Imogen Allen explains why beginning a new year at university can cause more worry than excitementWritten by Imogen Allen on 22nd September 2017
What I Couldn’t Even Tell My Housemates: Mental Health at University
Music editor Holly Carter speaks about her experience of mental health at university
My housemates weren’t properly aware that I was depressed until I tried to kill myself.
It was March 2016, and I had struggled for a long time with various mental health problems. From the beginning of university I had suffered drunken panic attacks which eventually spilt over into my sober life, and since the beginning of second year, I had been increasingly depressed.
Uni life is the perfect incubator for depression. There’s no fixed routine, except for lectures and seminars, and it’s not really a big deal if you don’t turn up. It’s all too easy to just hide in your room, and generally spend an unhealthy amount of time alone. Motivation is hard enough to muster at the healthiest of times, let alone when you’re battling a debilitating mental illness. No one notices your sleeping pattern, your eating, your alcohol consumption, or if they do they often think it’s ‘not their business’ to ask. Your friends haven’t known you as long as your parents – you can always find some excuse for acting slightly strange and they won’t bat an eyelid. Depression at uni is not only very easy to fall into, but very, very easy to hide. If you really want to, like I did.
“Depression at uni is not only very easy to fall into, but very, very easy to hide. If you really want to, like I did
My housemates in first and second year were amazing, and some of the most caring and supportive people I’ve ever met. But when it comes to serious mental illness, it is a whole other ball game. Especially if, like me, it’s your first experience of it and you don’t really know what on earth is going on. One year on, I’m a lot better at noticing and managing my mental health, but back in those first throws of depression, I had no idea what to do, so my solution was just to not tell anyone that I lived with.
The day that I overdosed, I sat on the bed in a daze of paracetamol and heard my housemate say ‘you need to learn to talk to us about it’. Which was true, but so much easier said than done. I had been in a three-month downward spiral. I stopped going to lectures, I stopped feeding myself proper food. I slept throughout the days and binge-watched Netflix until the sun rose, at which point I would sit looking out of my window until I felt tired enough to sleep again. After a brief stint of not drinking because of panic attacks, I found myself needing alcohol to deal with the depression, to the point that I would drink alone in my room to send myself to sleep. The smallest things would make me cry for hours or harm myself. My room was a tip and I never did my washing up. And each one of these things sent me further and further into the pit I had fallen into, and I couldn’t tell anyone. I was embarrassed, and scared, and I felt crazy. I woke up one morning after a bad night of too much alcohol, weed and a terrible panic attack, and took too much paracetamol. Luckily I hadn’t done my research, and I scraped by with just a hospital visit, but if it hadn’t been so impulsive it could have been worse.
University can be a lonely place. Even if you have a lot of friends, like I did and do, that doesn’t necessarily mean you feel like you can talk to them about anything serious. University friendships are so new, and compared to the friends I’d had for 18+ years at home, I just didn’t feel comfortable enough to tell anyone how bad things were getting. I think this is true for a lot of people at uni, and is one of the reasons why mental health problems are so rife in the student population. Coupled with the pressure of a degree, fears about the future and constant money worries, it’s no wonder 78% of us have experienced mental health issues (NUS survey dec 2016).
“With the pressure of a degree, fears about the future and constant money worries, it’s no wonder 78% of us have experienced mental health issues
I’ve struggled for a while with wanting to do something to raise awareness of mental health in university students. I never seemed to know the best way to do it. But since living with new housemates this year, and being lucky enough to be able to be completely honest with them about my illness and what I am going through on a daily basis, I reckon working from where I am is best. Just to tell people my story, and that my story is probably very similar to the story of someone close to you.
Back in the summer of 2015, I met someone on a trip who, at the age of 20, said that he’d never really come across anyone with a mental health problem. I find that impossible to believe, I’m sure they were just suffering silently. It’s a terrifying thing, talking about your mental health issues, but it can do a world of good. Even though I’ve struggled this term, the spiral has never got as deep as it did before. Talking about it as it’s been happening has helped me to pull myself out of the holes I can feel myself falling into. As a good friend said to me recently, ‘it’s a horribly unsteady sea to sail, but even when you’re miles from shore, you’re not the only one out there’ - the smallest conversation can be the start of something big, and we can help each other to get through these mad years of uncertainty.