that suits you. Also, feel free to reach out to the SU Wellbeing Network if a support group does not exist, but you think it would be useful to create one specific to your needs.
  • Wellbeing Advisors in your department
  • Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing webpages
  • Information on Staff Counselling
  • Staff Development Wellbeing Courses and Resources

Out of University:

Mental Health and Wellbeing

Mind: Coronavirus and your wellbeing.
Off The Record: being resilient through the Coronavirus disruption.
Free Headspace Mindfulness: weathering the storm.
BBC article: how to protect your mental health.
WHO: mental health and psychosocial considerations during Covid-19.
NHS: guidance on relieving stress.

Bereavement Services and Resources  

Cruse Bereavement Care: The Cruse Bereavement Care Freephone National Helpline is staffed by trained bereavement volunteers, who offer emotional support to anyone affected by bereavement. The number is 0808 808 1677 ​or email helpline@cruse.org.uk.
Bristol Bereavement Network: directory of local services for Bristol.
Good Grief Trust: an online portal of UK bereavement services, searchable by type and location.
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP): for information on finding a qualified counsellor.
The Samaritans.
At a Loss: to help signpost you to the right support.
Shapes of Grief, a podcast/blog by Liz Gleeson, Bereavement Therapist
Griefcast, a podcast that examines the human experience of grief and death, hosted by comedian Cariad Lloyd.

Good Grief Festival runs 30 October – 1 November 2020, with free events related to grief and loss of different kinds. You can also register to access all the content afterwards for 3 years for £20.

My COVID-19 university experience outside of student life

I’m George and I’m studying BSc Politics and International Relations.

What volunteering I’m doing whilst studying

Whilst at university I’m volunteering as a Special Constable with our local police force, Avon and Somerset Police. In this role, I hold the same powers as a regular police officer and patrol alongside them by preventing and detecting crime to help keep the community safe. Engaging with the community through my volunteering has allowed me to engage with the wider community, which is great because I learn something new or exciting about Bristol every day. I volunteer at least 16 hours a month, however I recognise the importance of breaking the study cycle at university so often commit to more hours.

How I balance this with new university life under blended learning

Under the new blended learning approach, I have used the best of a challenging situation to use the recorded lectures and reading requirements of my course to commit to more volunteering hours. Further, at times in the working week where I may not have been available in the past, I am now able to help my local policing team, using weekends to study. My volunteering has helped me become more independent and develop my people skills. It can be hard to balance at times, but I have been learning to manage studying, social activities and volunteering under what is sometimes a stressful time.

Photo of Brandon Hill
Brandon Hill is a great place to meet friends at a distance

Following the rules

While our university experience is different to what we’re all used to in the previous years, it’s for a reason. We’ve all seen the amazing work our NHS have done this year and would not want to put extra strain on our hospitals or emergency services who are having to deal with coronavirus cases. We all definitely would not want to put vulnerable members of our community at risk. So please stick to the rules and remember to social distance from course mates and other households, whether it’s at Brandon Hill enjoying some fresh air near the campus or shopping up on Whiteladies Road.

Students supporting students

Third year English student Alice Baxter describes the new group she helped set up to support self-isolating students.

The Student to Student Covid Relief Scheme has been set up to help isolating and vulnerable students. The University are of course providing basic food boxes, but some of us need a little more. Students can request items discreetly and we will organize for one of our volunteers to transport them to the isolating flat.

Student to Student Bristol Covid Relief Scheme banner

We welcome requests for medications or food items relating to medical and ethical requirements, foods that ease an eating disorder, pregnancy tests… anything really (as long as it is not a controlled or illegal substance) that people who are isolating require. If you require any non-food related items during isolation, such as board games or art supplies, we are here to help.

Our volunteers understand it is a very anxious time, so please let us know if there’s anything we can provide which will help put yourselves at ease in your isolation period. We are not affiliated with the University or the SU, so all of our requests are “off the record,” and we will keep it between us. Our volunteers are friendly, fast and supportive, and we take all necessary precautions of social distancing and PPE.

Alongside welcoming requests, we are also taking volunteer applications, and you can find the form on our Facebook group.

If you’re self-isolating, there’s lots more information on the University website about how to stay safe and protect others, and how to access other support.

Welcome to the weekend

It’s the start of another weekend. Time to relax, take some time out and recharge your batteries

Many of you may be coming out of self-isolation over the weekend; some of you may still be self-isolating. We hope you’re keeping safe and well.

If you are coming out of self-isolation, do enjoy your renewed freedom but don’t be tempted to let loose, and thanks for continuing to follow the guidelines and respect others.

If you’re still self-isolating, it’s a good time to catch up on those box sets, get cosy and find what feels good for you. They say it’s going to rain this weekend anyway! If you are struggling though and could do with some help, please get in touch with our Wellbeing Access service to get the support you need.

