Springer Samuel: tackling mental health issues

Three failures and a semi-success: Sam Juniper shares some wellness advice

Art: Rebecca Marks

It’s no secret that mental health services nationwide – as well as at the University of Oxford – are chronically underfunded, denying tons of people the help they need. Particularly telling is the survey by Student Living (Sodexo) from March 2017, which revealed that an astonishing 43% of students at Oxford feel that attending the university negatively impacted their mental health.

When there is a lack of adequate services available, one must ultimately resort to more unorthodox measures. Here, therefore, are three mental health fixes I tried which failed, and one that sort of worked.

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort is a herbal remedy derived from the eponymous plant native to Europe and Asia. It’s not consistent in effectively treating depression and can produce some adverse side-effects when mixed with pretty much anything else. For example, it massively reduces your tolerance to alcohol and other substances. For 16 year old Sam this was something of a Godsend for the first couple of weeks (I had never been so smashed on three Kopparbergs), but then I started experiencing dizziness, confusion, and generally feeling pranged out most of the time. Approximately a month in, I stopped taking it because I foolishly believed my mental outlook was improving all by itself – in actuality it transpired that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and it was April.

Laughter

Everyone is familiar with the adage: laughter is the best medicine (in the absence of sufficient funding for NHS mental health services coupled with a widespread culture of denial and or refusal to admit the severity or existence of mental health problems), so I thought I’d give it a whirl myself. I downloaded the first four seasons of the hit American police sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which has garnered critical acclaim for its cast and writing.

I was thoroughly entertained, but why could I not neatly resolve my troubles within a 21 minute time frame? If it really is that easy for everything to fall into place like Jake and Amy’s relationship did, then why won’t it for me? How are the characters – even the losers like Boyle, Hitchcock, and Scully – able to feel happy every day and keep on grinding? In short, it didn’t work and left me despairing about my place in the universe.

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Eat Healthily

If you feel down in the dumps, it must be all your fault – you’re obviously not eating correctly! I trialled this school of thought around the time I turned 18. I cut out all processed sugars from my diet and went vegetarian in my second term at Oxford.

I can confirm that it’s had little to negligible overall effect on my mental wellbeing. My weight/physical fitness improved but this is probably down to disassociating toxic thoughts and unrealistic beauty standards from my own expectations, and the fact that much of my weight loss came when I had glandular fever and tonsillitis at the same time during my Freshers term.

Lightbox

Lightboxes are used to treat low mood and SAD by emitting specific wavelengths of light which may be otherwise absent for a specific length of time each day. I’ve had mine for two years, and I don’t feel quite as bad as I used to in the dark months.

It did cost a pretty penny, but even the slight improvement is worth it. I’d highly recommend talking to your doctor if you think you could benefit from light therapy.