Why We Should Be Prioritising Student Mental Health

Yesterday, sat here working, with the television on in the background, an ITV news segment discussing mental health problems in university students caught my attention, so much so that I had closed my laptop and watched it with real interest.

A report has warned that university students with mental health problems are in danger of “slipping through the gaps” when they are at their most vulnerable.

It comes amid a continuing increase in the number of student suicides, showing that the number of young people dropping out of university with mental health problems has trebled in recent years, and calls for a more “joined up” approach to mental health care services, with schools, colleges, universities, voluntary organisations and the NHS working together to provide adequate support to students.

And sitting there, twenty years since I started university, it took me right back in time to my 18 year old self and the start of a life-long battle with my own mental health.

Because when I left home for the very first time at 18, and moved away to University, I was a very different person. Going from being a popular, out-going person with a large circle of friends and a long term boyfriend, I found myself just one of two girls on a corridor of boys in my Halls of Residence, feeling very alone, and as though everything had changed.

The first few weeks of university passed in a blur of Blue WKD, Bacardi Breezers and Reef, playing drinking games til 4am and dancing ’til our feet hurt. But pretty soon I found that I felt increasingly isolated, feeling as though I didn’t fit in amongst the two main groups in my particular faculty – the performing arts crew and the sports science bunch. I felt lost amongst the big characters in my seminars, questioning my own ability as a writer under such excruciating pressure, and I felt worlds apart from the sports science students, feeling completely inadequate, and believing that I would never fit in with their already closely formed friendship groups.

It’s hard to pinpoint a moment when I realised that I had become depressed, I guess at first I didn’t even realise. When I casually mentioned to others that I was feeling a little lost, I was told that it was perfectly normal to feel homesick, that everyone struggled to settle in at first, that my university years would be the best of my life. And I knew nothing other than to believe that.

And so I tried to carry on as normal. I made friends, juggled a messy break up with a new boyfriend, and stumbled my way through the first semester – partying, drinking, sleeping in late and skipping lectures. I sought comfort in the wrong places, looked for answers in empty bottles, and told myself that this was just a blip, that pretty soon I would settle and have the time of my life.

I wrote endless letters to all of my friends at universities spread across the country, desperate to appear happy and upbeat, and I relished every single reply, comforted by a glimpse of home and a life I had loved. And yet when I returned home for Christmas or Easter, instead of feeling relieved to be spending time with my friends as they told me their endless tales of how amazing university life was for them, it simply made me feel even more isolated that I didn’t feel the same way.

Eventually, in the final semester of my first year, I reached out to my personal tutor and told him that I was struggling. Having no registered doctor to speak to, and still unsure as to why I felt so sad, I was given an appointment to see the sole campus counsellor, 6 weeks from that date. I can still remember how the appointment had taken an age to come around, how I had ticked off each day on the calendar, trying my very hardest to stay afloat and failing, massively.

I will never forget how nervous I was as I walked into the counsellors office, terrified to say out loud all of the crazy thoughts in my head, worried about what the implications would be when I admitted how low I was feeling. And I will never forget how, after sobbing uncontrollably for the entire half hour, she had merely pushed a box of Kleenex towards me, patted me on the arm, and told me that it would all work itself out.

And that was that.

I’m not sure how I made it through the remainder of that first year, but when I returned home, with a bin bag of washing and a heavy heart, I was a shell of my former self. And whilst I plastered on a smile and tried my hardest to hold it together, I was hit by the realisation that everything had changed, and I would never be the happy, carefree young girl who had left home just 10 months earlier.

It was purely down to a fear of failure that I returned to university for my second year that September, moving into a shared house with three friends, and drinking myself into oblivion on that first night to drown my sadness. I felt paranoid around others, I was struggling in my relationship with my boyfriend, and completely over whelmed with the sudden influx of essays to write and deadlines to meet.

In no time at all I reached a point where the only way to deal with all of those feelings was to shut myself off, to stop replying to friends when they wrote to ask how I was doing, to phone home less and less, and to build up a wall to protect myself from everything, and everyone.

And my ex husband, for all of his faults, was a rock to me at that time. Looking back my heart breaks for that 19 year old boy, bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders, dealing with my issues, and bowing under the strain. Because the truth is, it was not his burden to carry alone, not his, not my friends, not mine, and I look back now and wonder how we even made it through.

It was only one night, when everything came to a head, when I genuinely wanted to go to sleep and never wake up, that I wrote my parents a letter, telling then how desperately unhappy I was. And, having received that letter, my Mum rang me two days later, sobbing down the phone as she asked me why I hadn’t told them sooner, and she said to me just three words which I’m pretty sure saved my life back then, “Just come home.”

