By now, I’m sure you’re all used to my blog ramblings about my ‘adventures’ as a student; rugby, maths, inability to be a proper adult and such… This time, however, I want to have more of a serious chat. This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and mental health is something that needs talking about, particularly at University.
Two years ago, statistics suggested that one in five students suffered with some form of mental health problem, and from what I’ve seen, this figure shows no signs of decreasing. A quarter of them don’t seek help at all, and only one in ten who do will seek the help through university based services. Why?
In this day and age, mental health still has a massive stigma surrounding it, and that shouldn’t be the case. In fact, I’m sort of terrified about writing this blog! I’m open about my problems with mental health (I even write a mental health blog), but writing about it on my University blog seems like a whole new ball game! The problem is, not talking about these problems is only making the situation worse. University is some of the most amazing but also most stressful years of our lives as students, so it’s no wonder that it can get overwhelming. There can come a point though, when it gets too much. I know this feeling all too well.
“For me, madness was more of a drawn-out whimper than a bang… Going quietly out of your head with everyone thinking you’re just feeling a bit down. Wanting not to be yourself anymore. Watching everyone else living the dream.” – E. J. Woolf.
Nothing has rung so true as the above quote, for me. I’d had problems with anxiety and depression for years, but starting university put me under pressure that saw the state of my mental health decline from about 4 months in. I tried to seek help from a GP reasonably early, but wasn’t offered much more than “let’s just wait and see.” Second year didn’t get any better, and I got to the point where my housemate dragged me to a doctor. Whilst things improved from this point, and I’m getting better, managing university and mental health together hasn’t been an easy ride. For me, it’s a massive balancing act, which I wonder sometimes how I manage. It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And I’m not alone.
In my experience, it was hard to speak out about it because everyone else appeared to be getting on fine and having the time of their lives. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I the same? Turns out, my struggles were pretty common.
Thankfully, there is so much support available at Leicester. Obviously, my friends have been absolutely amazing, but also with regards to my department, I’ve received an unbelievable amount of support, and this wasn’t just from my personal tutor. I’m two months away from graduation, and I couldn’t have done it without them. Even when I’ve been to scared to ask for help, submit mitigating circumstances or similar, because I was too afraid to “play the anxiety card” (back to the stigma again!!), they’ve been there for me.
I had a chat with our new SU Education Officer about this, and about her own experiences with mental health issues whilst at University:
She said that “balancing mental health problems with university can be a struggle.” We empathised with each other over getting into bad habits: “When times are tough, it’s difficult to concentrate on work, and then of course a vicious cycle begins – mounting work stresses you out, but you’re too paralysed by anxiety and demotivated by depression to do anything about it.”
Whilst reflecting on the support we’ve both received, she says that “Our university offers some amazing support…but there isn’t enough advertisement and some people get left behind.” Now, fufilling her election manifesto, she is working to improve support, pastoral care and educational resources for students suffering with mental health problems. “Tutors need to be trained to recognise and understand mental illnesses, to give the best care possible. No student should slip through the net.”
But what can you do, as a reader of this blog, to make it easier for students to speak out? Raise awareness. Let others know it’s okay, and they’re not alone. A simple tweet or share could make all the difference. I’ve also included some useful links below, such as the services the university offers, should you or anyone you know need them.
Until next time, all the best.
Nightline– A confidential, student-run listening, support and information service.
ED- the SU education service, who offer confidential and impartial support if you feel you’re not coping with your studies in any way.