Read stories from people who have had, or are living with, mental health issues. Hearing from someone going through a similar experience can be supportive whilst you are going through the demands of education and facing the difficulties of life.
These blogs have been written to help demonstrate that going through education at any level is possible whilst struggling with mental health issues, whatever they may be. We also have links to some really useful resources below. If you need help now, phone the NHS on 111, emergency services on 999 or the Samaritans on 116 123.
Alex - My story with mental health
My story with mental health
Studying at any level can be a challenge, but doing this whilst battling mental health issues can really take its toll. I’ve had low psychological wellbeing since I was a child but only started to notice it for what it was when I was about 14. I still battle with this on a daily basis alongside anxieties, depression and psychosis. The key advice I would have to anyone struggling is to communicate. Now I know this is cliché but it really does work.
I didn’t want to tell my family and I was actively trying to hide this from my friends as I didn’t want them to know what I was really feeling which I had just got used to doing all my life. I think my closest friends growing up always knew something was up with me. People would notice I was having an off day (which is most days) and they would say, “Are you alright?”. Years of teachers/adults/friends parents saying to me ‘you need help’ and I would just deny it and say to myself it will pass. I was also seeing images of things that weren’t really there. This tends to be either people or animals and I still experience these on a regular basis.
I finally started to accept that no, this whole thing wasn’t going away and I needed to get help. Whilst I was going through this bout of depression, I was also in and out of hospital with stomach and liver problems. Being physically sick every day and just feeling ill really made me exhausted alongside studying for my final year at uni, especially as I have bad insomnia and nightmares, to a point where some nights, I’ll do anything to not fall asleep.
Whenever I left university my moods dropped really low, to a point when I was actually hospitalised four days after I got my undergraduate degree results. I achieved a 2:1, something I am really proud of now but at the time it meant nothing to me because I was so depressed.
In hospital I saw two psychiatric nurses and it was then when I said how I had been feeling for years. The weight I had carried around suddenly decreased, I felt like I could breathe again, in an environment where I wasn’t being judged because they didn’t know me. I had hit rock bottom, so I felt like I had nothing to lose by saying what I was really thinking. From then I was shortlisted to see a therapist but the waiting list was about five months.
Now with depression, for me five minutes is difficult enough so getting through this duration of time was something that genuinely scared me. However, the day after I came out of hospital I read a book that my mate recommended by an author called ‘Matt Haig’ and the book was called ‘Reasons to Stay Alive.
I could not believe how words on paper could resonate with me so much. The specific details it went into, it’s those details that you remember when you are going through a difficult time. The rawness of the emotions. From reading this I just said to myself ‘right there is light at the end of the tunnel and I know I am getting help’. It gave me hope. Finding that one thing to give you hope is difficult and I guess I am really lucky to have found it so soon after coming out of hospital. It became the little things every day that helped me, music, talking to friends, walking, running, seeing a sunset, getting fresh air, the smell of petrichor. During depression you get to know a lot about yourself, and it’s knowing what can get you out of it that is significant. Everyone is different. What works for you might not work for somebody else and vice versa. It comes with experience, trial and error. But you have to try things, maybe new things.
I had never read a book that wasn’t academic until Matt Haig and, now it’s something I quite enjoy! Don’t be scared about trying new things. Yes you might do some things you don’t really enjoy, but if you find one thing you love it really helps to open the door, and it just helps with your mood.
Final message -. Take a few deep breaths, and enjoy life. Remove yourself from situations that have a negative impact on you. Take it a day at a time and don’t worry about what’s ahead. You have to live life in the now otherwise you won’t live at all. Obviously you need to plan some things, but don’t get caught up in it.
Remember to talk, whether its mental health related or just spending time with friends or family. It is good to have some alone time no doubt, but when you’re struggling, being by yourself can cause risks. I still struggle every day, but I have started to build my tool box of coping strategies. There’s a long way to go, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and you can too if you look hard enough.
Remember to laugh, lots of laughter is great, the type of laughing when your stomach hurts, happy tears rolling down your face. Laughter is a sign of happiness, and happiness is amazing. It’s so amazing it doesn’t even have to be yours. Seeing people you love and care for being happy and laughing can genuinely make you feel better. Surround yourself around those who make you feel happiness and it’ll help you make it through a day at a time.