And so I did, and, over the following years, under the care of my GP and a mental health support team, I started to regain some control over my life, find a way forward and eventually, return to my studies.

Looking back, I question why there had not been more support available to me at that time; why my university didn’t have a dedicated mental health care team in place; why, in retrospect, so many others in that same position had been failed in just the same way.

This week Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah stated that, whilst the University Mental Health Charter will go live in the next academic year (2019/20), we should be acting now – as institutions and as a society.

Because now, as a Mother, the idea of sending my children off to university to fend for themselves, perhaps hundreds of miles from home, is terrifying. I want to know that should they struggle with any aspect of university life, be that home sickness or mental health issues, that there is something in place which they are aware of, and that they can access, immediately. 

And at 38 years old, having lived with mental health issues my whole adult life, I can’t help but wonder how my life would have panned out had I received the help I needed at a young age, with early intervention at university, and a support network that was easily, and readily, accessible.

When reading more about the increase in suicide rates amongst university students, the saddest quote of all came from the friends of a Bristol university student who took his own life, who simply said: “It shouldn’t have been left to us to shoulder the entire burden of our friend’s deterioration. That’s the part that really sticks with me, they left it in the hands of a bunch of 20-year-olds to manage this…”

And for that reason, I am backing the campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues in universities, whole heartedly.

 

 

 

 

Follow:

32 Comments

  1. September 18, 2018 / 4:19 pm

    When I was at uni we had a couple of friends in our circle that were depressed, glad they got help and happy it’s being discussed so students don’t fall into the cracks.

  2. Melissa
    September 18, 2018 / 4:31 pm

    I have dealt with depression a little in my life, but not to the extent of some. I believe everyone does at one time or another. Studying my Bible and praying is what helped me get through it. I definitely think we need to be more help to individuals that struggle more than most.

  3. September 18, 2018 / 8:42 pm

    The Importance of Mental Health Awareness in Schools. … Advocate for mental health awareness at school, including the risk of self-harm or harm to others. Mental health awareness is an important issue for all educators, who are often the first line of defense for their students.

  4. September 18, 2018 / 9:41 pm

    Totally agree with this, particularly with today’s generation where depression and mental health issues are ‘casually thrown out’ and it’s become relatively hard to fathom what’s real and not. That said, you can’t take these things lightly and you can’t just ignore things for the sake of dramatics. Back in the day, I was glad I had a guidance counsellor who actually cared about her students’ wellbeing as much as their education.

  5. September 18, 2018 / 9:45 pm

    It’s unbelievable in this day and age that there are still people struggling with mental health issues on their own. That there aren’t more facilities available to help those in need of it early. I completely agree with the minister that its all well and good the new charter will be live next year for students but what about those who need it now. I think funding for mental health programs and support needs to be alot more than it currently is. But I wonder if it will ever get the right level of funding.

  6. September 18, 2018 / 10:40 pm

    I think this is such an important thing, my mental health got very bad when I was in school and no one really knew how to deal with it – the school told me just get better and just left me flounder when it came to school work and no one really understood what was happening. I think things are slowly getting better but it definitely has a long way to go.

  7. September 18, 2018 / 11:07 pm

    This is super important. I love how you have used your own personal experiences to shape your article and raise awareness x

  8. Elizabeth O
    September 19, 2018 / 10:19 am

    What a really important topic to highlight. I think you make some really great points here. Mental health is such a hard hitting subject and we definitely need to raise more awareness on this.

  9. September 19, 2018 / 12:32 pm

    I didn’t stay at uni due to not being completely happy – I was, like you, friendly, happy and popular at school and really I’d lost that safety net when I went to halls and stayed somewhere so far from home with not one friend going to the same place.

  10. September 19, 2018 / 1:32 pm

    It breaks my heart to think of you as that lonely teenager at uni and that there might be children like you out there today. Thank goodness you found the strength to write that letter to your parents. xx

  11. Ali Ash
    September 19, 2018 / 3:03 pm

    Your article has really touched my heart. As a fresh graduate, I totally agree with you. It is really important to grow students mentally before they get into universities and start leaving far from their parents. New people, a new approach and all those new things create tension at the time, which grows slowly and gradually if you are not strong mentally.

  12. September 19, 2018 / 3:49 pm

    Oh wow. What a story, what a well written and important story. I’m happy your mom took it so well and was there for you and helped. This topic is super important and definitely there should be more support and than just someone telling the students that it will be fine!

