Tuesday 26 September 2023

Managing university and mental health

Alice shares her experience of struggling with her mental health whilst being at university and that it's okay to reach out and get support.

- Alice

I’d always wanted to go to university. I was the nerd, the smart one, the one that everyone had high expectations for. I went to college with high hopes that I’d remain that way, but my mental health had other plans.  

Change is inevitable, we know this. Change is also terrifying, especially for those of us with anxiety. We think of every ‘worst case scenario’, and we torture ourselves over what could go wrong. I have social anxiety which basically means that I over-analyse everything I do, and I feel as if everyone is watching me when frankly they’re probably not. I like to tell my anxiety that even if people are watching, they’re just thinking about how utterly gorgeous I am. However, that’s hard to believe when, in that moment, I feel embarrassed of my entire existence. 

This was a problem at college because there were so many people. Everyone was new and everyone (in my eyes) had their lives together. I, on the other hand, did not.  

Fast forward to university, I felt like a shell of my former self. College drove me into a habit of constant comparison, and I fell into a dark place due to an event that took place. I wanted university to be a fresh start, where I left all my problems behind me but unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Healing takes time and work, but so does university and I needed to find a way to balance them both. 

I struggled at first – I couldn’t cope and with all the university work, I barely had time to breathe. I felt vulnerable and alienated. I often was emotionally distressed so it was hard to sit down at my desk and complete a maths assignment. University is all about working towards a better future and so I asked myself “What is the point?” because at that moment it was hard to see any future for myself. That was my internal conflict.   

My realisation was that unless my mental health was in a better place, I wouldn’t be able to give university my best shot. You’ve probably heard it a thousand times before but it’s important to put your health first. It’s okay to need time. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s better to be alive than in the grave with a bachelor’s degree. I went to the mental health advisor at university, I attended therapy, and I was prescribed anti-depressants by my doctor. It didn’t ‘fix’ me or miraculously take all my darkness away, but it gave me the ability to see things clearer. Life was easier to manage, and I could identify the patterns that were keeping me “stuck”. 

You don’t have to be your own obstacle. You can do it, and it doesn’t have to be at the expense of your mental health.  

“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, and more unashamed conversation.” - Glenn Close. 

The more we speak about it, the more we can see that we’re not alone. Sometimes that’s all we need, to know we’re not the only ones struggling. Reach out, you never have to face it all by yourself. There is help, and most importantly there is hope.

Whether you are looking for support for your own mental health at university or supporting a friend, help is available.

Hi, I'm Alice. I wanted to share my story because I'm hoping it gives some comfort to others that they're not alone and that there's nothing to be ashamed of. Let's end the stigma that we should just 'get on with it'. University is hard enough, let alone being alongside poor mental health. It's okay to need time and support.

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