Dave - 5 Ways to Wellbeing
5 Ways to Wellbeing
Being at university can be a rollercoaster of a ride with regards to your wellbeing. It can be exciting, daunting, stressful. You can have some of your happiest moments, and sense of achievement, but also for some, it can lead to some very unhappy moments in our life.
We are all on the mental health continuum. The continuum isn’t static, we move around the continuum, ideally being in the minimal mental health difficulties, and the optimal mental wellbeing quadrant. Regardless of where we are on Mental Health Difficulties axis, we can do things to improve our mental wellbeing.
Believe it or not, there are 5 Ways to Wellbeing! “Pah!” I hear you say. Well of course there are more ways, if you’re a micro kind of a person, but from a macro perspective, there really is 5 ways. Back in 2008 the UK government commissioned research into Mental Capital and Wellbeing. The findings from the research can be found here, where you can also find the executive summary. From the research, guidance was created, that has become known as the 5 Ways to Wellbeing. I’ve used the 5 Ways as a framework for students I have worked with over the past 10 years. The 5 Ways are below:
Connect – connect with the people around you. It could be family, friends, colleagues, peers, neighbours. In your place of study, workplace, or local neighbourhood. Increasing your connectivity (in real, not necessarily through social media) has been shown to improve your mental health. Isolation is a significant risk factor for developing poor mental wellbeing. Find out what clubs, societies and teams there are available on your campus by contacting the Student Union. There are a great way to meet like-minded people.
Be active – Even simple forms of exercise has been shown to improve mental health. A walk in the local park, going for a bicycle ride, doing some gardening can make you feel better about yourself. The university campuses are often close to parks and green space’s, go out and get to know them if you are studying there.
Take notice – Get in tune with the seasons. Savour the moment. Reflect on your experiences, and this will help you appreciate what really matters. I am a keen gardener, and I do enjoy watching the seasons come and go through what plants are blooming in the garden. I also over the years, have enjoyed growing fruit and veg, and strive to eat seasonally. In fact, this is one of my favourite times of year, as one of my favourite vegetables is just coming into season, and it will also be the first time that I will be able to harvest my own crop of Asparagus! If gardening isn’t your thing, try other activities that can help with the senses (hear, sight, smell, taste, feel). Try new music, cook a new dish from scratch, etc.
Keep learning – of course, if you are a student, then hopefully you will be learning all the time, but also try something new or rediscover an old interest.
Give – do something nice for someone else, a friend, partner, or a stranger. I often encourage students to consider volunteering at the local animal shelter, helps with all 5 ways to wellbeing, taking a dog for a walk can be a new skill, it can increase activity, and help take notice.
You can always search the internet for other ideas to inspire you.
George - Dealing with an eating disorder
Dealing with an eating disorder
It’s easy to judge someone based on appearance; if their clothes are expensive; if they wear all black, if they’re overweight; or if they’re underweight. It’s much easier to accept what our eyes show us, and what we’ve been told that means, then to make the effort to think maybe they are just as complex as ourselves.
I’m known amongst my friends as a ‘gym guy’. I work out 5/6 times a week, I eat healthy and I’m incredibly good looking (I may have added that one myself!). All joking aside though, I think it’s common for people to perceive me as someone who would be confident, cocky and sure of himself.
Growing up I played rugby, I was pretty good, I think. I was always a shy kid, I’m quite selective with my words and I’m not one for small talk. So, the place I made a name for myself was rugby. There I was “Judda” (my nickname), the big lad, who could do a job in a scrum or in a ruck. Then, when I was 14, I felt a pain in my back during a game.
I had broken my spine; the vertebrae had cracked all the way across. I was instructed not to play rugby again. What defined me had been taken away. This injury (plus some comfort eating) lead to weight gain. I was picked on and made fun of, only light-heartedly by some but we all know that doesn’t make much difference when you’re already insecure.
