This article was written by Rose W as part of a series to raise awareness of mental health issues and break down the stigma that surrounds them. Rose started to suffer from depression and anxiety whilst at university, and shares her top tips for coping. You can find her on Instagram.
I thought I understood mental illness and I thought I was too strong to ever be affected by it. I was wrong. Throughout my teenage years, I watched as some of my closest friends battled various mental illnesses and eating disorders. I was determined to help them and support them for however long it took and I will never regret that. Being so close to mental illness growing up, I thought I had a pretty complete understanding of it by the time I went to university, but going into my second year, things started to change. I want to explain my experiences of poor mental health at university so that more people can recognise when to get help for themselves or their friends. Too many people suffer alone and it can have devastating effects.
Around August 2016, I started to feel disconnected from my life. Things that would normally make me happy, such as seeing my friends, would make me feel tense and uncomfortable. Everything felt wrong and I convinced myself I just needed to get back to uni and everything would be fine. However, when I returned to uni in September, nothing changed. The more I struggled to feel happy, the more upset I became with myself. I would wake up convinced that something was seriously wrong. My heart rate was constantly elevated, breathing was hard, my skin felt wrong and I wanted to cry all the time. Despite watching my friends struggle with mental illness in the past, I didn’t recognise it in myself. I couldn’t focus on my work without feeling sick, I would sit with my friends and smile whilst feeling nothing but sadness. The longer it went on, the more I just wanted to sit in my room alone. Acting like I was happy was exhausting and I didn’t know how to tell my friends how hard it was to be around them. By the time I went home for Christmas, I was having panic attacks so severe I would throw up. Luckily my family saw instantly that something was wrong and took me to the doctors where I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and depression.
Through my experience with mental illness, I have struggled the most with maintaining friendships and my studies. So here are my tips for making the most of your university experience whilst fighting your mental illness:
- Talk to someone. That is so much easier said than done and there are still times when I cannot face having to talk to people but I promise you, it helps. Explaining to your friends and family how you are suffering will be a weight off your shoulders. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to people you know, try reaching out to a therapist and access the mental health services at your university. Fighting mental illness with the support of friends is so much easier. I’ve been so lucky to be surrounded by a fun and supportive group of people, and whether or not they have been conscious of it, they have all made my battle easier.
- Plan out your studies and give yourself time to relax. Getting too behind on your work will probably cause greater anxiety. Try to do as much as you can but if you find yourself unable to focus, then breathe and walk away. Work is important, but it is not more important than your mental health.
- Tell your university. They may be able to offer additional help, or at the very least, grant extensions on assignments. Often at least one of your professors will be more than understanding and having a member of staff willing to support you and speak to your other tutors will make your life easier.
- See the doctors. Having an official diagnosis helped me so much. I was able to learn more about my specific mental illness and how to start on the road to recovery. If the doctors suggest using medication, take it and do not be ashamed. You wouldn’t tell someone who needs glasses that their eyes could see perfectly fine without them, so if your brain needs some extra help to balance out, take it.
- Remember you are still worthy. You might feel like you are a burden, and that no one wants to be around you, but you’re wrong. Good friends will understand that for now, you’re struggling and they won’t leave you. Even if you are battling yourself, and find yourself hard to love, others will still love you. I met my boyfriend four months after being diagnosed and I was open with him about my mental illness. Almost a year later we are still together and going strong.
For anyone watching their friend suffer, please tell them you care. It seems simple, but when your own mind is betraying you, it is hard to see that people around you want to help. Today, please take the time to reach out to your friends, especially men, who suffer alone disproportionately. Do not let your friends suffer in silence. It’s time we ended the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Thanks so much to Rose for sending me this post. Mental health issues can affect anyone, regardless of their knowledge of the issues themselves. Being self-aware is the first step towards acceptance and recovery, and there is no shame in getting help from others. I really like these tips for managing a mental health problem whilst at uni, a time when a lot of us suffer.
If you’d like to get in touch to write for this series please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please hashtag #MentallyWealthy in any Instagram/twitter posts and spread the word!