Finally, if you have to self-isolate, remember to update the coronavirus self-reporting form to let us know about your status so we can make sure we provide you with the essentials – food, laundry and rubbish collections – during this time.

Whatever your situation, here are some activities and events you could check out over the next few days.

  • Travel the World with the Global Lounge  – new series of weekly events, where students and staff shine a spotlight on different countries and cultures. Next stop, South India on 27 October, and Dubai on 3 November. Sessions take place every Tuesday lunchtime between 1 pm and 2 pm.
  • Return of the virtual Language Café – every Wednesday between 3 pm and 4.30 pm, delivered with the SU. Improve your language skills and meet others!
  • The Multifaith Chaplaincy   explore the online events programme for the autumn term. 

Bristol Students’ Union

Bristol SU  has a varied programme of events and activities taking place. Paint and Sip caught our eyes – a chance to relax into Sunday by creating some art, supping a drink of your choice and getting to know other students. Can we come please?!  And for all those folkies out there, make your folk dreams come true with tonight’s Give it a Go music workshop – 7pm  

Bristol Futures Open Online Courses

Develop life-long skills and unleash your potential by joining the current run of open online courses. Choose from the themes of Innovation and Enterprise, Sustainable Futures or Global Citizenship and learn alongside fellow students, staff and alumni. Courses also count towards the Bristol PLUS Award.

Black History Month

It’s not too late to attend some last events as October draws to a close. See our  programme and book dates into your diary now.

UoB Sport 

The weekend’s a great time to boost those endorphins with some physical activity. There are both online and in-person activities to get you going.

 

Share your views

We’re always happy to hear from you and we’re looking for students who’d like to contribute to a weekly blog post about events and activities. Please get in touch with us at student-comms@bristol.ac.uk. Also, don’t forget to complete this year’s Welcome Survey to let us know how the Welcome experience was for you. Your views count and really help us improve things for future students. Closes 28 October.

That’s it for us for this week. Hope you all have a good weekend, whatever you’re up to.

Bye for now

Student Comms team x

Reflections as a black medical student

by Adewale Kukoyi

Reflections

During lockdown, I’ve had ample time to reflect.

To reflect on my first year at University, all the positives and negatives, the pedantic learning techniques I used and my overall perspective on Medicine. However, more profoundly, I’ve reflected on my own position, and the value I can potentially share with others from my community or background who may believe where I am is unachievable for them.

Including me, there are only six black male students in my year group of roughly 270.

As one of very few, I felt it essential to share my experiences with others from a similar background to me so that they can take the necessary steps to start their medical journey

Volunteering

The opportunity to give back arose when approached by Medic Mentality – an upcoming medical school initiative, aiming to increase representation in Medicine through mentorship services, personal statement reviews, events, and UCAT/BMAT advice. They asked me to join them on an Instagram live to discuss my experience as a Bristol medical student. Founded by Aderonke Odetunde, Maria Taiwo, Osas Ogbeide, Nehita Oviojie and Toni Oduwole (all 2nd-year medical students at UCL) aims to equip students from underprivileged backgrounds with the confidence to make the application to medical school. Despite only launching in July 2020, the scheme already has 30 mentees.

@medicmentality (Instagram)

I have also joined various organisations who work to empower younger generations through mentorship and provision of resources. I am currently a mentor with The Black Excellence Network and BME Medics Bristol Year 2 Lead. In both roles, I work with prospective medical students by providing tailor-made consultations over their applications, helping with drafts of their personal statements, and giving an insight into life at Bristol.

As well as working with prospective medical students, I also work with other current medical students, and I am an active member of the newly formed Black Medic Plexus. We are a network which prides itself in building a strong community and network for black medical students across the UK. The platform was created (and founded by the brilliant Sharon Amukamara) to create a supportive space for black medics based on community and work-life balance.

My advice

My biggest tip for black students looking to enter Medicine (or Higher Education in general!) would be to have the self-confidence to apply. There are so many mental barriers you can put yourself under, ranging from imposter syndrome (feeling of not belonging) to a lack of role-models. My advice would be to reach out to any organisations (like the ones I’m part of) for guidance, information and the belief that you are capable of excelling in your chosen field.

Finally, I would also urge any medical student to get involved and recognise the value they can exchange with others. We are in a position that is hard to access and providing any help along the way is vital in uplifting future generations.

by Adewale Kukoyi

 

Find your Support

Hi everyone! Khadija here, chair of the BME network, elected by BME students to represent BME students at a university and SU level.