After rehab, my doctor told me I could start walking, even jogging. So, I did, in hopes to get rid of this body fat that was causing all my upset (so I thought). And it worked, I moved more and started losing weight. People congratulated me and praised me on how amazing my weight loss had been. It felt great, I wanted more. So I started looking up on how to lose more weight. I learnt about counting calories, tracking macro nutrients and began to do so. Again, with results to show for, more praise came my way.
It became an addiction; how fast could I lose weight. I began eating less and less, running more and more, lifting as often as possible. I developed anorexia and became dependent on the gym. There were weeks where each day I would eat a single apple alongside three runs and two weight lifting sessions.
This kind of behaviour is noticeable for family (I could keep it from friends), so I began different tactics. Making food in front of my mum, before throwing it away when she left the room (or feeding it to the dog, no wonder my dog was so overweight). Until they started to catch onto that too, I needed a new way of getting around it. So that’s when I started making myself sick. Bulimia is as inelegant as you’d imagine so I won’t go into much detail.
For some reason, that seems to escape me at this moment, I stopped making myself sick. I think maybe I was embarrassed of myself or a read something that scared me off. I needed some new control, I needed something that could make me forget about all my anxiety and my shortcomings. So, I began to eat. I’d tried not eating and that didn’t work so how about I take the binge eating from my bulimia and just run with it. I’ve been told this is called “binge eating disorder”. And to this day I still wrestle with it, along with the anxieties and depression that come with it.
Now onto my main point. Don’t compare yourself to how you perceive others. I know that most people perceive me as someone who wouldn’t be dealing with these things. As when I tell people, the reaction is often shocked or just confusion.
You might be reading this and be convinced that your favourite YouTuber, the Instagram model or even your mate Jimmy, at uni, is better than you in some way, or in all ways. They have everything sorted and you’re nothing in comparison.
Compare yourself to you. Now what does that mean?
Think about what makes you happy, truly what makes YOU happy. Not what should make you happy or what your family/friends wish made you happy. Find that and set that as your goal, now understand that you are no longer in competition with other people. Jimmy at uni is not after that same goal, and if he is, he’s certainly not getting there on the exact same path as you.
You now compare yourself to you. ’Am I feeling as good today as I was yesterday?’, ’have I progressed today compared to yesterday?’ And pick up on the small progress, maybe you didn’t get upset for as long as usual, maybe you drank a little more water. Feel good about that, congratulate yourself. You might think that’s silly, to feel good about such things, but my question is why not? Why not let yourself be happy and proud of whatever you can be?
Do what makes you happy, not what other people think will make you happy. And choose to be proud of yourself on your journey to your real goal. The goal that you decided, away from society’s pressures.
Your world might feel like it’s collapsing in on you. But please understand that truly, honestly, it isn’t. Your mind is designed to compare, that’s how we know that we’re improving or at least not deteriorating. But the information your mind gives you is not fact. You can ignore it, you can prove it wrong.
And a mini note, I’m sure a lot of these articles will state this (maybe that’s because it’s so true) but you do not have to do this alone. In fact, I’d suggest you shouldn’t do it alone. Reach out, talk to people about it. Don’t let your ego tell you that you must do it yourself when you could progress so much quicker with others. It’s ridiculous to even think such a thing! You wouldn’t miss an open goal just because your friend provided an assist. You shouldn’t miss the chance to feel better just because your family and friends helped you along the way.
Hannah - Being a young carer at university
Being a young carer at university
During my final year of studying BA (Hons) Graphic Design my mum was sectioned and diagnosed bipolar. August Bank Holiday 2011, I was suddenly thrust into being a young carer for my mum with the knowledge my final year was starting in a few weeks.
The process of my mum starting to experience mania through to sectioning and then gaining a full diagnosis of bipolar was actually very swift, taking only a few of weeks. As this was happening during summer break, it was easy for me to be there for her and my family at the time.
I didn’t know at the time about deferring my final year. This is always an option open to you. You can take a year out at any point during your university education through a process called ‘deferral’. So I went back to uni in the September and due to my timetable, contact time now more limited, I spent four days a week in Cumbria and three days in Newcastle to study.
