Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Dealing with Mental Health at University/College

I've been absent from the blogging world for a number of reasons, but mostly because I've been experiencing struggles with my mental health. I thought I had left these feelings behind, but sometimes it's difficult to get to grips with the concept of depression being something I will have to tackle for a long time.

As some sort of sign, I stumbled across an article I wrote for my tumblr friends not long after I had taken my sabbatical from university life last year. This is a chance to both refresh upon my life lessons, and to share with the world my advice on dealing with mental health at university/college.

1. If you’re showing signs of slipping now, act fast.
I’m one of those people that puts off dong things until the very bitter end. I recognised that I wasn’t dealing with life well but instead of nipping the bud, I left myself to fester until I couldn’t dress myself, I couldn’t clean, I couldn’t move from bed, ANYTHING.
Please, please, I implore you: if you find yourself in a slump, act. Do not ignore it. Question yourself: is there a reason that I feel like this? My social life? My course? My workload? Homesickness?
Sometimes, the sadness we feel stems from the simplest of things. Obviously, it is not simple at the time. It snowballs until we are out of our depth. But if you feel out of depth, the best thing is to break apart the problem into smaller pieces so it’s easier to deal with. The smallest solution can feel like a milestone.

2. Contact your university in any way.
Even if you believe your issue is ‘no big deal’ (see number 3), it’s best to let your university know. Tell lecturers, tutors, anyone with authority that you’re experiencing problems. It sounds silly but it makes things a lot easier in the long run, especially if you’re finding deadlines difficult to cope with. They’ll be more understanding than you think and will offer any help available to make sure you’ll do okay.

3. Your mental health is not ‘unimportant’.
Depression is horrible. Anxiety is horrible. Any aspect that brings you down is horrible.
I found it easier to slip into the denial game (‘I’m fine, I just need to get on with it.’ ‘it’s no big deal.’ ‘people won’t care, it’s not important enough.’) which left me getting help a bit too late than would have been useful for me. No problem is too small, nor is it too big. Do not think you need a ‘good reason’ for your sadness. It happens to the best of us, often without any explanation at all.

4. Work when you feel you can, no matter what the circumstances.
I found it impossible to focus until roughly 3am. Still, I found in those wee hours that I could work solidly for ages. I also found that working solidly for small segments of time broken up by breaks helped a LOT when my focus was shot. There is a handy application for Google Chrome called Pomdoro which helps you set work and break times, featuring alarms for either segment.

5. Praise any successes.
You’ve had a low week, spent in bed until one day you have got up, sat at your laptop and wrote an entire paragraph towards your essay. You’re now at a block. Don’t feel down! Focus on how impressive it is to pick yourself up and do a bit of work when you feel this way. Congratulate yourself. Maybe eat a chocolate. Whatever. There is no such thing as treating yourself too much, you need all the motivation you deserve.
This good vibe will honestly make you feel good enough to do more.

6. Your first experiences of support may not be the greatest.
I am the queen of losing faith when I seek help, I’ll admit it. I’ve seen psychologists terrible enough to make me lose my temper, sulk in frustration or make my jaw drop in incredulity. However, I have learnt that there are so many schools of psychology that finding one suited takes time and effort. I’m not giving up on my search and neither should you. Keep trying, no matter what. Even if that last guy is not getting AT ALL what you’re trying to say. Somebody will, soon.

7. Ask and examine all services your school can provide. Shy bairns get nowt (sadly).
I didn’t discover until I had actually dropped out of university that there are facilities in which you can get aid towards your studies. For example, money can be given to provide for printer ink or books if you have anxieties or difficulties in getting to the library. If you find it too difficult to focus in exam rooms, it is possible for you to be placed in a separate room of your own without the distractions to upset you.
Make a list of what distresses you the most in relation to university. Ask for help in association with those troubles. You may be pleasantly surprised with the extra help given and you never know until you ASK.

8. Put your own health over everything else.
I can't stress this enough. From any of the tips, I would highlight and underline and circle this one. I wrote this in the wake of a year's break from university but now, a good year on, putting my mental health before my university life has been the best decision I have ever made. Society puts pressure on us all to go on a course, complete it and live happily ever after, but the most successful people I have encountered have had turbulent times where they have dropped out, or life has taken them through another route that they would not have expected at all. You are number one, not your career path.

I'll end this here for now. If you're reading this, I send my good wishes and love to you. If this helps even one person, it'll be worth sharing. Now to go take some of my own advice... Feel free to share your own tips.


  1. This is a wonderful post, Hol. I remember reading your Tumblr version when you originally posted it. When I was struggling during my early university days (and during my later ones too), something like this would have really helped me.

  2. Hello lovely, I have tagged you in a blog post, hope you have fun completing it!
    http://stephaniepickering.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/random-facts-tag.html xx