Comment Writer Jadzia Samuel argues that the Guild of Students goes unrecognised by many students, and suggests how this can changeWritten by Jadzia on 19th March 2018
Spotlight: Student Mental Health Part 1
Comment Writers, named and anonymous, share their personal experience of suffering with mental health issues whilst at University in the first part of our spotlight
Mental health issues are no secret amongst students and they affect all of us to varying degrees. The students of UoB shared their experiences of struggling with their mental health, the response from the university and their journey to recovery.
I Was Told ‘You Need To Stop Being So Stressed About Things’
In my second year of University, I was struggling with anxiety and panic attacks, and went to see a welfare tutor about this. The welfare tutor I saw in the school of Mathematics was absolutely no help at all and didn’t seem to be trained to deal with the issues I was having. He actually said to me ‘you need to stop being so stressed about things’ and didn’t seem aware that stress and anxiety are completely different things!
“I got passed around from person to person with nothing actually happening to help me
I was told by the Guild Welfare Officer to speak to someone at the Aston Webb student hub, and just got passed around from person to person with nothing actually happening to help me.
It all came to a head that March when a fellow student of mine committed suicide and I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings. I was having daily panic attacks and was missing lectures as a result of this because my anxiety levels were at an all-time high.
“I went to the other welfare tutor who was equally as useless as the first
The school of Mathematics emailed all students about the circumstances and offered help from the welfare tutors, but since going to them previously had caused me more anxiety, I was reluctant to see them again. Therefore I went to the other welfare tutor who was equally as useless as the first, and didn’t provide me with any useful help or advice.
Eventually I saw my GP who prescribed me with anti-anxiety medication and diagnosed me with Panic Disorder. The GP was lovely and very helpful. She gave me lots of resources and coping strategies which really helped me to deal with my panic attacks, and recognise their triggers.
“I have lost a lot of faith in the welfare system at the University
Through my experience, I have lost a lot of faith in the welfare system at the University, and would really think twice about going to see a welfare tutor in the future.
Luckily I have now completely recovered from this, but would be concerned about other students at the University who are experiencing mental health issues, especially since I personally knew two students who committed suicide while, or just after they finished studying here.
That just shows that the help isn't readily available to those who need it.
'I Recommend Contacting the University Counsellors'
I have struggled with the same very specific kind of anxiety for over 10 years. Other things, like deadlines, exams and social stuff, can make it worse. I thought uni was going to be really hard because at home I used to rely on my Mum for support and reassurance, but now I have to turn to others for help.
I'm pretty open about most things, including physical health problems, but my anxiety is not something I like talking to my friends about because of the stigma that surrounds it - I worry that it will make people think that I'm weak or attention seeking.
“I do think the uni counsellors are also excellent; I would highly recommend contacting them
However, talking to a friend who has similar issues has been amazing because he understands what I'm going through. It's so comforting to have someone to chat to about it. From my personal experience, I do think the uni counsellors are also excellent; I would highly recommend contacting them.
Anxiety has affected my time at uni but it's hasn't ruined it, thanks to the support of counsellors, welfare tutors and friends.
The word has been floating through the air for months now. Everyone’s new go to discussion topic, whether it be the government, millennials or media outlets. The word has been rolled of the tongue so much its transformed into semantic satiation.
Mental wellbeing amongst university students in the UK is a growing issue, and the void between individuals seeking support and actively receiving help is vastly widening.
“We’re more happy to talk about ‘depression,’ but less happy to actually put supportive structures in place
We’re more happy to talk about ‘depression,’ but less happy to actually put supportive structures in place, especially within the sphere of higher education.
First off, mental health issues most commonly emerge in young adults, and thus university is a prime time to see the development of mental health problems. According to YouGov UK, one in four students suffer with mental health problems, so why is this not a priority across all universities in the UK?
Whilst depression and anxiety are the most common forms of mental difficulties amongst students, eating disorders, social disorders and behavioural development are also prevalent.
“One in four students suffer with mental health problems
In the winter of 2015, I approached Birmingham for mental illness support.
University is a social sphere, so when I stopped going on nights out, my friends couldn’t understand it and often took it personally, isolating me further. Why wasn’t I making the effort for their birthday?
What made matters worse was the four essays I had due in the upcoming two weeks. I suddenly felt ferociously overwhelmed, and I couldn’t understand why despite sitting at my laptop in the silent section of the library for 6 hours a day I was unable to produce any work.
Eventually, I called my mother crying in the hallway of Birmingham’s library, explaining that I needed to come home.
The following 4 weeks were spent in bed. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t watch Netflix, and I couldn’t sleep despite how tired I was. For the most part I just lay there and cried, panicking about the 40% of my second year that’s due date was looming. All my course friends had an equal amount of work, so why were they coping when I couldn’t?
“I then had to struggle through meeting after meeting with my university
This self-doubt only made me worse. The ‘what do I have to be sad about’ complex that so many with depression can relate to is a major part of the illness.
I then had to struggle through meeting after meeting with my university, to be granted an extension on my due work. This process took about 4 months, despite having doctor’s notes and proof I was both on anti-depressants and in counselling. Eventually I had to meet a board of academics and essentially ‘prove’ my illness was worthy of an extension.
As aforementioned, the self-doubt of my illness only aided in making this part of the process unbearable. I needed reassurance, but was met with Birmingham trying to prove I was not ill enough to warrant help. After all, it was ‘my decision’ to not do my essays, and therefore if the board didn’t grant my extension, I had to accept that I had received a zero for 40% of my year.
3 months later, I got approval of the extension, and a letter from student finance asking me to apply for a ‘disabled student’s allowance,’ which is essentially a bigger maintenance loan. This is the last time the university enquired about my mental health, despite me sending near to ten emails chasing up student support about what facilities are available for student’s in my position. In case you were wondering, they offer a free counselling service that has an 8-week waiting list.
When I enquired about the lack of communication between the mental health portion of student services and suffering students, I was told that there were only two employees that focused directly on mental health at the university. For all 30,000 students....
“I was told that there were only two employees that focused directly on mental health at the university. For all 30,000 students....
Birmingham and many other universities need to start putting mental illness at the foreground. Student suicide rates have been on the rise (2014 saw 130 deaths amongst students over 18 years of age in full time education in England and wales) predominantly amongst males, so what will it take for the proper funding and on hand support of an increasingly common illness to be prioritised.
The university does not offer a ‘blanket’ approach to mental illness, which means different courses approach mental health differently. This results in some students receiving excellent care, and others left to deal with it on their own. There should be a standardized code of care, especially for such a prominent issue that affects so many students.
We must open the conversation, destigmatize the illness and show students help is readily available.
- Alex Goodwin
If you are suffering from a mental illness, you can visit these websites for further information and support:
Or, text 07725 909090 for 24-hour support from a crisis counsellor.