The year was tough. I developed tunnel vision and powered on through, only focusing on study and my family. Each week was the same and it very much felt like I was blind to anything fun. I had one goal to graduate.
My mum’s medication regime meant she went from being manically high to being very low mood and so phone conversations were very negative. She was rarely excited about the future, when I was in Newcastle (away from home?) this often left me feeling worried and low myself.
By February the back and forth and the worry of caring for my mum caught up with me and I went to student services. They helped me look at the next five months until graduation and how I could meet that goal. They also offered me additional financial aid as my travel costs were starting spiralling with travelling back and forth I appreciated that student services took a holistic approach and in hindsight should have gone to them much sooner.
When graduation came, my mum was doing much better. I secured a job back home working for a university and went on to develop the university’s policy for supporting young carers.
My mum will forever be bipolar but she is incredible, she never forgets her medicine, she attends her appointments and is just my mum and I feel so grateful for that. I feel very lucky to have a strong family unit during my time at university.
As a young carer at university it is so important to look after your own health and wellbeing and call on your own support network. I forgot this and found my weight plummeted and also didn’t particularly think about my own future only dealing with the here and now.
You might find your university has a policy to support young carers or a team with a dedicated point of contact who has training and knowledge on what it’s like to be a carer. It’s always worth asking about this.
Rachel - Growing up with anxiety
Growing up with anxiety
Mental health is all around us, everywhere we go, a part of everyone. Some people are fortunate enough to have good mental health for most of their lives, some are not. Regardless, it is highly likely that mental health has touched us all in one way or another, whether it be your own life, that of a friend or a family member.
For me, both good and bad mental health, has touched me in a variety of ways. I was born with a visual impairment that has lots of fancy and complicated names, but essentially means my eyesight is very poor and can be very restricting.
Growing up with a disability was very difficult, especially a disability that is not immediately evident when someone first meets you. I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic family and set of friends to support me, but I did develop anxiety. Something as simple as walking into a café and trying to spot my friends used to fill me with the deepest dread. My heart would pound and I’d be so anxious beforehand that I wouldn’t be able to find them. I would get extremely frustrated at myself for being anxious and not being able to walk in a room like all my other ‘normal’ friends and get embarrassed when asking for help. Throughout my teenage years I struggled to get to grips with that anxiety. I had a strong sense of hating myself and the fact I had a disability that I, at the time thought, would continue to restrict me and hold me back.
Suddenly I reached the point in my life where it was time to start thinking about what I wanted to do after I had finished sixth form, and I was determined to not let my disability restrict me and push myself to go to university. The thought of going to university is terrifying for a lot of people, and it filled me with a lot of anxiety. Going to a completely unfamiliar place was stressful at the best of times, but potentially moving there on my own was even more terrifying. I knew there was the option of going to the local university down my road and living at home, but part of me wanted to conquer the fear and anxiety that I felt when going out of my comfort zone. So I channelled this determination, applied to study History at the University of Leeds and go in!
When the time came around to move to Leeds, I was terrified, but because my Mum and I had made the journey to Leeds on the train a few times and put measures in place to help me manage my disability, I felt pretty prepared. Moving away from home was hard, but it was definitely the best decision I ever made. My confidence grew immensely, and although I did still get bouts of anxiety, I slowly learned to befriend my anxiety and take control of it. Taking control of my anxiety and learning to love myself allowed me to grow in confidence and had a significant positive impact on my mental health. So much so that I started getting involved with my university’s mental health society, helping to organise events to raise awareness of mental health. By my fourth year at university, I was president of Leeds University Student Union’s Mental Health Society as for me, sharing my experiences and reaching out to help others was part of managing my own positive mental health. Sharing how I felt and listening to other people’s experiences of good and bad mental health was therapy itself.
Anxiety has never left me, sometimes it comes back in waves and sometimes I feel like it restricts me and what I want to do in my everyday life, but I’ve learnt to treat it as my friend instead of the enemy. Everyone has a different way of dealing with their mental health, but the key for me is definitely taking a step back from my busy life sometimes and reminding myself that I’m doing my best and that is great. Taking some time to sit back and be mindful, and breathe, sounds so simple – yet it helps me wonders!