Mental health + university

All ye who indulge in schadenfreude, gather round.

It’s not mental health awareness week/month/whatever, but alas, not everything is restricted to a particular time of year. I talk about this now because, as a third year student, the pressure when you have looming deadlines and a dissertation that will basically determine whether or not you just wasted £27,000, is crippling. In addition to everything that crippled you before university.

So understandably, a lot of us are faltering in the mental health department. I’m not saying that a lot of us suffer from mental illness, because a lot of us don’t. I have already spoken about how too many people claim ‘depression’ or ‘bipolar’ when they don’t actually suffer from these illnesses, but that doesn’t mean our mental health doesn’t suffer. Much like physical issues, our brain sometimes suffers

It often comes in many contradicting forms. Maybe you stay up until dawn, downing red bull and coffee for hours until you’re seeing shapes dancing around in front of you, telling you it’s time to go to bed or you’ll collapse. Maybe it’s rejecting all invitations to go out, go shopping, relax, because you have too much to do and you couldn’t possibly deal with the guilt you’ll feel when you get a horrible grade, because it’s obviously due to that one day you took off. Maybe you consistently study because it’s the only thing to distract your mind but at the same time it’s burning you out. Maybe it’s the tendency to sleep all day and all night because you have so much work to do that your brain and body just can’t deal. Maybe it’s going out all day everyday just to avoid the 5 deadlines you have next week. Maybe it’s people telling you you look sallow and tired and that you’re working too hard. Maybe it’s the fact that you can’t remember a time where you had the energy to be genuinely happy about life because life itself is begging to leave you.

University is so much different to secondary school in that they actually care about mental health. They recognise that we suffer, they recognise that it’s not something we can just ‘deal with’. Secondary school teachers are assholes, and as you realise later on, they have a weird superiority complex going on. Yeah, so superior compared to a bunch of kids. University professors don’t have that. They’re real, they’re on the same level as you. They give a shit.

Your tutors will understand if you can’t come in one day because your mind is broken. They’ll do anything to help you if you go to them. I’ve never been one to ask for help or to go to anybody for help, but in my first year things got so bad that I was forced to, and I swear to God I would have dropped out were it not for my personal tutor. I am a cynic, so that shit touched my ~nonexistent~ heart and she gave me hope for the rest of my life. She went above and beyond to help me as soon as I spoke to her, sending me email after email and asking me to update her when I wasn’t even sending her anything, doing everything for me that I didn’t even ask for, and checking up on me constantly to the point where it felt like I was the only person in her life. She didn’t brush it off or even say “what can I do to help?”. She said “okay. We’re going to do this. The thing you asked me about, that’s done immediately and you don’t have to worry. And I’m also going to get this other thing done for you today because I want to help you more. And then tomorrow I’m going to do this. And here’s a list of things I’ve found that might help you in the meantime.  And then you’re going to update me on that and we’re going to go from there, and we’re doing this right now because I’m not going to let you suffer“. Literally nobody has ever responded to what wasn’t even a plea faster and more thoroughly than she did. Marion, you da real MVP and I will never forget you for as long as I live.

But in my fangirling, I digress.

The mistake people often make is thinking that their tutors will look at them like ‘nah you’re being a drama queen’. They’ve seen all this shit before, they’ve gone through it, they know.  So that wraps up the main point: speak to your tutors. They’ll try to accommodate you any way they can. And if you’re feeling guilty about having to be ‘that person’ who needs things changed around for them – remember that you’re paying for this, and you should be able to learn in whatever way is best for you. Fuck everyone else.

The other thing – don’t feel guilty for taking breaks. Seriously. Even just two days in a month just spend a whole 24 hours doing something you enjoy. Don’t read a book, even if you enjoy it. Don’t do anything remotely academic or related to your studies. Go outside, go out to eat, go shopping, go to the cinema, get coffee, just go somewhere. Get out of your house, get out of the library, go somewhere other than your everyday surroundings.

The academic part of your brain will not flourish if the rest of it is suffering.

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