Wednesday 19 June 2019

My Life as a 'Student of Colour'

Nkasi shares her experiences of being a 'student of colour' and having depression, and shares some tips she’s learnt along the way.
- Nkasi Stoll

People would always say to me “university is the BEST years of your life!! You meet so many people and make lifelong friends and gain new experiences, and have so much fun!!!…”. Meanwhile I spent freshers’ week locked away in my room paralysed by anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. The first time I left my room was on day two and it took me hours to work up the courage. 

Once I was outside it didn’t get any better - I still felt trapped. This made every task … walking, cooking, cleaning, eating, listening, reading, writing … incredibly tiring. Nevertheless, in my second year I took on a job where I worked over 40 hours. I would wake up at 5am, go to work, go to lectures, go back to work, go clubbing, go to sleep for a couple of hours and wake up again at 5am to go back to work. I barely ate and barely slept. I didn't need the money; I needed to escape from depression and getting black out drunk was the only time I felt that I had peace. When it came to attending my lectures and seminars my thoughts came with me. It didn’t help that out of 200 people on my course there must have been about 4 other black students. I encountered varying degrees of racism on a day to day, from daily micro-aggressions, being called “exotic” (more often than I can count), to being told by a fellow student that I probably got into my course to meet a “race quota”. I struggled to find friends who I could be myself around. Not only did I feel I had to put on a mask to cover my mental illness, as a black woman from a single income family, I also had to find ways to make myself palatable and 'blend in' with the other students. It was mentally and physically exhausting. 

I came into university an A*/A student and by the end of the three years I felt exhausted and broken and just relieved to have graduated with a (very low) 2:1. During the two years after graduating university I continued to try and pretend that I was okay.

It wasn’t until my relationship with my boyfriend at the time broke down and I almost lost my job that I started to accept that I needed help. After 10 years of struggling alone I got the support, help, and love I needed. Two years after my undergraduate degree I graduated from my master’s degree with a high 1st. Fast forward another two years and I have received a full scholarship to study a PhD looking into the ethnic differences in student mental health.

The more open I became about my depression and anxiety, the more I learnt that my journey is not uncommon. University can be an extremely difficult and traumatic time for many of us and there is no reason why we should have to struggle alone. 

4 things I wish I could tell myself during freshers’ week: 
1. University will NOT necessarily be the best three years of your life, and that’s okay. Life exists outside of university. 
2. Find an academic mentor who looks like you and can understand you. You can learn a lot and get help in dealing with personal and academic issues.
3. You deserve to get help. Talk to a friend, family member, university counsellor and say the words “I am really struggling, I need help please”. Life will get better. 
4. Find a community. If one does not exist, create one.

You can find more support here

Hi! i’m Nkasi. I start my PhD soon at King’s College London, looking at ethnic differences in the mental health of university students. I experienced mental illness during my undergraduate and master’s degree and currently struggle with depression, anxiety, and pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder. I am passionate about bringing people like me together to share our experiences and help cope  with university life which is why I have set up a project called ‘The Student of Colour Collective’ which will officially launch in September 2019.


  1. I love this blog. It's everything I needed to read and help me. Thank you so much for being brave and writing down your life experiences for everyone to read.

  2. I have started university. It's been 4 months and I feel really down all the time. I'm finding it hard to make friends because of exactly how you felt, the odd one out. I try to talk to class mates but it seems like they just ignore me. I don't know if I want to start again in September.

  3. This is a wonderful piece really shining a light on the vulnerability of students of colour with mental health issues

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I too am a woman of color who struggled with mental health during university....they certainly weren't the best years of my life either!

    It's so wonderful to see that it is possible to find a community and succeed in a career of choosing (getting accepted into a PhD program is no easy matter), even if we struggle with mental health. I appreciate you sharing your story.