In lieu of World Mental Health Awareness Day which – was this past Thursday – I thought today would be an apt time to share my experience of mental health during university, in the hope that this might help at least one person to reach out and ask for help if they are needing it.
In first semester of first year I was thriving; I had great friends, a very fun and active social life, I enjoyed the freedom of being away from home. All in all, I was thoroughly enjoying my time at university.
Upon coming back to university in January for second semester, however, I hit a bit of a slump. I had a very intense first week back, doing a 40-hour life-guarding course and with family health troubles at home and my mental health really started to decline. I began to drink more recklessly and stop taking care of my physical health – not eating properly, having a terrible sleep schedule, finding it difficult to do even the simplest of tasks, including attending my lectures. I had heard this was a common time to hit a bit of a slump so, at first, I didn’t think much of it, but when the symptoms persisted and began to intensify, I knew something wasn’t right at all.
I felt incredibly scared of the things I was feeling as I hadn’t heard of people experiencing the symptoms that I had. Of course, I knew the symptoms of many mental health issues, namely depression and anxiety, both from studying psychology but also from the posters around campus and halls. However, what I was experiencing, I had no idea what it was – and that terrified me. Through all of this, it led me to push away friendships and a 4-year long relationship and I had well and truly reached breaking point.
This was when I reached out to the enquiry centre. I cannot sing their praises enough. The gentleman I spoke to allowed me to cry in his office and listened to everything I had held in for so long. He then told me exactly what I needed to do. He referred me to the counselling service at the university and got me in contact with the doctors. I got an appointment the next day at the doctors where I finally received a diagnosis for what I was feeling. It wasn’t a disorder that I had ever heard of before.
Just hearing that there was a name to describe what I was feeling, and the fact that I wasn’t going crazy, although it did not fix my problems, was a huge weight off my shoulders to hear. I was prescribed medication and began counselling. Things, though difficult still some of the time, began to slowly get better.
So, why am I writing all this?
To first of all tell you that if you are experiencing something similar to what I have described then you are not in anyway alone in it. In my lowest times I had myself convinced that I was the only person who had ever felt like this. I was wrong, of course, and finding out about this made me feel more at ease. Whilst at university, seeking help for depression and anxiety is constantly told to us, and rightly as these symptoms will affect 1 in 4 of us throughout our lifetime (so if you do experience this then absolutely reach out to someone you trust). But when other symptoms are present that we have not been told about, it can make one quite uneasy, and – well – scared. Learning that these symptoms were not uncommon from my counsellor and doctor made me feel so much better.
Secondly, to let you know that it does get better once you reach out, maybe not completely and not straight away, but there are always things that can help you – as I’ve said, contacting the enquirey centre for anything, ANYTHING, is an amazing start. Along with this, getting in touch with the counselling service. My advice in reference to counselling would always be if you’re thinking about counselling, then you should go for it. The notion that you could be doing better with counselling is reason enough to go for it.
On a final note, here are some things that help me:
- Get outside everyday – my favourite place to walk is along the river
- Don’t go overboard on drinking, I know its difficult if your friends are, but try to moderate it
- Please PLEASE eat some fruit or veg (I know it seems ridiculous but I get so grumpy without the correct vitamins), looking after your physical health will impact on your mental health
- Disconnect from the internet every once in a while, read a book, do something creative, visit a museum like the V&A, DCA or science centre
- Journal how you are feeling
- Join something like the mental health society who are (if I may say so myself) a lovely and welcoming group of people
Remember to stay safe!