Shantanu Kundu is the founder of Be Free Campaign, which aims to demolish the stigma around mental health.
His mental health struggles started while he was still at school:
It’s that point where there’s a big change in terms of life goals and the need for you to make a decision about what you want to do with your life at the age of 16 – which is a very big thing to do. There are a lot of pressures, not just from personal circumstances but also from societal circumstances, and it’s probably something that everyone’s going to be going through at that stage.
- It’s normal to feel worried, or sometimes paralysed, by the big decisions in life. So, take your time, write things down, and talk to people.
- If you’re thinking about which subjects to take at GCSE or A level, speak to a teacher or adult you trust. Talk to them about university choices too. Go and visit places and talk to the students there as well.
- When considering your future, try the UCAS Careers Quiz or UCAS Career Finder to help you think about your skills and interests. Talk to friends, older peers and adults about their jobs and how they choose their career – and life – paths.
Nadia Mendoza is founder of the Self-Esteem Team, who give talks in schools about mental health. She says you should also follow your instincts:
It’s helpful to make pros and cons lists, as well as talk things through with friends or family. However, listening to your intuition is just as valuable…. Humans use unconscious information in our brain to help guide us through life, and this is incredibly fruitful when tasked with overwhelming decisions, such as choosing colleges or universities.
While they can sometimes cause stress, friends and family can be a great source of strength and support during difficult times.
Nadia Mendoza says if you’re experiencing conflict:
Lead with “I” statements not “You” statements. For example, “I feel frustrated when my feelings aren’t heard” is preferable to, "You don’t care about me or my feelings"… If we dive in by putting our friend, family, or partner down, then this perpetuates conflict, and they will likely become defensive.
‘I’m also a big fan of letter-writing. When things are too hard to say, jotting them down with pen and paper allows space to gather your thoughts. Write as many drafts as you want until you feel it’s right, then hand it over to the recipient for them to read in their own time.’
Sometimes things don’t go to plan in life – whether that’s getting the exam grades you want, getting into university or a job or apprenticeship you’d set your heart on.
A survey by the Mental Health Foundation found six out of ten young people aged 18–24 have felt so stressed by pressure to succeed they have felt unable to cope. But ‘failure’ is actually a part of life – and can even help us to become more resilient.
Nadia says: 'From the moment we’re born, we’re taught how to succeed. But never how to fail. That makes failure a bitter (and often) shameful pill to swallow… Yet if we deconstruct it, and instead of seeing failure as the enemy that highlights “weakness", we rebuild it as a tool to learn lessons from, suddenly it becomes incredibly powerful. Yes, failure can be frustrating and disappointing, but it’s also life’s greatest teacher. Ultimately, failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success'.
If you’re struggling, Shantanu recommends speaking to a trusted adult at school or college – that could be a teacher or class tutor but it could also be a mental health practitioner, receptionist, lunch time supervisor or the sixth form or careers lead… in other words ‘whoever you’re most comfortable with’. Your college will also have a page dedicated to mental health contacts and resources.
It can feel daunting, but through speaking out you’ll be able to access the support you need. Charity YoungMinds says that if you’re struggling because of ‘stress, pressure or a mental health condition' then you can also talk to your GP for extra support, like therapy or counselling.