In light of World Mental Health Day, I thought it was very apt to share a post specifically on a snippet of my personal experiences with mental health.

This is in the form of an email I sent over to the feature editor of Closer and Bella Magazine contributing my experiences of mental health whilst at University:

“Hi ____

Some more details about myself:
– I’m a 25 year old Psychology graduate from the University of York.
– Lived in Yorkshire my entire life (North, South & West – just haven’t lived in East Yorkshire)
– I suffer from two conditions – depression (diagnosed February 2013 – experienced symptoms much earlier on) and hypothyroidism (diagnosed Nov 2015)
– I’ve been dismissed from my previous employer due to my absence levels mostly a result of my illnesses in May 2017 this year.

Experiences – specifically at University 2010-2015:

Honestly, my entire degree was a mitigating circumstance. I have experienced depression for a very long time for a multitude of different reasons.
I thought going to University was going to be the best place to start-over and re-invent myself – which I did to some extent, I became quite the social butterfly and became
a very much involved activist at the University.

However, I did not get off to the best of starts at University. Within the first couple of weeks, suddenly out of the blue, we soon learned that my father had died. This according to my therapist is a game-changer for absolutely anybody. I experienced and still experience the vast stages of grief – depression being one of the toughest stages. I had a difficult relationship with my father which made the whole experience of grieving quite a difficult one. As a result of his death, I went through a whole range of emotions but I did not receive any help from the University until I went to the Finance department to see if they could assist me financially as I was quite obviously experiencing a great deal of hardship. Whilst there after speaking with a member of staff, the woman said to me that they were only willing to help me if I promised I would go and make an appointment at the Open Door Team (University’s Health & Well-being Support Team). The only reason I went to the Open Door Team was so they would be able to help me survive at University.

The first woman I saw at the Open Door Team was an angel called Angie Bell who is no longer at the University. The support that Angie gave me was second-to-none and was exactly what I needed to help me get back on track with my degree and deal with some of my issues at the time. Looking back now, I know I was experiencing some of the darkest depths of my depression then. I distinctly remember the weather was pretty bad that Winter and I couldn’t afford any shoes that would not stop my feet from freezing when outside. To be fair, that was only when I felt that I could leave my bedroom, specifically, my bed on campus. I was a really bad insomniac – or, I liked to say I was nocturnal during my time at University.

In addition, I also experienced a number of tragic events – in my second year of University, I was raped and the half way through my third year at University, my depression had become so bad that I made one of the hardest decisions to leave and take some time off to later return to my studies. This was a result of an event of a girl I knew at University having attempted suicide whilst on my ‘watch’ [this will become clear later]. I think it is also fair to mention that I also saw another lady at the Open Door Team called Sue who I had seen on and off at University for the remainder of the time I had at University – she was great, I can only say positive things about the Open Door Team at the University other than its resources being so so under-funded for the amount of people who have mental health problems. Disgusting really.

Moving on, whilst I was away from University, my depression symptoms became worse to the point of feeling suicidal as a result of lack of financial stability to be able to do anything outside the confines of my home back in Wakefield. I remember literally counting down the days to return to what felt like my real home, York. It was also a time when I was not on any medication as I had not been officially diagnosed with depression. Moreover, my family did not fully grasp what was wrong with me. They did not understand what depression was and thought it was pure bone idleness which was very very hard to deal with as well as how I was generally feeling.

Upon returning from my leave of absence and having been in contact with the University, I received no support. This was very upsetting and difficult at the time especially having been away and my Psychology class having already graduated; I was filled with anxiety. I did not have any communication from the University prior to returning or seeing if I had fulfilled any of the criteria for the grounds of my leave of absence. Moreover, when I had returned my student finance wasn’t paid until the final week of the first term. I come from a working-class single parent family who do not have a penny spare. I had to rely on food banks in York to survive. It was all so difficult, looking back it does make me wonder how on earth did I come out with a degree. I did not end up graduating until January 2015 because whilst in my final final year (that repetition there is on purpose) towards Christmas/early January 2014, I started experiencing gallstone episodes which required me going in and out of hospital due to the immense physical pain I was in. I had experienced these pains many years prior but my GP back in Doncaster said they were anxiety attacks – oh my, they were wrong. Fast forward several months after, again, having to return home mid-way through the year just in case of any A&E visits, towards my final exams – a cancellation had came up for a cholecystectomy to remove my gallbladder. I had my surgery in the August and returned to finish my exams in the October – by the time graduating came around after such a long delay I was finally ready to leave York.

Despite all of this going on in my personal life, I fully threw myself in University life – the University of York being a collegiate university, I ended up being elected as one of the main events coordinators for the college and later becoming the chairperson – James College 2010-2013. These roles made University for me, they were my first experiences of life outside of books and I loved meeting new people. The later role chairperson was both a blessing and curse. There were significant pressures and early on not very much support available. Freshers Week was our responsibility considering all its aspects – promotion, welfare [hence ‘my watch’ comment earlier], day-time events, night-time events, alternative events, merchandise and recruitment of 2nd/3rd year helpers. Whilst that was our role solely for our College, we were also required to provide representation for the Students Union and Senior Management Team of the University. High pressured jobs – job is the correct word, we had full-time voluntary jobs whilst also studying for a full-time undergraduate degree.

There are many things that were appalling about the mental health support that not only I experienced personally but through what I learned across all campuses. The Open Door Team, plain and simply does not have anywhere near the capacity required to support the thousands of students it has. Having since graduated, the University itself has expanded further by several thousand undergraduate students. The Open Door Team is to support both undergraduate and post-graduate students. It is interesting to note that whilst the University is expanding in numbers; the mental health support for students is dwindling in comparison. I am sure when I was at University a staff number of maybe at most 10 to be shared with SO many students is just mind boggling. There were times where it would take a minimum of 4 weeks to get an appointment. What’s worse is if you wanted to get support elsewhere even through your GP whilst at University, the waiting list was even longer. I am hoping and praying with the further expansion the University plans the provision of mental health support expands exponentially.

I am sorry if a lot of this is waffley. What I can say though ____ is in retrospect of these dark phases of my life after having recently just lost my job, I decided to remain positive and start up my own professional ironing business, called SteamOn, where I can work as and when it suits me. This was not my dream as a fresh-faced first-year but life happens and it must go on. Up until recently, I have learned to take great pride in my work and I am generally happy with my approach to life; taking it by the horns and steaming on. I am working on myself each and everyday. I have the support of a therapist, my amazing other half Chris and the best friends and family who help lift my spirits when times are tough. One of my main goals which I am passionate about is sharing my story and using my business as a platform to raise mental health awareness and as much literature as I can. People need to be aware of mental illness especially when it does impact SO many people. I plan to do this by being a proud support of Mind, the mental health charity and donating a portion of our profits with every purchase at the end of each financial year.”