Many students struggle with finding support, and in my role, I particularly find this as an issue for BME students, who often find it difficult to see how to access the university’s services. As such, I’ve become familiar with what is available, and have had some great discussions with the staff behind them already to incorporate the needs of all students, including those from racial and ethnic minorities! How to Find your Support:

1. Student Wellbeing Service

This is your first port of call if you’re struggling, and includes a range of services, from:

Student Wellbeing Advisors, who can help direct you to where you need to go.

TalkCampus app, giving you online peer-support any time of day and night.

– Self-help resources, including the FIKA Covid-19 support app, which is designed to help you learn practical mental and emotional fitness approaches which you can apply to your everyday life.

The Student Counselling Service, including a specific BAME Counselling service run by NILAARI, which the BME Network supported being expanded into the university last year.

– The uni are working with Bristol Drugs Project too and ‘The Drop’ harm reduction service. If you’re thinking about trying drugs or if drug use has become a problem, reach out via email thedrop@bdp.org.uk find them on Instagram above or call 0117 987 6000.

2. Personal Tutors

Make sure to reach out to your Personal Tutor whenever you need them, for any issues, no matter how big or small. As a network, we’ve engaged with the services to try and work on some diversity training so they can better support all students.

3. Study Skills

Check out the Study Skills online! I’ve been a medical student for 3 years, and now I’m intercalating in a Masters and having to manage my own learning far more. So I used these pages for the first time this year and found them surprisingly helpful!

4. Library Services

The Library Services are always there as a channel of support with subject librarian advice, if you have any issues finding resources and there’s a Library Support team too for accessibility. In light of COVID they have some great online resources, including the 24/7 live chat service and a great range of self help books too – their One-Stop Shop page is super helpful.

They’ve also just collaborated with the BME Network on sharing resources and books by Black authors for Black History Month, with students like yourself writing the reviews!

I’ve spotted they’re offering Online Study Lounges during October, they’re half-day events led by the Study Skills team and an opportunity to connect with other students online rather than working completely alone.

5. Students’ Union

You can become a course rep and advocate on the issues that you’re finding in your course to help feedback and represent your fellow students.

As well as this, engaging with societies and volunteering can be a great way to find friends and build your student community. I dressed up as a Banana for a week to raise money for charity as part of the Islamic society, something I never dreamed I’d be doing when I first started!

The BME Network believes in collaborating with a range of societies to create a variety of spaces to suit all needs – from large social events like festivals and cultural exchanges, to smaller more relaxed sessions like political discussion groups or wellbeing chat.

At the beginning, the range of what’s out there can feel confusing. It’s all about finding the areas you feel you belong and understanding what helps you feel good early on, so that you know where to find it in times of stress. Maybe sport is your thing? They’re part of the ‘Give it a go’ taster sessions currently running.

6. Peer Mentoring

If you’d find it helpful talking to a current student studying a similar subject to you, look into the Peer Mentoring scheme. It’s open to first year undergraduates to help you settle into uni life and nice to talk to someone who likely knows how you’re feeling and may have the answer! You do need to complete the form before the end of October.

 

This university should support you in thriving both academically and socially, so make sure you access and use the full range of services available, and if there’s something missing, don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Remember, even if you might not feel like you fit in to the university community immediately, you still have the right to take up space in being unapologetically yourself!

Get ahead of worries this World Mental Health Day

Written by Dr Dominique Thompson

Starting university is always a big moment in life, but in 2020 it’s going to be a historic moment too. Living in a new institution, perhaps a new city, in a global pandemic certainly adds an edge to the whole process.  

So if you are feeling a little stressed (which would be entirely normal) help is at hand and you may find the new, free, online course that I helped to create, ‘Being Well Living Well’, very useful indeed.  

I was the lead GP at the University of Bristol for many years, and now spend my professional life creating useful resources to support students and their wellbeing. I’m really proud to have been the UK lead advisor for this online course, which will be available to Bristol students. 

In developing the course, we worked closely with students and professionals from all over the world, and I personally wrote the ‘Stress, Anxiety and Depression’ module based on all my years of experience and expertise looking after Bristol students.

It was really important to me to try to help future students to ‘get ahead’ of worries, understand what was happening for them, and provide really practical suggestions about how to manage anxiety or low mood. Whether you are feeling on edge, sleeping badly, want to understand if you have anxiety or depression, or wish to support a friend who is struggling, you will find the ‘Stress, Anxiety and Depression’ module helpful.

I hope you will enjoy the animations and interactive quizzes and activities which we, and our student co-creators, felt made our advice clearer and more engaging. We also ensured a diverse range of students were represented and provided for in the course.

The other modules that make up ‘Being Well Living Well’ cover a whole array of issues that students can find challenging, from perfectionism, financial worries, how to study effectively and mental health problems. There will be something to help everyone within the course.

So whether you’re just curious, or struggling – we made this for you.

You can access Being Well Living Well on Blackboard – self enrol here