This article has been sent to us by an extraordinary survivor who would like to share their story with you. We would like to offer a trigger warning that this post covers mental health, depression and suicide and how this survivor lives with and overcomes these.
I told them I thought I was going to kill myself. They told me they were angry at me. The summer of 2014 saw the onset of my depression and anxiety. During this period I did all I could with the help of doctors, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists to be well enough to attend the university. When I finally convinced my medical team to let me go to university, I was far from fighting health. But, I made it, I was where I wanted to be with the support I needed. The place of my dreams. By November I was suicidal.
Any person suffering from health issues in entitled to support on arrival to college and university in Scotland. Universities are equipped with disability support services. These services offer the option of speaking to advisors both before and during your studies to make it as constructive and supportive as possible. Some students have access to DSA a fund for disabled students to make university life more accessible. This is present in many institutions and helps those struggling to get through their studies. Furthermore, the SEE ME campaign has worked tirelessly to increase awareness of mental health in all walks of life. In particular it has focused strongly on youth and further education.
The campaign suggests that mental ill health is not a barrier to further education and there is no reason that, with the right support, an individual suffering mental health problems cannot further their learning experience. Stigma and discrimination, however, still exists throughout our universities and colleges. According to a recent anonymous study conducted by the NUS (National Union of Students) the following examples show how some students still may be stigmatised and discriminated against: fellow students stating; “You are just choosing to be unwell.” A lecturer telling you that it is, “natural nerves” or “an over-reaction”.
Unfortunately this form of prejudice and discrimination was the catalyst for my Leave of Absence. Unlike at school, where I had been private, even secretive, about my health and personal problems, I attempted to be more open. This was not a decision of ignorance, but of hope. Hope that students would be more mature and open minded than when at school. This was destroyed when, for the first time, I let people know my ‘dirty little secret;’ that I suffered from anxiety, PTSD and depression. I confided in two of my closest friends at university (and likely future flatmates) the depths of my illness and its symptoms; the lack of sleep, the self-loathing and the constant battles with panic attacks and anxiety.
At this point I shared something even more personal and hidden within my layers of compartmentalisation I was suicidal. From this point forward our friendship changed entirely. Suddenly, daily plans began to fall through. When I was going to meet them for dinner, they had already gone. Travelling was cancelled due to ‘work commitment’. Group chats fell silent. I was excluded from events and study groups because they forgot.
My deepest fears had been proven right, people will hate me if they know my illness. The sickening truth is that I am not alone. The SEE ME campaign found 9 out of 10 people who experience mental health problems have experienced stigma and discrimination in work and education. Shockingly, this statistic has come from health professionals or family members. The question therefore is, how have the government allowed this crisis to escalate to this point?
It is thought that 70% of children and adolescents who have clinical problems did not receive counselling or treatment when they needed it most. A group of experts within the NHS and at the Department of Health wrote a report stating that; ‘radical reforms are needed’. This must come not only by government funding, but through the education of our nation seen; personally in my experience at university.
After struggling with this illness and being isolated somewhat I tried to talk to my two friends. That one raining Monday night, was going to become one of the worst of my life; they shut the door in my face and told me they were busy. I walked out of my halls, broke down and blacked out. I walked the length of St Andrews, the next point of memory being sitting in an area called ‘the Scores’ watching the rain on the blue, black water.
My parents drove up and asked an old school friend to try to find me. The only thoughts running through my head were ‘I have nothing to live for.’ ‘I could keep walking towards the water and either way the world keeps on turning.’ My parents and friend found me soaked to the skin, frozen and exhausted at midnight. I still couldn’t cry or speak, I was frozen mentally too.
For some reason all I wanted was to resolve the issues with those who had shunned me. My logic being that if I fixed this with them, I would be able to move on with addressing my more important health issues. When I arrived at their flat, they told me they were angry for not answering my phone to them or responding when they knew that I had answered calls from my parents. I explained the trauma of what I had just experienced. I told them the truth, the horrible disgusting truth, that to this day knots my stomach to say.
For the first time I was actually doing to ‘do it’ I was going to kill myself; its all I wanted. They told me, they were mad with me. They couldn’t live with someone with this illness because they didn’t want to be anyone’s carer. It was not fair on them, it made them uncomfortable they had other important things to worry about on a Monday night like preparing for tutorials that week. I can understand being scared, worried or concerned for someone. Furthermore, it must have been an extremely difficult position to be in for them.
However, their response of dismissal and anger is something I would not wish on my worst enemy. Prior to that Monday they had confided in me, and relied on me just as much, if not more, than I had them. I began to try and explain rationalise and justify my ‘behaviour’ to two people who did not want to hear it. On a night that was one of the most horrific and terrifying of my life I was being interrogated and judged for my decisions. I had hit rock bottom, my life had become utterly worthless and I couldn’t pretend anymore.
In that moment when I tried to articulate a feeling I have yet to hear in words as it is so painful and complex. That they told me that they didn’t think I was ill or depressed; I was making it up for attention. I didn’t exhibit the ‘real signs’ of depression. I was exaggerating and they didn’t want anything to do with it. I was lying to them and it was pathetic.
After pointless attempts to explain and let them see the pain, the hurt and the confusion of this illness I couldn’t do it anymore. I left, apologising to them for it all. As ever the top universities in the country are leading the way to breaking barriers for those treated unjustly and leaping forward liberally and intellectually. Yet for those suffering mental illness, the prejudice is clearly present. There needs to be a more fundamental change.
From both external and personal experience it is evident that when it comes to mental health we are nowhere close to the ideals of the journalists and activists. The romanticised notion that society can be changed if we start from the ground up is not being implemented let alone achieved. I am happy to say I have returned to university to study the course I have always wanted and have met some amazing friends and receive brilliant support on my return.
No longer is trying to get out of bed get dressed get through the day without hurting myself or drink myself to sleep is my only goal each day. That in itself is one of my greatest achievements. I hope too that sharing this will be an achievement for me. Nobody should have to hide illness or anything that is hurting them. It’s okay to have depression and need help. It’s okay to struggle with anorexia and access support. It’s okay to have PTSD and have flashbacks. It’s okay have panic attacks or crave self harm. It’s okay to think suicidal thoughts or hallucinate. It can and will get better if we begin to support people in the right ways.
What is not okay is to treat it as less than physical health or not take people seriously when they talk about it. I am lucky to be alive and I feel proud every time I see the morning sun because I’ve made it another day. I relapse and it is scary but I have people who love me and who I love back. I have things to live for. Everyone has something and someone to live for, you just need to find out what or who it is.
Discrimination destroys too many lives and it needs to end. I hope at least one person will read this and realise how serious mental health is or maybe feel a little less alone in their illness and less scared to open up or seek help in any form. This is my story, but it will continue everyday.v