I spent my first year at university battling the worst of five years of depression
Poor mental health is an epidemic among students
The official statistic for the prevalence of mental health issues in the UK is 1 in 4. In my student house, four girls in second year, it’s 2 in 4. The more friends I speak to, the more I begin to wonder whether anyone has thought to find accurate data for students. There is no way it stands at 1 in 4. Poor mental health and a university education are almost synonymous.
When I first moved into my halls last September – a second floor flat in a ten storey building – I had no idea that my room would come to feel like a prison. Central Village has a reputation for being anti-social, but I brushed it off; everyone loves to chat shit about other halls, how bad could it really be?
Before I arrived in Leeds, I was full of enthusiasm. I was accepted despite failing to achieve my offer, and that in itself felt like a miracle. For someone who has battled depression and anxiety, and had issues with self-harm from being fourteen years old, the move felt like a fresh start. I quickly realised that the pressure and competitiveness of a degree couldn’t be underplayed.
I stopped going to uni in late November. My motivation was at an all-time low, and in a city like Leeds with a bustling social scene, I found it all too easy to completely replace studying with socialising. Being an extrovert with social anxiety is a bizarre battle – I often talk too much to hide my nerves. Over Easter, I took a step back and realised how bad things had become, but when your mental health is as poor as mine was, every simple task seems massive. The idea of phoning a doctor and asking for help didn’t even cross my mind.
By June, I was eating nothing but takeaways and ready meals. My room was an absolute tip. I never called home. I was at the end of my overdraft but lying to my parents about it. The few friends that I’d told I was having issues had no idea about their severity. I thought that because I was capable of going out and getting drunk, I didn't really have a problem. I managed to come out of first year with a 2:2; I was amazed to have passed.
A few weeks ago, two days after World Mental Health Awareness Day, I left my parents a letter explaining everything.
October 17th 2017 was the five-year anniversary of the first time I self-harmed, and I refused to let it pass without finally telling the people who brought me into this world how difficult I was finding being in it. It’s rare that it comes up in regular conversation. People don't really clock onto what the scars are, because our brains don't automatically assume people are capable of doing such damage to themselves. A guy once pointed out that I’m “covered in scars” and it’s haunted me since, even though I know he must have actually been referring to those left behind as a result of my clumsiness. No matter how much they fade, I can still see them.
I think that the way we talk about mental health is a series of ridiculous contradictions.
We encourage people to speak out, preach about the importance of open conversation, but also treat admittance as a form of attention-seeking. I’ll happily admit to seeking attention – attention for a cause that is worth our time. The mental health services at universities are not up to standard. There is too much pressure on students for us to possibly maintain a healthy work-life balance. If you go into university with problems, the likelihood is that student life will make them far, far worse.
Ask your friends if they're doing okay – don't assume that a day of missed lectures is laziness. Seek help if you're struggling, no matter how hard it is. My pastoral support officer told me last week that my lecturers won't be angry that I never attend, but instead that they'll be waiting for me to let them know why. Amazingly (you'd think this was his job or something!), he was right.
I'm not going to lie to you and say that I've "recovered", because I don't think that's entirely possible, but I can say with full confidence that it does get better.
The Samaritans helpline is 116 123, and is free 24/7, 365 days a year.