My experience with the Sussex mental health services
The first step is admitting that you need some help
Today is Mental Health Awareness Day. Since 1992 the Mental Health Foundation has marked October 10th as a day to raise awareness of mental health issues around the country, with its primary goal being to abandon the stigma surrounding mental illnesses.
As someone who has suffered from depression of varying severities for a number of years – from just feeling a bit moody to the most severe – I am in a position to talk about my personal experiences with the mental health services provided at Sussex.
Firstly, what services are available at Sussex?
I’d always say that the best place to start when you see the beginnings of a bit of psychological distress would be the doctors. Sussex has its walk-in clinic in the heart of campus, right between East Slope and Lancaster House.
Luckily, it is 2017 now and doctors have a far better understanding of mental health, meaning they won’t give you the old fashioned response of ‘pull your socks up and smile’ – they really do care and they really do listen to you. The team at the clinic is excellent.
Right next to the doctors under the archway there is the counselling office. Walk in there and book yourself an appointment if you feel that would be better than going straight to the doctors, or alternatively do it online under Sussex Direct. Unsurprisingly, with the amount of 18 year olds leaving home for the first time and not being sure what to do, the wait can be quite long.
The third call of action is the Student Life Centre. You can book an appointment here to chat to one of the advisors. If you have previously been diagnosed with a mental health issue and it is impacting your work at university, they can do a lot to help out. If you feel you need it, you can get extensions on deadlines, extra time in exams, and smaller rooms during exam season. If work is stressing you out, this could be a great place to get some advice.
Here comes the personal stuff
I’ve suffered from depression and waves of anxiety for a few years. It took me until the summer of 2015 to finally get diagnosed, though, when it eventually got a bit much for me. Moving away just two months after that diagnosis was difficult because it took time to understand what it really meant. I always knew I’d suffered from periods of feeling really low, but I hated the word – depression.
When I came to Sussex, I booked an appointment at the counselling office straight away. I’d been going to counselling since I was 16, but took the piss a bit and never took it too seriously. Teenage angst at its finest.
Within a week or two I’d got my initial appointment. I had to fill in a long questionnaire about how I was feeling. I’d never done this before and it made me think a little bit more seriously about actually getting help from counsellors.
I started talking to the guy in his office about how I’d been feeling pretty shit for a couple of years, and then he started with the big questions about the causes of why I’d been feeling like this. That scared me a bit. I thought ‘I didn’t even know you, why would I tell you?’
By the end of the half-hour session, I’d achieved more than I had in two years. I left feeling really excited about the possibility of being a happy, functioning human being. “We’ll sort you out with six weeks of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)” he said. No idea what that means but it sounds fun.
I started going every Tuesday to get my brain analysed, and every week I learnt more and more about myself – the triggers of my low moods, why I get so anxious at the most bizarre things and how everything, ultimately, connects. I started seeing a picture of my own mind.
A couple of weeks before breaking up for Christmas, I had a really great feeling that everything was going to be alright. I’d just finished my course of CBT and I felt pretty settled. I had a really close group of friends at uni and everything was falling into place.
When things went really shit
On the last day of uni before breaking up for Christmas, I started feeling a bit odd, like something important had just been taken out of a machine and it started screeching and doing everything wrong. On the car back home, I was having panic attacks like never before and everything started going downhill pretty fast.
I had booked to go the Berlin a week later with my best friend. I sat on a balcony for most of the trip writing a lot of shit in a notepad hoping I’d feel better. Sitting in the airport on the way back, I rang my mum. “I can’t see happiness in anything anymore, mum.” If I didn’t have the family and friends around me that I have, I would have struggled so much more.
When I got back to uni, I went straight to the doctors and was prescribed with Citalopram. Initially, I’d been reluctant to go on any medication because of a bad experience I’d had the summer before with them, but my doctor convinced me. He told me to go back to counselling and look into booking an appointment with the Student Life Centre (SLC). I did both of those things.
Before counselling came my appointment with the SLC. I spoke to a really lovely woman who actually seemed to care. It didn’t seem like she was just doing her job, it seemed like she really cared about my welfare. She told me she would get in contact with my tutors so they knew what was going on, and they gave me extensions for deadlines, and if I missed a class or two I shouldn’t worry. Sometimes getting up for a 9AM seminar is the hardest thing to do when you just want to stay in bed all day and not talk to anyone.
I went back to counselling this time, but instead of talking to a man this time they gave me the option of speaking to a woman. For some reason I felt slightly more comfortable doing this.
Light at the end of the tunnel
I really started opening up to my new counsellor about everything that was going on. This time it was more important than ever. We had chats that got deeper than the drunken 4am chats with your mates in their halls kitchen. We spoke about my passions in life and what I really cared about. I told her that some days I just wanted to sit with my guitar and a notepad and block the world out. She said that that was okay, and if it makes me happy I should do it.
I had a lot of sessions with her and finished in April. I learnt so much from her about coping with things, and the best pieces of advice I have taken away with me and told to other people who are struggling. The one piece of indispensable advice that she gave me, though, I will always remember, and I hope it helps other people, too. “Everything in life is about moving forward. You always need direction in your life. It’s like you’re a machine and when you stop turning you start to rust and you don’t work properly. Find something you really care about and run with it. You’ll never stagnate if you do that.”
Things are still difficult from time to time. I still get periods of being quite low, but taking the steps I did at Sussex led me to a much better place.
If you are struggling to cope, the first step is admitting that you need some help. It isn’t something you can get through by yourself, just like any other illness. Your brain isn’t doing the right thing and it needs a bit of rewiring. But no matter what place you find yourself in right now, things will get better. I promise.
Happy Mental Health Awareness Day!