Student Success: Alice Okunowo
“I published a book to help with my mental health”
This month we wanted to focus on something really amazing and truly inspirational that one of our students has completed over the past year.
Alice Okunowo, currently studying BA (Hons) English Language and Communication with Creative Writing here at Herts, has recently published her own book!
Growing up, Alice always found comfort in creative writing, particularly poetry. This became a true passion and focus for Alice because in 2008, Alice tragically lost her mother.
She explained that writing has been extremely important for her in coping with her grief and battling her struggles with mental health issues that she faced after her mother passed away. Alice felt it was important to dedicate her book to her mother, but also to make readers aware of the struggles and difficulties that come with mental illness.
The book contains a collection of beautifully written poems, that capture a true essence of Alice’s journey and her battles with mental health. Each poem leaves you with such an important message -that you are not alone.
We interviewed Alice to ask about her journey and to see if she had any advice for those who were struggling:
What course are you doing and why did you decide to come and study at Herts?I currently study English Language and Communication with Creative Writing at Herts and I really enjoy it! At first, I did Psychology, but it got very stressful. I have always loved to write, so I took a break and decided to change my course to Creative Writing. English Language is something I have always enjoyed since my primary school days.
I thought Herts was pretty cool. I live in Enfield so it can take quite a long time to get here, around two hours, but I really enjoy my course.
My writing began as quite a personal thing, so it took me quite a long time to publish something, even though I have been writing for a while. I didn’t think my poetry was good enough to be published but I love to write. When I took a break from studying in November last year, for mental health reasons, specifically depression and suicidal thoughts, I really found comfort in my writing and used my spare time to write down how I was feeling into my poetry and do something productive with my time. It really helped me. My dad suggested that I publish my poems, before this I only spoke about it with family and kept my poetry in notebooks for my eyes only.
What prompted you to start writing and to publish your own book?
When did you publish the book?Only in January 2020! It was only very recently that I decided to publish.
Yeah, I find writing therapeutic. Anxiety and depression are disorders that I have been battling since my mother died and I continue to deal with today. It comes in waves - some days are better than others, some days are worse than others. It can be hard, but I like to write so I am always thinking of things. Sometimes I’m walking alone, and inspiration just comes to me. I find poetry helps express your feelings.
Has writing helped you with your mental health?
Have you used the University’s wellbeing services?Yes, I’ve used the wellbeing advisors. It has been a good experience and I have found them really helpful. I actually saw them this week and told them I had published a book. The advisor congratulated me which was really nice.
If someone was struggling, is there any advice you would give them?I would recommend talking to someone, for example the wellbeing service. It’s not good to struggle in silence. Talk to someone. It’s okay to cry and be open. No shame in that at all. You are someone worth listening to and should have the chance to be heard. Mental illness/mental health should definitely be spoken about more - as with me, a young person, speaking out about my own mental health issues made me feel not only empowered, but just simply listened to. I felt a sense of belonging and a sense of validation, and I believe everyone should feel this way.
What’s your favourite poem in the book?My favourite is ‘When I Reminisce and Reflect’. That’s why it’s the title of the book. It really captures the struggles I was going through, both physically and psychologically.
Do you post your poetry on Instagram?Yes, my handle is ‘alicescreatives’.
To read Alice’s beautiful poetry, you can purchase the book from Amazon, the Book Depository, AbeBooks UK and Foyles UK.
Acknowledge the feeling and look for ways to reach out for support.
Someone out there loves you for who you are,
Be gentle with yourself.
People are willing to listen to your story.
You are loved, you mean something to somebody, you belong, and you are strong.
Please remember to breathe and keep your feet on the ground.
Share your struggles.
And that is a step forward in the right direction.
Support InformationThis is a really good time to reflect and ask yourself ‘How am I?’.
Watch our self-help video on Mindfulness to find out how you can take a step back and focus on how you are feeling.
There is lots of support nearby so if you are struggling with mental health issues, make sure you talk to someone.
Student Wellbeing servicesThe wellbeing services are on the first floor of the Hutton Hub on College Lane campus. The team are experienced and happy to help with any difficulties you are having. No matter how small you think your problems are, speak to one of our advisors. You can find out more about what services they provide here.
Contact Number: 01707 284453
Visit us: Students’ Union Office, Hutton Hub, College Lane, AL10 9AB.
CharitiesThere are also charities you can contact if you feel that you want to speak to someone outside of the University.
The Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can talk to The Samaritans any time you like, in your own way, and off the record – about whatever’s getting to you. Just talking to someone can be a tremendous help. You don’t have to be in crisis to get in touch. You can give them a call just to talk.
Mind provides advice and support to help anyone experiencing mental health problems. They can help you make choices about treatment, help you to understand your rights and help you to reach out to sources of support. If you are struggling and don’t know who to contact, talk to Mind and they will be able to give you the support that you need.
Students Against Depression is a website offering advice, information, guidance and resources to those affected by low mood, depression and suicidal thinking. It provides a calm environment for you to find the support that you need. You can also read stories about other students who have suffered from mental health problems and how they coped with it– after all, who are better placed to speak about how depression can be overcome, than those who have gone through it.
We are here to support you, so if you have any problems at all make sure you speak to someone.