Depression: How to cope as a fresher

Things can only get better if you confront the problem face on

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Fresher’s week at university is for many people the first week of term where everybody goes crazy. Following the loss of my grandmother this past summer these events and nights out were almost high on my agenda, but trust me this is not the answer to anything.

Looking back, it was all a bit of a blur, a bunch of overly paranoid moments with more than a handful of doctors’ visits and many concerned faces. It ended with me banging on one of my housemate’s doors at 6am in what I now know was a seizure.

I couldn’t complete simple tasks such as walking alone, making food or sleeping. I was constantly paranoid about being mugged and would carry my most expensive possessions around the house with me. I would have a couple of panic attacks per day and simply could not be left alone. I couldn’t stop apologising when I didn’t even know what I was apologising for. I was speaking about things that were strange and irrelevant and would be unable to hold a conversation without tears streaming down my face every other minute. Mentally, I wasn’t around and everybody around me could see it.

Of course, university is a very anxious time in many people’s lives. It’s a big step. However, there is a lot of help out there if you’re struggling. Mental health is becoming more and more recognisable in many people globally. So if you think you’re alone, the chances are, one in four people in your lectures will be struggling with the same things. Things can only get better if you confront the problem face on with professional help.

Use the UoB mental health services

I went home more often than usual but upon arriving back at university the stress of catching up with work would get to me every time. My mornings were filled with crying and calling the University Medical Practice trying to get emergency appointments.

Remember, it’s okay to ask your lecturers and seminar tutors pretty much anything. The one thing people don’t take advantage of is the support team we have at our university which offers counselling and many other services which are located in the Aston Webb building.

Welfare tutors pretty much help with anything. Your welfare tutor is definitely your first point of contact and they are extremely supportive with regards to deadlines and easing off the academic pressure, especially with no judgement present at all. The University has many ways of helping those with mental health issues. These range from confidential advice to wellbeing groups.

I was offered CBT which I found extremely useful in distinguishing against negative thoughts and patterns keeping you down. The main thing I learnt from these sessions was to stay close to positive people as negative opinions will only bring you down. Having people around you who are lazy and constantly putting you down, rather than those who are encouraging, can inhibit positive steps.

Open up to your family

When home, my parents were extremely worried, they weren’t sure what was wrong with me and only wanted me to get better. With no family history of mental health issues and such a stigma placed around it, wider family didn’t know how to approach the subject. Typically, they resorted to prayers, as the topic of ‘mental health’ is practically taboo when it comes to Asian cultures. It was all a bit of a wakeup call and a learning experience for us all.

Open up to your family. Without my family’s love and affection and endless hours of patience I can definitely say that I would not be where I am today. My sisters played a huge role in my recovery. I could not ask for a more supportive family around me during this phase of my life.

Confide in your friends

Each day there was an improvement, from leaving the house by myself to eventually regaining the confidence to talk to my friends and hop on the social media band wagon again. I was confused for around 3 months when things started to make sense. I’m not afraid to say that I was diagnosed with a first episode psychosis, later developing into depression, for which I had medication to rebalance the chemicals and hormones in my body and counselling to get me back to who I am today. Think of it like this, if your foot broke and the pain was unbearable you would have to take antibiotic medication to get rid of your pain; if you have diabetes you need to take injections of insulin to maintain your blood sugar level, just because you’re taking medication for your brain its no different to any other treatment. Just because your brain is internal and isn’t on the outside of your body and hence not visible does not mean it functions correctly 24/7, this is certainly not the case. People who aren’t sad get depressed, its something to do with the balance of chemicals within our brains which we simply cannot control.

Having a mental health issue revealed who my true friends are, sure it’s been an emotional rollercoaster, but I will never forget the ones that looked after me, visited me and loved me throughout this whole experience.

Look after your physical wellbeing

We can help fight mental illness by eating healthily, keeping busy and exercising. Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin into the body. What helped me was trying new and different things to calm my body down and become stress free. For example, I started attending a yoga class once a week and discovered simple breathing techniques to stop a panic attack. Everybody is different so what worked for me may not work for a majority of people. Find what’s right for you.

Open up to yourself

I also started to write a diary and filled it with whatever was irritating me or making me happy. I would definitely recommend this as it relieves stress. You can look back at your diary and see where you were compared to what you have become, it really helps to see what you have achieved.

I certainly never expected this obstacle in my life to occur but sometimes these things just happen and they are out of your control. In some ways I’m glad I went through this hurdle in my life to look back and see how far I’ve come and how much stronger I feel.

If you’re suffering from something similar to what I went through- tell somebody immediately, it could be a stranger on the UoB’s nightline number or your house mates who are truly concerned. If you know of anybody having gone through a mental health scare- talk to them openly about their experiences and help in any way possible. Chances are, they would love to simply talk to somebody about their experiences.

You come to university to discover yourself, these next few years will be the best years of your life, keep your eyes wide open and take advantage of the opportunities available to you. If you don’t, you’ll only regret it in the future.

Thank you all for taking the time to read my story, I hope I have encouraged others to open up about themselves and seek help where needed, Let’s de-stigmatise mental health one story at a time.

I would like to dedicate this article to my family and friends and really anybody who helped me through this rough time in my life. Including my amazing welfare tutor Mr . Warren Evans, without you my dream of completing my degree would certainly by now be diminished but instead I have been given a second chance. You take your job one step further by really caring about your students so thank you. I don’t know where I would be without all of you loving and selfless human beings. You all know who you are so thank you, I love you and I feel blessed to have so many people who I can count on in my life. May God bless you all.