It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and this year will focus on the topic of Surviving or Thriving? Anybody with a brain has mental health but according to official statistics commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, a staggering 13% of people living in England, Scotland and Wales are reported to be living with good mental health! Mental health illnesses continue to be stigmatised with such negativity in the news despite efforts by local/international charities and campaigns including Head’s Together – endorsed by Prince Harry to encourage people like me and you to speak of our struggles, most of us still find mental health such a taboo or embarrassing subject to talk about.
If you don’t know already, I’m a second-year student. In fact, I’m a repeating second-year student so altogether this is my fourth year at the university as I completed a placement year last year but I’ve more or less struggled with mental health for the majority of my duration so far here at the university. Throughout my time here, I have since come to terms that a significantly high amount of students suffer some degree of a mental health disorder, most commonly, anxiety and/or depression. However, very few of us address this with our lecturers/tutors or even friends and family.
Dealing with mental health at university is not an easy task at all. The pressures of graduating with a degree as well as balancing a social life and finances can be overwhelming for the average joe. Sometimes the overpowering weight on your shoulders can make you question why you chose to go to university in the first place and it was from that moment dark thoughts had begun to cloud my mind and hinder my uni experience. Apart from my paid placement year, my time here as been a pretty negative one and as come at the cost of my mental health. Do not get me wrong, I have met some amazing people and have created some great friendships with people who I hope to keep in contact with after university but the academic side of things has really dampened the overall spirit of things.
Growing up in an African household you are constantly reminded that Education is paramount to a comfortable life and job prospects or something similar – It is literally embedded into your system from birth. For some young people, their parents drive them to become lawyers, doctors or accountants much to their dismay but fortunately for me, this was not the case but attending university was never a choice. Both my parents, aunties, uncles, cousins and siblings all went to university, graduated and are now living/working happily in their respective fields so the pressure was looming but I was never wanted to go university at 18 as I had no clue as to what I wanted to be at such a young age.
Eventually, I succumbed to my surrounding as alternative routes were presented as worthless choices but have never felt truly happy since. Now I study Economics but performed average at A Levels – my mother thought I should’ve chosen Mathematics as it was my favourite subject but I couldn’t stand it after sixth form and was not willing to go further down that route. Honestly, getting into university is a success route in my parent’s eyes but an escape route for me.
For the first two years, I had used alcohol as a coping mechanism to overcome my social anxiety. Everyone thought I was the life of the party but in reality, I was a mess and eventually found myself broke, jobless and borderline suicidal. One unforgettable phone call from my grandmother saved my life. I had spoken to my one lecturer, who has since left, that I had trusted and he advised me to take a gap year or a placement year. So I did, I secured a placement – yet another escape route from lectures and seminars and was financially secure. The light at the end of the tunnel was shining but all was temporary.One unforgettable phone call from my grandmother saved my life. - Sam #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek Click To Tweet
Now I’m back at university, repeating. The only difference is that the pressure to pass is even more than it was before. In the space of two weeks, both my aunt and grandmother passed away a couple of months ago – I have never felt so empty. I make calls to my grandmother but the number doesn’t even work. Joining a dance society has dampened the mental strain of university but it’s still a day to day struggle and I’ve exhausted all of my options. Student services have been of no use to me leaving me feeling exposed to internal voices which continue to keep me up at night.
Now I call, Samaritans some nights where they basically listen and provide emotional support – to me that is all I have ever wanted and what most students who deal with mental health illnesses need particularly at this time of the year with deadlines and exams.
So am I surviving or thriving? I’m surviving-ish but I’m still standing. By the Grace of God, I refuse to fail or let these dark feelings invade the power of my intellect and thoughts.
I made the mistake of living for others instead of myself and is now paying the price. Please understand that attending university is an investment and is not for everyone to experience at the same time. Maybe if I attended in another few years this would’ve been a much smoother adventure. Though I didn’t find my student services helpful, do utilise them as they can provide you the time to listen confidentially and help find possible solutions. As hard as dealing with mental health on a daily basis is, do not go through this alone.
Let your voice be heard. Talk to someone. You are much more appreciated than you think.
I hope I touch somebody who is reading this.