My college years were some of my toughest years of living with mental illness that I went through. It’s when things got so bad I was forced to get professional health.
I was in a dark place, cycling between severe depression and suicidal ideation and manic hyper frenzies as well as other mental health issues developing on the side including pre-existing anxiety, eating problems and psychotic symptoms. I remember suffering in the summer in long sleeves, claiming to have been scratched by my cat whenever the sleeve rolled up and someone saw a self-inflicted cut.
I recall spending my free periods and break times curled up on the floor of corridors listening to depressing music, writing in diaries and scrolling through Tumblr or when not quite as deep into depression, sitting at desks doing college work and coursework for hours surviving on just tea, diet coke and a small satsuma if I wanted to “treat” myself.
I was admitted to inpatient hospitals a few times throughout my college years as well as not being allowed to leave the house for my own safety, leading me to miss a lot of lessons and work. So I eventually decided I would take an additional 3rd year at college to catch up.
Speak up, Reach out for help
Throughout all this, however, with a little push from family and mental health professionals, I spoke to some people at college about it. My senior tutor was incredibly understanding and supportive and set me up with many things to help.
One thing that helped a lot was speaking to the college nurse. I did rely quite heavily on her and saw her a few times a week to speak through problems and talk about the additional support I could get. I did see a counsellor around this time as well, however, I much preferred speaking to someone that would give advice and comfort, where it would not just be a one-sided conversation. At my worst times I would go to her private room in tears or having attempted to hurt myself and she would sort things out for me, providing first aid or send me in a taxi, and even one time in her own car home or to a medical facility.
After I reached out, I was provided with a private 1:1 mentor to help with studying, a private place I could sit, eat lunch and study during free periods and my break times as well as special exam arrangements. My senior tutor was also very lenient on me missing lessons and me and my mum actually had his mobile number so we could contact him easily and vice versa.
Unfortunately, my mental health took a turn for the worst and after being in and out of hospital so much I decided to drop out of my 3rd year of college. But somehow thanks to the support I got, and also probably partly my perfectionism making me compulsively stay up studying, I still managed to leave college with an A in Food technology and Applied science and a B in Biology thanks to the additional support I received.
I was hoping to get a decent A level in Chemistry as I needed it for many Universities that do a Dietetics degree. But luckily there are a few universities that don’t require a chemistry A Level that I was able to apply to and I did get a place at my favourite one!
That year I did attend university but it was bad timing and I had to drop out after only being released from a psychiatric ward a few weeks earlier. But I am pleased to say, I am now doing a lot better (see my last post), and I have now got an unconditional offer to return back to University this September, and this time a lot more mentally stable!
I have still applied for extra help with my studies as I know from my previous experience, starting university is a difficult time mentally for most students, even more so for those with pre-existing severe mental health problems.
My advice is to take all the help you can if you have mental health problems, if you’re at college, speak to the nurse, or your tutors who can point you in the right direction on how to access additional support.
If you’re at university, apply for disabled students allowance – they can and do help with mental health issues. Most, if not all universities have a mental health and wellbeing centre which may provide courses, 1:1 support and other schemes to help you. And look into additional learning support, they may be able to provide you with things like permission to record lectures, lenience on missed classes and separate small rooms for exams or extra time.
College and University are stressful times and there is a lot of pressure from others and yourself. And with lots of new changes, it’s important to be aware of how it’s impacting your mental health and catch any issues early before they develop into something more severe and problematic.