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Struggling With Mental Health At University: How One Conversation Changed Everything

The first step is the most important.

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More than a quarter of students report having mental health problems. 77% of these link back to depression. 

Suicide is the leading cause of death amongst young people in the UK and someone takes their life on average once every two hours. Whilst in the US it’s one every 11.9 minutes.

There’s no set way to deal with the problem. No two people are the same and I will not say what helped me will do the same for others. However if it encourages any sort of conversation surrounding a single person’s mental health, then it’s totally worth it.

I had struggled for years with often crippling anxiety, but always overlooked it. It made everyday situations painfully awkward. Be it work or socialising, I was a constant heap of nerves. When you’ve dealt with them kind of habits for so long you just get used to weathering them. That way you convince yourself it’s not a big deal and you just kick on.

For me It took a family member becoming extremely ill to push me that bit too far and realise there was actually something more that wasn’t quite right.

Towards the end of my studies, my dad fell seriously ill. We were told to prepare for the worst case scenario. It was those hospital visits that changed me. When you see anyone that you care about, no less your own dad in a situation like that, it puts things into perspective.

I could write for hours about the horrific experiences I had in those visits. But that isn’t why I chose to share this. Often it unfortunately takes something so huge for you to realise how flimsy life can actually be. You witness something like that and you just step back and go “Why am I doing this? Who cares what people think?”.

That’s why I cannot stress enough, that if you’re feeling down, sad, sh*t, upset, speak up. It’ll be the best thing you do.

Whether you believe it or not, people will care.

The first time I spoke to my closest mates, it made me feel stupid for not doing so sooner. Being a lad, in a group of lads, it’s hard to find any ideal time to bring it up.

Turns out the right time was after a night out, having a cigarette outside their flat.

By the time uni comes round, we’ve hit a decent level of maturity and people are more willing to listen. Not only that, you often realise who your real mates are during this time. More often than not, they’ll do anything they can to help.

University will often accommodate more than you think

Being someone who had always been academically strong, when things started affecting my studies it hit pretty hard. I was missing large chunks of uni and struggling to motivate myself into starting any kind of assignments.

A mixture of stubbornness and reluctance to share what was actually going on stopped me from speaking to my uni for so long. When I finally did, again the support surprised me. After explaining the situation I was given extensions on assignments and it was a huge weight lifted.

Don’t be scared of seeking professional help

This was probably the most daunting bit for me. Going and sitting with a complete stranger and spilling everything? It’s barely a situation anyone wants to be in.

I was brought up in a family full of stubborn people. None of us would ever want to kick up any kind of fuss at the risk of inconveniencing one another. If I’d suffered some kind of physical injury, I’d only use a doctor as a last resort, why would this be any different?

These exchanges are part of their daily routine, they’ve heard everything. You won’t be the first to enter their door and talk about not feeling great and you certainly won’t be the last. No one is better equipped at dealing with that situation than they are.

Put yourself first

You know yourself better than anyone, your health is more important than any degree. So many times I tried to accommodate for situations I didn’t care about just to ‘make the most of uni’. Every time it ended the same way, feeling worse off for doing so for the next week.

Don’t feel bad about turning down a night out, there will be others. Don’t feel bad about missing the odd lecture, they’re available online. don’t feel bad for talking to people about it, they care more than you think.

Most of all, don’t feel guilty.

For so long I felt like I had no right to feel depressed, simply because there were other people who were much worse off than I was. At the end of the day, it’s an illness and if you’re suffering with any other illness you should seek help. This is no different.

And like any other illness, there’s treatment in many different forms. Taking the first step is the hardest part, but it can change everything completely.

Like I said, everyone’s coping methods will be different. This will be completely irrelevant for most people. But if it can spark up that first conversation, then it’s completely worth sharing my own experiences.

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