Starting University is a big step for anybody, but when you’ve got a mental health problem or illness to go with it, it can be even more worrying. Although there are not many studies that have been carried out on mental health statistics on young people at university, it is estimated that 2.2% of 16-25 year olds experience a depressive episode and that 3.6% of 16-25 year olds have experienced generalised anxiety disorder. 6.2% of 16-24 year olds have attempted suicide in their lifetime and 8.9% of 16-24 year olds have self-harmed in their lifetime. Although to some these statistics don’t mean much and don’t seem to be as high as other age groups, it has been noted by researchers that a lot of mental health problems in university students goes undetected or unreported; meaning that these numbers are likely to be higher. Aside from the statistics listed above, 27.3% of people aged 16-25 year olds experienced other types of mental illness including personality disorders and neurotic episodes [Young Minds – 2011).
The one reason why I wanted to write this blog post is because I have been truly experiencing the effects of living with mental illness at university ever since I started my first year in 2015 and haven’t really been 100% honest about it. It’s been nearly 9 months now since I have had no medication and no treatment for my diagnosis’s (who would’ve thought, hey?) I also got asked recently to write a blog post on university and mental health problems for another blog/research due to the rise in the issues. I wanted to list a few things that I have noticed about being at university with mental health issues not only so others with a similar illness can be prepared and feel less alone and reach for help but so those without mental health problems can understand what issues we face.
- It feels like there are more ‘bad’ days than good. Most of the time university causes me a lot of emotions. Living in a very confined space with strangers (especially when you’ve got a severe anxiety disorder such a SAD and GAD) can become claustrophobic and make me feel trapped. I often get so overwhelmed with anxiety that I cannot leave my room. This was particularly worse in my first year due to the flat and my well being decreasing. Although I functioned outside of the flat it was incredibly difficult to leave my room to do simple things like cook dinner. This caused an increase in my depression, my tiredness increased so I slept all the time and my anxiety was through the roof. This year its so far been better. Although the bad days do feel like they’re occurring too frequently, I take hope in those few good days that arise. Going outside and sitting with nature has been my coping skill and escape route.
- Anxiety can be overwhelming. University brings lots and lots of anxiety, even for those who don’t experience any type of anxiety disorder or problem. There are people everywhere, and I mean everywhere. In your flat, in your lectures, on the campus, on the bus, in town. Everywhere. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because people can be awesome friends and good distractions…but when you struggle with anxiety issues, especially Social Anxiety Disorder, people can just get too much sometimes. Most of the time I need to carry a tool known as a ‘tangle’ around with me just to cope with my anxiety. A tangle is designed by a company called Tangle Creations. They are used as a way to fidget and keep a person occupied. They are mostly used for SEN but are on the rise for those with mental health problems, addictions and sensory disorders. Without this little thing, I never would’ve gotten through all the anxiety-filled situations I have.
- University can either cause mental health problems or increase existing ones. This is particularly true in my case anyway. Living by yourself can cause existing mental health problems to increase or reoccur due to people not being around to stop a relapse or intervene with coping methods. Stress and anxiety that can be related to university work and pressures can trigger a depressive episode and vice versa. There can be a rise in panic attacks and self harm. Again, keeping yourself distracted is the best thing for this. People are a good distraction tool and also great company but are not always available. A good book, movie, a walk outside or a nap are good alternatives.
- It can be devastatingly lonely. University is supposed to be a time for fun, lots of friends, societies and good class mates but when you’ve got a mental illness all the fun stuff can be daunting. I’ve wanted to join societies and go on nights out but due to anxiety and low self-esteem this has so far proved impossible. Going on nights out was successful until I started feeling like a burden to those I was with. Have you ever felt the loneliness that comes even when you’re in a room full of people? yeah? That’s the type of loneliness (the worst type of loneliness) that I’ve ever felt at university. To avoid feeling lonely I’ve learned that you need to become comfortable with being by yourself. You need to stop yourself from depending on other people. If your friends are busy, find something in your room to keep you occupied. Go outside and explore a new place or a take a bus to somewhere you’ve never been.
- Sometimes, you just want to quit. I can’t even count on my hands how many times I’ve sat and thought about leaving university. Sometimes the emotions obscure your thinking and lead to irrational thoughts. Sometimes I’ve wanted to quit or go home so bad. Sometimes I’ve wondered why the heck I’m still going on, but then I sit and think about where the end of this journey will take me- to my dream job with the amazing special children I have grown to love over the years. The thought of eventually being a special needs teacher keeps me going. I know that I can do this job because I have done it before, and it really feels like something when you believe you can do it. Don’t quit university, even if you feel you want to. Your mind is just wishing you’d give up. Don’t. Not ever.
Although my REAL feelings and experiences of university seem quite negative on the points above, there really are ways to enjoy university and have an amazing experience even with mental health problems. I have a lot of down points, but each day I try to find at least one, and I am having a good time. After all the feelings pass, I feel okay. Because I have family who love me and friends who try to understand. Even if I feel I have no one to turn to, I will always have myself. There are plenty of ways to find support whilst at university whether its family, friends, lecturers, counsellors or health professionals. If people don’t listen, keep going until they do. You’re the only person who knows yourself and what you can accomplish. You’re an amazing person with a passion for life hidden deep down inside of you. You’re strong for surviving every bad (and good) day to date. Your imperfections make you absolutely perfect and I love you (yes, you reading this.) and I believe in you with everything I have.
If you are feeling troubled by mental illness, feel you suffering with a mental illness or just need to talk then you are welcome to email email@example.com at anytime for information and links for advice. Even just to chat.
I am also starting a ‘share my story’ section on my blog in the upcoming months in order to get other people’s voices heard. If you’d like to feature on my blog and share your story in regards to mental health please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your identity can remain anonymous on the blog if you wish.
I wish you the best in your recovery.