Depression at Bristol: A personal account

A student speaks out


Huge strides have been made in making mental health less of a taboo subject in recent years. Nevertheless, it remains a massive issue in universities across the country.

The Tab has been investigating mental health in universities nationwide, including Bristol, which despite coming out 10th overall, slipped down to a far more damning 21st when it came to actual student satisfaction, at 52.71%.

Many students, myself included, feel like the support available at university is simply not good enough and that universities should be doing more to improve their pastoral care.

The common cold of mental health?

Depression is a particularly notable issue in universities in the UK, and Bristol is no different. Many students feel isolated, overworked, and absent from the university experience, so it is unsurprising that many of them end up feeling depressed. This is by no means the only mental health issue that affects students, anxiety is another big hitter, but it is definitely the one of most pervasive.

Despite how common it is in our society, depression is an extremely complex disease that is still not fully understood. This is because it is not simply a mental condition, but a physical one, as there are a huge amount of factors that contribute towards someone developing depression.

A genetic predisposition, extreme stress, bereavement, a traumatic event or abuse are all possible factors, and indicate that depression is much more than ‘the common cold of mental health’.

It is clear that students are particularly susceptible to this particular mental illness in the context of the university environment because it can be a lonely experience that is only exacerbated by the general reticence to speak about or even acknowledge that it is an issue.

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A personal account 

I have been dealing with mental health issues for years, never getting a definitive diagnosis or going on medication because, foolishly, I have preferred to stick my head in the sand and wait for it all to go away.

Because I was too stubborn to do something about it when I noticed what was wrong I almost failed my second year of university. Unfortunately, it didn’t go away and I spent six months trapped in my mind.

If I am being harsh with myself I really should have known better than to leave it that long, the medical history of my family in terms of mental health is pretty damning. Virtually every relative I have has suffered with some kind of mood disorder ranging from clinical depression to bi-polar and post-natal depression.

If this isn’t indicative of a vulnerability to mental illness, I do not know what is.

I was sleeping constantly, never going out and generally feeling utterly shit. Consequentially I was missing a lot of my lectures and tutorials. Unsurprisingly, my grades suffered.

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After begrudgingly hauling myself over to the Student Health Service and saying that I needed some help with my mental health, I was refused anti-depressants by my doctor who recommend that I pursue other alternative forms of treatment such as counselling or exercise.

I was referred to the Student Counselling Service who offer only six sessions at a time. Frankly this is not nearly enough.

The woman who saw me was clearly lovely, but did not have a clue when it came to helping me grapple with my issues. She was not prepared to deal with a survivor of domestic violence who makes dark jokes about abuse at her own expense.

Don’t get me wrong, Student Counselling do some great things, but when it comes to anything more specific or difficult than exam stress they are not always best equipped.

Bristol University clearly makes an effort to provide support to students as much as they can, Mind Your Head month was a big effort on the part of the university to raise awareness of mental health issues and encourage students to seek help if they are experiencing difficulties.

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Moreover, many students simply are not aware of the services available to them, I did not even know that there was a student counselling service until I was halfway through my second year.

I think ultimately though it comes down to an issue of funding, as the resources can only be stretched so far.

University is not easy, if it were we would not be having this conversation about the state that some many of us are in.

These days I am feeling pretty good about life but will always hold my hands up and say that university is most definitely not easy and if you are struggling do not suffer in silence.

Speak up about how you are feeling, because it is a far better than the alternative of doing it on your own.