For all the good times, sometimes things can get on top of us.

In one way or another, uni is a scary time for everyone. You’re most likely moving to a whole new place, saying goodbye to the security of your family and friends for the first time and instead surrounding yourself with strangers. That makes it sound unpleasant, I know. In truth, uni will probably be the best thing that has ever happened – you have the freedom to be independent, meet like-minded people, eat Domino’s every week and tidy your room when you bloody want to.

“ 78% of students suffer from mental health issues at some point during their time at University ”

However, a lot of people will discover that the impact of such a big lifestyle change can impact your mental well-being along the way. According to a recent study by the National Union of Students (NUS), 78% of students suffer from mental health issues at some point during their time at uni. That’s a lot. Now, I can’t speak for everyone about what that’s like, so I would like to share my own experience in the hopes of creating awareness. In my first year at uni I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder (otherwise known as GAD) with associated panic attacks and depressive episodes. Intense, right?

I have always been a naturally anxious person, which shines through in my inability to make decisions and my hatred for phone calls. I have also been susceptible to feelings of depression, but I just put that down to being an over-dramatic teenager. Yet I had never had a panic attack until the year I started uni. Let it be known that at this point I was drinking more than I should and sleeping way less than I needed. These are two of the most common reasons for students to be prone to changes in their mental health, along with change in diet and lack of exercise (not that I did much of that, either).

My first panic attack (along with the second and third) happened during nights out, and more often than not alcohol was involved. This seemed to make sense to me; I had never been comfortable with large groups of people and I have zero confidence in my ability to dance like a ‘cool’ person. I only really became concerned when the attacks began to spread into my sober, indoor life, too. But even then I could associate the timings with reasons to be anxious: I had a presentation to prepare; a meeting with my personal tutor the next day.

I decided I needed to find a way to relax myself, so I got into colouring. In a big way. (Two and a half years later I have 14 colouring books and I still love it.) Now can I just say for the record that I got into colouring before it was cool, ie. my friends found it hilarious that I would spend whole afternoons with my felt tip pens. But it helped me relax, so I carried on. Others take up meditation, knitting, yo-yoing – the possibilities are endless, there really is something for everyone.

Around this time I was also starting to miss lectures and seminars quite frequently and spending a lot of my time in bed. I put this down to me needing a break and that I’d get back into the swing of things in no time. Right? Wrong. In reality I was losing motivation to do things as trivial as get dressed or make myself food; I was constantly feeling tired and lethargic; I was having a depressive episode. But hey, at least the panic attacks were at bay.

All this time I knew in the back of my mind that something was wrong, but I didn’t feel the necessity to go and see a doctor, because I didn’t believe my moping around required genuine attention. It wasn’t until a friend shared her experiences with diagnosed anxiety and depression that I started to make the connections that I was going through a similar thing. Everything came to a head when my boyfriend found me hysterically crying in bed and I couldn’t give him a reason why, because I myself didn’t know. He suggested that I go and see a doctor, and I thought, fuck this life, I will. So I did, and there I was diagnosed with GAD.

“ I wasn’t just being over-dramatic or lazy. This was a real thing that real people dealt with. ”

Although going to the doctors was terrifying as it forced me to accept that there was something wrong with my brain, it was also such a relief to know that I wasn’t just being over-dramatic or lazy. This was a real thing that real people dealt with. I was put on antidepressants for a while, but I always knew that they were a crutch rather than a solution, and I stopped as soon as I knew I was in a position to look after myself again.

These days when I can feel myself slipping, I dive straight back into my colouring. In times of need I’m also very fond of funny youtube videos, ice cream and 60s music. Everyone has a thing: Find yours and you’ll be indestructible.

“ Everyone has a support network to lean on, you just have to be aware of it ”

Throughout this whole long, exhausting journey, the best thing I did was talk to people. I have been lucky enough to have my boyfriend there every step of the way, to whom I am forever grateful. I found comfort in him, as well as friends who could relate, and tutors who forgave me for missing lessons or meetings. Having people I could trust was the most valuable aid to my ever-continuing recovery. Everyone has a support network to lean on, you just have to be aware of it, whether it be flatmates, partners, course friends, tutors, family, doctors or university counsellors. Even the neighbour’s cat can be a good listener sometimes. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone.

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Written by Clemmie Foulkes, 10 months ago
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