  13. September 19, 2018 / 4:24 pm

    I totally agree with the importance and urgency of talking and sesibilizing to mental health issues in schools so that when they occur, pupils don’t feel “guilty” as they usually do.

  14. September 19, 2018 / 4:26 pm

    I have just dropped my son at university and mental health is at the forefront of my mind. During various open days I asked the universities what their provisions were and how they looked after their students and his first choice university (the one featured on BBC news) was top of the pile, so I am hopeful that he will be well looked after need be

  15. September 19, 2018 / 5:14 pm

    There is so much pressure on you at university, not just the work but the balancing of peoples expectation. It also comes socially as well. Mental health is key so I’m happy to read plans to improve it are in place.

  16. September 19, 2018 / 5:55 pm

    I went through university rather easily but has not been the case for all my friends and they could not find the support they needed at university, while you are right, there should have been support there! We need to raise more awareness around Students’ Mental Health because they are at a stage of their life that is so important, that it can determine their entire future!

  17. September 20, 2018 / 6:02 am

    I wish there was less stigma with getting help for mental health. Sadly even in the US there is still a problem with it. An abusive ex of mine would always ask if I’d taken my meds anytime I was in a bad mood or if we got into an argument over something. It was all down to me being crazy no matter what. It really sucked.
    I try hard to make sure my kids are taken care of for their mental health, I just hope it’ll help in the long run.

  18. September 20, 2018 / 11:21 am

    This is something that we really need to put attention to. Being new to uni can be overwhelming and our children need all the support we can give.

  19. September 20, 2018 / 11:29 am

    I do feel that prioritizing student mental health should be our motto. They need special care and someone to understand. So yeah it’s the high time to raise more awareness for it

  20. September 20, 2018 / 11:53 am

    Good you are raising awareness about this issue. Many student at university suffer with little or no help.

  21. September 20, 2018 / 11:54 am

    Good you are raising awareness about this issue. Many students at university suffer with little or no help.

  22. September 20, 2018 / 1:51 pm

    I agree! My sister is in her freshman year of Uni and it’s been really tough. I wish there was more support at the Uni. I can support and listen to her but I am far away from her.

  23. Monique Cláudia
    September 20, 2018 / 5:23 pm

    It’s so sad to see things like that. People don’t pay attention to mental issues! Recently I helped for a non government organization to support people with mental illness or depression. Good job you’re doing here.

  24. September 20, 2018 / 7:03 pm

    When you move on to university you leave the school/family persona before, this can be liberating for some, bewildering for others. A lot of people may take comfort from this post if things aren’t going as smoothly as they’d desired.

  25. September 20, 2018 / 7:30 pm

    My daughter has just started some pre-teen courses at college because she was bullied and threatened with knives at her secondary school. They literally couldn’t have cared less than she was slipping into a deep depression, worrying what the next day would bring, and there was no help available to her there. Luckily for us, the college is amazing, and they have a massive team of specialists who can help out in pretty much any situation. I think all schools, colleges and university’s should have something in place to help vulnerable people. It just makes good sense! I’m so sorry to hear about your experience at uni. It sounds like it was a really tough time for you 🙁

    Louise x

  26. September 20, 2018 / 8:08 pm

    Great post, I can’t express enough how important mental health is during a time like University! 🙂 x

  27. September 21, 2018 / 11:11 am

    This is a fantastic post – so good you are highlighting this issue as it really is so important! Speaking from experience uni can be hard for some – leaving home, the pressures of the work and becoming a proper adult. Great post.

  28. September 21, 2018 / 9:20 pm

    Couldn’t agree with this more. You never know how much a person is struggling and there needs to be structural support.

  29. September 22, 2018 / 5:34 pm

    I’m terrified about sending mine off too. It’s so scary but I’m heartened that mental health is at least being talked about so much more. This sounds like a great and very important campaign.

  30. Rachel
    September 23, 2018 / 3:43 pm

    I’ve got to agree whole heartedly with this post, University was a tough time for me and i found there wasn’t much help about, it’s so important to talk about it more! xo

  31. Blair Villanueva
    September 24, 2018 / 7:46 am

    We always need our support systems (family and friends) for us to be guided on our situation. Your post is very helpful.

  32. September 28, 2018 / 12:01 pm

    A real important post. There are many stressors on university students, but there is help out there. Speak to someone please if you can, talking always helps in my opinion. If there is no one to talk to the Samaritans are there 24/7 and do not judge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *