Students suffering from mental illness say the stigma is the hardest thing to deal with

‘You just don’t want something like this to affect your future’


The number and severity of mental ill-health has been increasing among young people over the last few years. Students at university often turn to their university to seek help for anxiety problems, depression or eating disorders.

However, many students struggle to get the help they need because of the prevailing social stigma surrounding mental health that often characterises them as ‘loonies’ or ‘mad’.

According to The Tab’s 2016 Mental Health Survey, UCL was ranked as the eighth best university in the country for dealing with mental health.

UCL had some of the best funded psychological services in the country, spending £32 per student. However, students who took part in the survey admitted they felt uncomfortable talking to the university about mental health.

The Tab has talked to UCL students who have suffered from mental health problems in the last few years to better understand how this stigma affected their ability to seek help.

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For months, ‘Zac’ tried to manage with a crippling case of anxiety. He tried to carry on without accessing the mental health service because of the stigma surrounding mental health:
“The reason I referred myself was I’d started to experience episodes of very intense anxiety, that made leaving the house pretty difficult. This had been going on since Christmas so I was getting further and further behind with my work and couldn’t manage any more
“I’d heard pretty bad things about how universities dealt with mental health from both older students and friends, so I spent a long time trying to stay on top of it on my own
“There is a stigma surrounding mental health, because it’s not seen as a valid reason to get behind with work and that speaking out about it might result in outright exclusion from opportunities in later years such as from a year abroad or research opportunities.

‘Will’ used the counselling service following a traumatic experience. He said that the real struggle for him was opening up about his mental health issues:

“I was in shock, I had crippling panic attacks and social anxiety for a few months afterwards. When I initially went in and filled in the forms they [UCL psychological services] told me it would be three weeks until I saw someone. However, after I said how much of a mess I was in- hadn’t eaten is about three days, sleeping two hours a night etc., they got me a session in two or three days
“Mental health is a really difficult thing to talk about, I think mainly because you only know yourself, so you don’t know what’s normal if you’re not.
“It’s also quite embarrassing sometimes to talk about it, for weeks afterwards I couldn’t really attend gatherings of more than three or four people without having a really hard time and it’s a very hard thing to explain.
“It’s really hard to know when you’re in need of help, mental health is so irrational and so unevenly spread that it’s difficult to talk about because you feel like you don’t have a real complaint if you know what i mean? You fell like there’s nothing actually wrong with you, so why aren’t you fine?”
‘Sarah’ currently uses UCL’s psychological services for depression. She said the stigma surrounding mental health inhibited her from seeking therapy:

“I think students are afraid it will show in their records, their futures will be affected and they might not get employed- this was my fear.

“Even if UCL says they keep the information private, you fear that an employer might get in touch with UCL to ask for a recommendation and that maybe UCL will also pass them over this personal information about you. 
“You just don’t want something like this to affect your future”