Tuesday, 1 October 2019

My Experience of University Counselling

This blog entry discusses the issue of the university counselling system from one PhD student’s perspective.

- Nathan Ritchie 

I have a brother who suffers from mental illness, so opening up about my own mental health has been a relatively comfortable experience. I know this is not the case for many others. It was important for me when I started showing signs of depression and anxiety, that I was entirely open with those around me. I wrote about my feelings to a wider audience so that others who are suffering silently can read and perhaps relate to my experience. Of course, once you start writing about mental health problems, you open yourself up to people speaking behind your back and this owes to a lack of understanding and a general stigma attached to mental illness. 

Today, I wish to discuss the university counselling system. I am a PhD student at Loughborough University, so I can only speak about the experiences I have had whilst here and I recognise that this is not representative of all universities across the country. Although I feel I have exhibited signs of volatile mental health from a much younger age, I started to recognise symptoms of depression during my first year as a PhD student. I started taking to bed a lot and having unrefreshing naps, which may not seem like much, but it can really debilitate. I felt a constant sense of fatigue and dullness which was uncharacteristic as I have a lively personality. It took a while for me to accept that I would need some help to get through this period but eventually I reached out to the university counselling team and asked for some assistance.

Initially, I spoke with the in-department mental health support. When I applied for support, I was asked to fill out a form asking me to describe the mental health difficulties I was facing. At that stage, I found it a bit intimidating that I was being asked to define how I was feeling when I had no idea myself, so I asked whether I could skip this process and I was allowed to which was very helpful. I met with a nice lady from mental health support and it was a relief to express some of the fears I had about my mental health. It was freeing to openly discuss the situation without having to worry about judgement or worrying about what my admissions might mean for the future of that relationship. The advice given was at times simplistic, i.e. meditation app, structure - these are things I had been working on for years, but it was still overall a helpful experience.

To have mental health support in the department is brilliant, but there are limits. I was advised to seek counselling help at the university, and this proved a slow process. I had to wait up to a month to see someone, by then my mental health had deteriorated, and I was desperate for some guidance. I went to one meeting with the counsellor and whilst it was a perfectly pleasant experience, I did not think it helped to improve my mental health, because I actually felt that the negative thoughts were more intense once I had left. I was worried it might make me worse. Eventually, I began to recuperate and was back to my best not long after. I learnt from the experience to champion mental health support at universities, but I now understand the limits to the support the university can offer. Seeking support if you are experiencing difficulties is very important, however, I would advise others not to rely solely on university support services and instead use them to complement other things you are doing to recover your mental health, such as therapy or seeing your GP. 

Click here to find out more about mental health support at university.

Hi there, I’m Nathan. I am a PhD student at Loughborough University researching media history. I chose to write for Student Minds because I wanted open up about my own mental health issues in the hope that others may be able to relate and thus find comfort and reassurance in what I post. I have periodically suffered with bouts of depression and anxiety and I also have family members who have been diagnosed with severe mental health issues.

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