My Mental Health and University




“University is going to be a life experience. You get to know yourself” I remember my cousin telling me. I laughed because I thought she was being a bit over the top, what does 'get to know yourself' even mean? After finishing my second year I finally understood what she meant. It was never a goal of mine to go into further education after secondary school, it just felt like the thing you had to do; you go to primary school, then secondary, after you attend college or sixth form then off to uni. I had my doubts because I wasn't passionate about any subject that I was willing to dedicate 3 years of my life to so I considered doing an apprenticeship. It wasn’t until I spoke to more people about their experiences which persuaded me to go. 

Most people I spoke to repeated the same cliches: "uni is the best time of your life" and "you make "lifelong friends" and blah blah. Everyone seemed to have a sick time so why wouldn't I want to go? Being the optimistic person I am (I hope you took notice of my sarcasm), I envisioned myself having this incredible time...of course having high expectations will lead to disappointments. No one really speaks about how university can be a really hard time for some people. Our perception of what our experience should be like is shaped by other people's experiences and opinions. We end up ignoring the fact that mental health can be a major issue for many students. It is fair to say that many students struggle with mental health problems and a lot us are unaware of how to look after our wellbeing.



The start to first year was a vibe, everyone was just trying to enjoy themselves. I was never allowed to go to parties or nightclubs, you can only imagine the excitement I felt when I finally got a chance to experience it. The taste of freedom was schweeet! Around the start of November, the enjoyment and "fun" started to diminish. I lived in a single gendered accom with four other girls, it was really fun until the vibe in the house was off and uncomfortable to live in. Who knew I would have an intervention session at uni (in other words a "flat meeting") and be told I was disrespectful and patronising (yikeees).


Even though I respected their reasons, apologised for the offence caused and we sorted everything out, our friendship didn't go back to normal. My social group in university stopped inviting me out with them so I didn't really have anyone else to do things with. A lack of belonging made me spend most of my first year in London rather than in Leicester. There was no point of me staying since I was having a shit time. I felt as if I was definitely in the wrong place. I've always struggled with low moods and the isolation contributed to my depressive episodes which became more frequent. 

Most of the time emotionally I didn't have the energy to go out. Instead of going to societies to meet different people, I remained moody for the rest of the year because I kept comparing my experience to everyone else's, who all seemed to be having a blaaaast.  I entered second year completely regretting my decision not to transfer universities. Failing to understand why I wasn't having this exciting uni life, I wondered why no one seemed to be struggling except for me. Although, I remember reading some blog articles from people who didn't enjoy university and it was comforting to know I wasn't the only one.  

How did I look after my mental health during university? 

I had my worst depressive episode in second year where I felt so alone - my mental and physical health was declining. My eczema flare up made me too self conscious to go out most of the time but I tried to overcome this in second semester. Here are 4 things I did to look after my wellbeing:

Spoke to a friend

It's important to remind yourself everyone's fighting their own battles. You can't expect all of your friends to check up on you all the time. I'm grateful for my friends in London who reminded me that they are only a phone call away. Bottling up your feelings is very unhealthy, you should talk to someone during your down days. A true friend will never make you feel like you are a burden or make you feel afraid to reach out to them. Not everyone understands mental health issues but it's reassuring to know that there is someone you can rely on to hear you out. 

Joined societies

My biggest regret is not going to societies in first year. It would have been great to be surrounded by people with similar interests. In second year, I pushed myself to attend Creative Writing, Amnesty (in relation to the NGO focused on Human Rights) and Radical Youth (Christian youth group). I loved the events I attended, especially the debates at Amnesty who even had Grenfell survivors on the panel. Despite the inconsistency in my attendance, I met so many great people and I loved the atmosphere they all created. 

Did the things I like doing 

This was as simple as listening to my favourite albums to watching a show on Netflix. I didn't leave the house much so I tried to stay productive and focus on my own personal growth by writing and reading. 

Counselling

It wasn't until second year that I finally decided to get counselling because I was feeling worse.  Counselling does help but it's really down to you to make the effort to change things. We focused on the reasons why I was feeling the way I was. What I can do when I find negative thoughts taking over my mind to prevent a bad episode from emerging. This included meditation, doing things I like (writing etc), affirmations and learning to connect with other things (nature, books) if you struggle to connect with people. Another great technique I learnt is detaching myself from the thought, questioning why I was even having them and then turning the negative thought into something positive. 

Rather than moving universities, I told myself second year would get better and to be honest, it did. It took a while but I changed my perspective and tried to look at situations differently. I made new friends with some lovely people this year. Even though I wasn't going out often, I was able to invest more time into myself by writing, brainstorming projects I wanted to start and thinking about my future career It's evident that people suffer in silence. There needs to be more awareness on mental health struggles during university. We need to push people to utilise wellbeing services at their institutions if they need it. Regardless of how many friends you have, mental health problems can still affect you. Therefore, please be mindful of your wellbeing.  




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