Managing the Journey - Tip #1 Understand What Mental Wellbeing is and Why it Matters

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"Mental wellbeing" is a broad term referring to your overall mental health. It encompasses more than the presence or absence of a specific mental illness; it is therefore analogous to the term "physical wellbeing" which can be affected by a physical illness but which refers to your physical condition as a whole.

Being such a broad term, there are a number of accepted definitions of mental wellbeing. A major report commissioned by the UK Government* defined mental wellbeing as:

"... a dynamic state in which the individual is able to develop their potential, work productively and creatively, build strong and positive relationships with others, and contribute to their community. It is enhanced when an individual is able to fulfil their personal and social goals and achieve a sense of purpose in society"

A subsequent study** building on the findings of that report suggested an even more straightforward definition - mental wellbeing is "feeling good and functioning well".

So what characterises mental wellbeing? How do you know if your own mental wellbeing is good? And, perhaps more importantly, if there is a problem what can you do to improve your mental wellbeing? This guide looks at some of the mental wellbeing difficulties that can affect research students. There is advice on practical steps that research students can take to manage and improve their mental wellbeing and on the various resources and support services that research students can access if they need additional help.

* Mental Capital and Wellbeing (2008), UK Government Office for Science
** Five Ways to Wellbeing: The Evidence (2008), New Economics Foundation
What is Mental Wellbeing?

Starting from the definition of mental wellbeing as "feeling good and functioning well", it is possible to identify some of the behaviours and attributes that characterise someone with good mental wellbeing:

  • self-confidence and a feeling of self-worth
  • sense of purpose and direction
  • capacity to develop yourself
  • ability to form, develop, and maintain positive relationships with other people
  • capacity to take responsibility for yourself and your actions
  • ability to experience enjoyment and happiness
  • ability to manage change and stress
  • engagement with your community and a capacity to contribute to this

Our mental wellbeing can change, even on a day-to-day basis and good mental wellbeing does not mean never feeling worried, upset, or stressed. A key feature of good mental wellbeing is "resilience" - the ability to cope with the challenges and problems that come from everyday life. As we grow and learn we develop skills that help us to do that, but there are times when even with those skills our mental wellbeing can be affected.

Why Does Mental Wellbeing Matter?

Good mental wellbeing is important because it influences so many aspects of our lives. Your mental wellbeing affects your ability to enjoy life and find fulfilment in yourself as a person, in your relationships with others, and in your work and personal interests. Mental wellbeing can also influence your physical health and wellbeing.

As a research student good mental wellbeing is essential if you are to face the challenges associated with a research degree programme. Looking after your mental wellbeing will mean that you are better equipped to enjoy and be successful in your research degree and to pursue your longer-term personal and professional goals.

Although severe mental wellbeing difficulties are not common, many research students experience times when work or personal issues affect their mental wellbeing. The NHS Moodzone has advice on some of the most common mental wellbeing difficulties:

There is advice and support available if you experience mental wellbeing difficulties. Looking after your mental wellbeing could be easier than you think and the next section of this guide looks at five simple actions that you can take every day to improve your mental wellbeing.

If you need to speak with someone right now, see the mental wellbeing links and contacts; if you are having thoughts of self-harming or are feeling suicidal, contact someone immediately - such as your doctor, a friend, a relative, or someone else you can trust.

Managing the Journey - Mental Wellbeing for PhD/MPhil Students

The Doctoral College's Top Four Tips for Mental Wellbeing in Your Research Degree:

  1. Understand what mental wellbeing is and why it matters
  2. Manage your mental wellbeing as a research student
  3. Develop and use personal and professional support networks
  4. Don't ignore problems and use the help that is available

Mental Wellbeing Links and Contacts


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