The Elephant in The Student Room; Discussing Mental Health
As a fresh-faced eighteen year old, university was one of the most daunting yet indescribably exciting times in my life so far. The prospect of moving away from home and into the city, meeting countless new faces and studying something that I truly had a passion for meant that I was a ball of curiosity and happiness; perhaps annoyingly happy at times but, nevertheless, I was happy. However, with this new found freedom came big changes in my life, some which I didn’t realise were having such an impact on my mental health until much more recently.
My first and second years of university went by pretty much problem free; it was upon entering my third and final year of study where I realised that things were not quite right. With serious deadlines and the pressure of thinking about my not-so-far-away future, my mental health began to suffer and, with it, my enthusiasm towards learning. I began to feel anxious about the smallest of things and didn’t want to leave my bedroom. The thought of entering the outside world to socialise and learn with my friends and course-mates suddenly became unappealing; something which I usually thoroughly enjoyed. I also wasn’t eating properly or often enough, which is completely unheard of for me, and I began to let my physical appearance suffer too. Sat in bed one night, I decided this needed to stop and that I did need help; a message was sent to my Mom and, as soon as she spoke to me, she was on her way to come and get me.
Looking back on how I felt during this period of my first semester as a third year student, I now realise that I was depressed, or at least was at the lowest point I think I’d ever been. But I could not work out just how I’d managed to let myself get to that point; it was completely out of character for me to behave the way I had been, so what had happened? On reflection, I understand that it was not one singular thing in particular that had triggered this change in my health but rather a culmination of various factors. Educational pressures related to deadlines and job prospects had been looming over my head for quite some time and, instead of addressing them, I had pushed them to the back of my mind, afraid of facing up to my responsibilities. My opinion towards myself had also changed; I began to doubt my abilities, constantly compared myself to my peers and truly struggled to find any redeeming personal qualities.
With this in mind, I can confess that the biggest contributor to my issues from not talking. I never took the opportunity to message a family member and just talk. If I was in conversation with friends, I wouldn’t want to bring anything up due to being ashamed, or perhaps just feeling like I was complaining about nothing. In my eyes, I was a burden to practically everyone around me. Going home for a week was essential for helping me to understand how to get back to the old me and also learning how to deal with these emotions if they were to ever rear their ugly heads again.
I hadn’t realised how common depression was, especially in young people, particularly those at university. According to the National Union of Students Survey, one in five students recall experiencing some sort of mental health issue whilst studying. Alarmingly, 26% of these students do not receive treatment, with only one in ten using counselling services provided by their university. For me, these figures say a lot; mental health issues are far more prevalent in young adults and university students but are not necessarily discussed very openly. For me, this is one of the main reasons why I felt so awkward discussing my emotions with someone else, I had got myself into the mind-set that no one else would understand. Issues with mental health were things I was relatively familiar with due to family experiences and certain aspects of society that I engaged with but, when I actually experienced them first hand, I was clueless towards how to react. It seemed like having Depression was the worst thing in the world; no one would treat me the same and would I ever be the same again?
A fellow course-mate recalled how her first year in university accommodation resulted in a series of mental health issues. Triggered by problems in her personal life and an overwhelming sense of homesickness, she found herself feeling isolated in her halls, worrying about her future, often breaking down in tears as a result of her mounting emotions. Thankfully, talking to her friends and using our university’s ‘Nightline’ service, she managed to restore a balance in her mental health and now sees a counsellor at the university. Her recovery, a similar one to my own, only proves to me that there should be a stronger focus on the wellbeing of students and their mental health during their university experience. I believe that there is still a stigma attached to mental health issues and this leads to those who suffer being left to feel alone and shameful; if only they knew that they were not alone and that simply talking to someone about how they feel can ease their worries so much.
I’m not trying to say that everyone at university will experience such issues during their education but what I think is important to understand is that it is a journey full of ups and downs; it’s okay to doubt yourself sometimes, it’s okay to feel sad or unmotivated, it’s okay to cry and, most importantly, it’s okay to talk about it.
(Photo credits: ‘ Photo: http://www.bu.edu/