Friday, 22 April 2016

Giving yourself credit: University can be difficult sometimes

Sarah writes about her experience of depression and contribution to depression awareness week at her university.
- Sarah Redurp

Monday the 18th April marks the first day of Depression Awareness Week, and also the first day of a campaign I've been organising called Mind Your Head - a month long mental health awareness campaign at Bristol Students' Union.

The main message behind Mind Your Head is that whoever you are, whatever you're studying, we all have mental health and it is something that we need to be aware of and look after. Despite the fact that one in four Bristol University students have a previous diagnosis of a mental health difficulty, 10% of students are seeking support from the student counselling service and an estimated 78% of students nationally are experiencing mental distress, talking about how we're really feeling with others continues to be a difficulty.

May last year brought about one of the worst episodes of depression that I had ever had, and since then it hasn't really gone away. I had spent a whole fortnight hurriedly bashing out a string of essays while struggling to keep my head above all of the seminar work I had to catch up on. It wasn't until I emotionally exploded after I realised that my final essay was 1000 words under the word count after the deadline had passed that I realised something was really wrong with me. I convinced myself that things like showering, making hot meals, brushing my hair or even sleeping were a non-essential waste of my time. I would shut myself away in my room or go out for midnight to early morning sessions at the 24 hour library.

This probably sounds familiar to a lot of students. The fear of time slipping out of your fingers that comes around every time a deadline looms. The anxiety around being able to actually complete something; wondering the whole time if you're actually good enough to be at a Russell Group University or whether they let you in by mistake. The voice in your head telling you that if you're not working you're not doing enough, that other people are working harder than you, that you're not making the most of it. Frustratingly, struggling like this just seems to have been accepted by students and staff as part of university culture.

I don't think we give ourselves enough credit for actually how difficult and emotionally exhausted undertaking a degree can be. It's very likely that we've moved away from home for the first time, away from all of our support structures, our friends and family.  Then we're chucked into a situation where the pressure of performing academically is matched with the pressure of making the most of the best time of our lives. Suddenly we're not just worrying about how much work we're doing but we're also worrying about how much fun we're having, how many societies we're trying out, how many things we can do to improve our CVs. Adding to this, we're having to manage our health and finances for the first time and it is really hard.

I look back on my three years at Bristol and realise that I didn't prioritize what the really important thing was, myself. I stopped taking time to do my hobbies, I stopped looking after my body and my mind and I didn't take time to think about what was happening to me because I was too busy worrying about performing. You are not your grades. To struggle at University doesn't make you weak and it certainly doesn't mean that you're not good enough, it means that you're just like everyone else and that's okay! You're allowed to struggle and you're allowed to find it hard, because it is! So cut yourself some slack and take time to do something nice just for you. You deserve it.

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