I’m Beth. I’m 22, a postgraduate student in Digital Media, and a Learning Support Worker at an adult community college. I also have social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder and depression, and was diagnosed back during my second year of my undergraduate degree. In a nutshell, I have been mentally ill throughout a majority of my university career.
Everyone seems to suggest that your university years are the best years of your life, and that if you’re not involved in stereotypical student culture, you’re doing it all wrong. I know for sure that there were multiple times when I forced myself into situations in the hope that I might come across as ‘normal’, and I blatantly ignored my rapidly deteriorating mental health out of fear and stigma. It was only when I had my first panic attack at a student night that I finally took notice, and realized I might need a bit of help after all.
Fortunately, I have been pretty lucky with the support and the treatment that I have accessed since, and my undergraduate university – St Mary’s in Twickenham – played a big part in helping me keep on track, complete my degree, and pursue an MA elsewhere.
I’ve learnt a lot over the past few years, but my top 3 points are below;
1. Talking helps
I first opened up to student services at my university, and was offered counselling to fully understand what I was going through. Having a confidential environment to talk about what I really felt helped me accept that there was no shame in working on my mental health, and allowed me to approach my GP and open up to my friends and family. They also encouraged me to seek further support via my local wellbeing service, and the cognitive behavioural therapy I accessed has been life changing. I have made a lot of progress since, and eventually managed to open up to multiple members of academic staff, who were all so understanding about my situation, and did everything they could to help.
2. DSA exists
The Disabled Students Allowance includes students with a mental health diagnosis, and offers additional funding for resources. I didn’t know I was eligible until my postgraduate degree, but have been given a range of software and a specialist mentor to support my learning. My university has also put me in contact with a Disability Advisor, who put together a personal agreement that communicates my needs to academic staff and the adjustments that they are legally obliged to make.
3. Participating in stereotypical student life is not compulsory
There is so much pressure to behave in a certain way, but why should our other interests be neglected? It’s okay to stay in. It’s okay not to go to every student night. It’s okay to follow your own interests. I have always worked alongside my studies, and this actually served as a great distraction where I could learn new skills and meet new people. Although I did not realise it at the time, it gave me a reason to get up in the morning, and that was really important in helping me get better.
To find out more about mental health problems, treatments and more, Mind’s website is a really useful resource and all of the information is regularly checked and updated. Mind also has a confidential information and support line, Mind Infoline, available on 0300 123 3393, at firstname.lastname@example.org or via SMS text message to 86463 (lines open 9am - 6pm, Monday – Friday).
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