The 10th to the 16th of May marks Mental Health Awareness Week which aims to encourage people to talk about their mental health and reduce the stigma surrounding the topic and accessing help.
In 2018, the Insight Network found that 1 in 5 university students struggle with their mental health, with anxiety and depression being the most prominent. The mental health charity Mind found that the growing uncertainty of the global pandemic has resulted in 73% of students reporting that their mental health declined during lockdown.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, I wanted to be honest about my own experience and my journey to receiving support.
If you take a look at my social media accounts, the girl in front of you has a beaming smile in clubs and parties. Occasionally, whining about upcoming deadlines, but overall, she seems happy. That girl isn’t me. She’s the façade I present to people so no one worries. Despite the thrilling nightlife (pre pandemic of course) I spent most of my time at university alone in my room wanting to end my life.
I trudged along in life and a sense of detachment from the world grew as my mental health continued to take a toll. I hoped that if I didn’t acknowledge my problems my torment would stop. However, this ended up hurting me and my loved ones as I became physically present but emotionally absent.
Facing the stress of leaving the comforting world of education behind and ongoing family issues, this year I reached a breaking point. I confessed to my boyfriend how I felt and this prompted him to draft me an email to send to my university’s wellbeing team.
I’ve heard of horror stories of the dreaded waiting lists so I didn’t expect to hear back from the wellbeing team for a while. Insight Network found that around 1 in 3 university students experienced an issue which they felt the need for professional help. There’s a rising demand for mental health services at university. Unfortunately, such services are limited due to severe cuts in budgets. However, to my surprise, they contacted me the next day and immediately arranged an initial call and forms I had to complete. After this my very first session was booked.
As education and work have transitioned online during the pandemic so has therapy. I was incredibly nervous, I thought online therapy would be awkward and unhelpful. I’ve had friends experience therapy who shared stories of unsupportive therapists, which made them feel more isolated than before. I grabbed onto these few awful stories and was led to believe this would be the case for me.
My first session started off emotionally and I was in tears the whole time. Nevertheless, my preconceptions of online therapy were quashed. My therapist was incredibly kind and supportive, who constantly reassured me and encouraged me to share my experience. It was the first time in my life I felt listened to.
Online therapy comes with advantages that attending in person sessions aren’t able to offer, for example I was able to secure appointments faster. Now, I’m able to attend straight after a lecture has finished as the session is simply one click away. The ease of online therapy means I’m able to have a session each week. Whereas if I had to commute, I’d potentially miss out on a number of sessions due to the conflicts with my timetable. Additionally, after each session is over, I’m able to crash onto my bed immediately instead of crying on the bus.
Moreover, sharing my experiences and troubling emotions from my bedroom helped me feel much more comfortable opening up to my therapist. I was surrounded by objects I loved as opposed to an unfamiliar office.
Despite this, there are challenges to online therapy. In order to attend therapy online a stable internet connection is required. In my most recent session, my internet cut out just as I was explaining a particularly difficult past experience. It’s incredibly stressful waiting for the internet to reconnect and then having to explain such a sensitive moment for the second time. This disconnection took me out of the moment and instead of focusing on what my therapist was saying, I was worrying if the internet would cut out again and further limit my time.
Whilst online therapy has helped me immensely, I hope it doesn’t take over permanently from in person therapy. There are many people without access to the internet and this could hurt them severely. As lockdown restrictions continue to ease and with a growing vaccinated population, hopefully in person therapy will return and provide clients with the option to choose which they prefer. Spreading awareness is crucial but what is urgently needed is more funding for mental health services across the country.
Therapy has opened old wounds I never previously considered in my daily life, but it’s been vastly important to address them. The healing process isn’t a linear line and that’s why it's okay to still have bad mental health days. I don’t see these days as a setback, I see them as all part of my journey. Ultimately, since attending therapy my loved ones have noticed a positive change as I'm much less sheltered.
I don’t want anyone else to suffer alone, so for other students reading this that are struggling mentally I hope this will encourage you to reach out for support. The first step is always the scariest, but once you make that initial step you won’t regret it. University is an incredibly stressful time and now with the pandemic this has only heightened. Therapy is intended to support and care for you, not shame you. Mental health at university must be considered a priority rather than an afterthought.
Some useful links:
https://www.mind.org.uk/ - Mind is a mental health charity which provides support to anyone including helpline services.
https://togetherall.com/en-gb/ - Togetherall is an online mental health and wellbeing service offering self-help programmes, creative outlets and a community to chat to others.
Samaritans provide confidential support service. They can be contacted on:
Phone: 116 123