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It’s now been over a year since I finished university which feels like such a long time ago in some aspects and like it was yesterday in others, yesterday, I was invited along to speak on BBC Radio 5 live about mental health awareness whilst at university from the perspective as someone who has made it through university (by some miracle) whilst having a mental illness in tow. The experience of the radio was amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed having that verbal platform, I also decided it would be great to share my experiences on my blog as there is so much more which needs to be spoken about and as you’ve probably guessed from my blog and my huge section on mental health, it’s something I am passionate about. I have previously touched on my experiences on What Uni and decided it would be great to expand on this on my blog too. Let me know your thoughts and feelings in the comments below your experiences around mental health and university.
The pressures of going to university:
University can be a difficult experience for anyone who goes, whether you’re the most outgoing person around or the quietest. The picture painted for most of us around the university is one of the best times of your life, no parents, a ton of alcohol and parties, making new friends and for most of us love interests too. Oh and that *small thing* of work, lectures and learning new things. I went to university on a whim, which is definitely not something I’d recommend, during college, I felt like I was talked into going to university, it was never something that massively interested me, as I didn’t know the career path I wanted to go down.
I remember when everyone was at college, applying to UCAS and choosing the universities they wanted to go to, I felt like I wasn’t ready to go or if I was going to go at all. Although we are all considered adults at 18, I don’t feel like many of us are in the right place to make the decision of what our future could hold and for £27,000+, it is a pretty important decision to make. I was told to apply by my tutors and then if I didn’t go then all I’d lose is the application fee for that university. So I did. I applied to the local university as at this point the idea of moving away and living with strangers was not something I could deal with.
For anyone who isn’t sure about the route to take, after college/sixth form it can be extremely difficult to decide as it one of the first times in your life you have to make that choice yourself, but it is important to remember that if you decide you no longer want to be a part of the course which you’ve joined you can drop out within 1st year and then go on to start a new course and get full funding for the three years. Which is something I wish I had done as I knew from the early days the course is not something I wanted to carry on doing?
Change, so much change:
I remember the first few weeks of my lectures were absolutely awful as I struggle to take the information in, let alone write it down as I was convinced my stomach might rumble (like really loud) or that I might not be able to get a seat despite there always being way more seats than people. It feels somewhat like going back to school as you’re in a whole new place, on your own and you don’t know how to feel. Then comes the workload and for me that felt like it was never-ending, you’d get work for each of your modules and were told you needed to put like 40 hours study in at home a week which in reality isn’t really possible and to top it all off, making new friends involves having somewhat of a social life. Of course, with that much change, the majority of us are going to feel floored by that, but it is important to remember that other people will feel the same as you and you can talk to people about it. I often found myself taking to the internet mainly Twitter to talk about my anxiety around the university and I found a lot of other people related to how I felt.
Whether it is you or a friend who is struggling, there are platforms of support out there for them. I know a lot of university students don’t reach out to their parents for fear of feeling like a failure. Others struggle to reach out to their friends due to what they’re seeing on social media and for me, that was a huge part of the FOMO I was feeling, as all of my other friends were meeting new friends, partying and I struggled to keep my head above water. Most universities offer counselling on-site to help those struggling and in the last few years, the support keeps getting bigger and better. There shouldn’t be any stigma in needing to reach out for further support, no matter who you reach out to.
I ended up needing to be signed off university for a while, which meant I needed a sick note from my doctor which is when my university became aware of my struggles and told me all about what they offer on-site. I was assigned a note-taker for those times in lectures when I wasn’t able to cope with coming in or when I was struggling to take focus. I remember feeling really embarrassed when the note taker would hand me my notes as from the outside I look and act ‘fine’. Before my sick note, I wasn’t really aware of my university offering these services, so it is important to speak to your lecturers to find out what is available for you.
This is not your fault:
It’s easier than said done to believe in situations of crisis that you are not to blame. But the same as any illness physical or mental you cannot help it. I remember thinking how pathetic I am, surrounded by a room of people who are doing the exact same thing as me, but yet again I am the one struggling to come to lectures, not being able to make friends and finding it hard to comprehend the 40 hours of work I am due to do after this. But now I am starting to understand these situations aren’t my fault and can’t be helped. Whatever course you are studying, in whatever town or city or even country you are allowed to feel overwhelmed and shouldn’t feel guilty for doing so.
P.s. If you don’t feel like you can talk to anyone around you in real life, remember there are people you can call to talk through your feelings such as Samaritans who are free to call and you can reach them on 116 123 and they’re open 365 days a year 24/7 and are happy to talk through just about anything you’re struggling with, as someone who has used them previously, it is great to be able to talk about your feelings with someone who doesn’t know you and can offer an ear. Mind also offers a lot of amazing services, including resources if you’re in crisis. Finally, if you or someone around you is feeling distressed it is worth ringing 111, who can offer you the best advice and services that may be needed.