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MHAW2016 - My relationship with mental health

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Type into Google ‘depression at university’ and over 215,000,000 results pop up in 0.37 seconds. In amongst the links are articles on how to deal with depression at university, the common causes for depression at university, and endless accounts of students suffering with depression.

The odd thing is that it doesn’t seem to be that unusual. There are reports talking about 1 in 3 students suffering with depression at different universities. That is the same statistic as the percentage of people who will get cancer. You are either the one who is suffering or you definitely know someone who is.

I’m that 1 in 3. I was diagnosed with depression in my second year and because of that I’m currently at the end of my retake year. The symptoms I’ve been showing however have been since I was 12. It was only until I attempted to take my own life did the doctors notice.

Unfortunately, my story sounds a lot like many others suffering with depression at university. The pressure that you deal with to succeed, get a good degree, get a job and have some sort of stability in the future is debilitating. I’m not even using that word for effect; I have been physically crippled by my depression. I couldn’t find the motivation to get out of bed for two weeks before I was diagnosed. In those two weeks I couldn’t shower, eat, or go to my lectures. I lost a lot of weight and I looked grey. My flat mates were worried they hadn’t seen me and when one of my good friends came into my room against my permission she took immediate action. Called my boyfriend, got me to the doctors, and helped me get the support I needed at university.

That was in January 2014 at my lowest point, and over two years later, I can say I have improved. At most, my crippling low points last 3 days, but I approach every day with a ‘see how it goes’ attitude.

I had put so much pressure on myself to do well that I was ignoring how my physical and mental health was going. I was obsessed with getting work experience and spent hours on end perfecting a hundred words of an essay. There are other attributes to my depression - I have always had this pressure. My High School English teacher vividly remembers me to be the most stressed out student she had ever met. However, all the way up until A-levels I felt rewarded for the stress I put myself under. I got straight A* and even achieved full marks in my Chemistry GCSE. Then University came along and the ability to get a high first was virtually impossible.

It was second year that it hit me. I think the best way to describe it was that I burned out. All that motivation and determination to do well vanished and within months I had given up on everything. I had committed self-harm before as ‘punishment’ to myself but this was an attempt on my life.

As odd as it sounds I was relieved when the University told me it was okay. They took in mitigating circumstances and within a month I got all the help I needed. The support was outstanding, and even though I had mitigating circumstances, I wasn’t treated any less inferior as a student. The Leeds Student Medical Practice was amazing as well. At the beginning of this year they had started a mental health nurse programme and I was seeing a wonderful nurse weekly for behaviour therapy.

It’s starting to sound like a happy ending story, but in reality the end is far from near and the problems are still there. However, now I have a structure in place, a backup and a post to lean on so to speak. The hardest thing to accept is that this illness may not be going and in fact I will have to learn to live with it. But that, at the very least is what I’m doing. University is one of the worst places to be dealing with depression due to being away from the comforts of home and parents; however, in some odd way it is also the best place. If you are fortunate like me, you have a university who takes your mental illness very seriously and makes you a priority student to keep an eye on. Leeds University is like the wheelchair to those who cannot walk - it allows me to go and carry on like normal.

If you think you are also suffering from a mental health issue, I urge you to seek help at university. Many universities will have connections, partner organisations, services, trained personnel and an infrastructure to help point you in the right direction to begin finding the right help and support you need.

Jasmin Vincent lives at Liberty Dock, Leeds. She is studying History of Art at The University of Leeds, and is currently in her 2nd year.

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