I have depression, bipolar disorder and panic attacks: do you see me differently?
There is a stigma attached to students who suffer with mental illness, says Phoebe Greggor
Everyone has heard the statistics that one in four British people will suffer from a mental health disorder at some point in their lives. But according to recent studies, ‘students today report more anxiety than psychiatric patients in the 1950’s’ and ‘one in five [university students] suffer psychological ill health’.
It’s clear there is a massive problem for university students, but it’s not just diagnosis which is an issue.
There is a stigma of those with mental illness. There is still a medieval taboo that those with mental illness are ‘weak’, and this stigma attached to mental health and sufferers stops people getting treatment or even a diagnosis.
According to a National Union of Students survey, more than 26% of students who say they experience mental health problems don’t get treatment and only 10% use university counselling services.
A few nights ago, a friend asked me about anti-depressants. Even though she had never been on them previously, she was worried about taking them. Not the side effects, but whether she would be judged for taking them.
I was taken back. Not only did she receive very little medical information, but also by her fears that medication can apparently cause shame. I was 15 when I went through my first period of depression, my mum took me to her GP who had helped her greatly when she was suffering from depression.
However, even after showing him my self-harm, he diagnosed me with depression but did not offer any further support because, and I quote, “Phoebe isn’t going to jump off a bridge any time soon.”
While the majority of universities offer at least counselling, they are often over-subscribed and many students know of few alternatives. So many people suffer on a daily basis – sometimes to the point of self-harm and suicide – yet it is seen as selfish, something I myself have been told, to ask for the same support as patients of physical problems received.
Just because there are no visible signs of mental health, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. There is such an ignorant culture of mental health that I have genuinely heard people in a seminar say: “If you have depression, you can’t work” as well as “I’m an expert in mental health, I know lots of people with depression” (by the way, a lecturer said that one).
What do you want, a sticker? No, you are not an expert in mental health, depression is a tiny part of a massive spectrum of illnesses.
Obliviousness is so damaging, and it needs to be tackled. You may not understand how sufferers feel, or maybe you will. However, I have depression, bipolar disorder and panic attacks, I used to self-harm and am on anti-depressants.
I am also at one of Britain’s best universities studying my passion with future plans of working for UN Women. Mental health does not create barriers. Ignorance and stigmas do.
If you have any concerns regarding mental health there are a number of services available in Nottingham:
- http://www.su.nottingham.ac.uk/advice/nightline/ – has lots of options to get in touch with Nightline
- [email protected] – Nottingham’s therapy service
- [email protected] – please do get in touch!