So I’ve heard a lot of true stories where people leave home to go to university but unfortunately experience a mental health problem. This often results in a drop-out where the person cannot cope anymore, which can in turn lead to feelings of defeat and low self-worth. Returning home from this experience can also be embarrassing as you have to explain (or lie) about why you have dropped out. This happened to me as I had to drop out of the first uni due to my ongoing psychosis and, after a few weeks in hospital, a feeling that I could not cope with catching up and uni life in general.
In a way I was lucky because I already had psychosis before I went to university and so had a little bit of support in place and it was known to the local mental health team that I had a mental health problem. For some people however, something like a psychosis will begin, unbeknown to anyone or even the person suffering. Psychosis can mean that you are unaware that your thoughts, voices etc. are not real. As a result of this, the psychosis is left to linger until it is too late and the person is full-blown psychotic and in desparate need of some support. This is often a time when people will end up in hospital or doing something highly dangerous, or generally putting themselves (or occasionally others) at risk.
This is a great shame. Having a mental health problem to begin with can leave you with feelings of despair and isolation. Gaining something like a degree could be a big help for self-esteem and feelings of achievement; so when you cannot achieve this it makes you feel even worse. I can only imagine that developing psychosis at university is a frightening and confusing experience. As you are practically alone, besides flatmates, there is no one to notice your illness. I was at home when my psychosis began so I had some support (even if I was misunderstood) when I was diagnosed. Images of people huddled in their rooms, paranoid and afraid to leave their flat are images I consider. How can we prevent this from happening?
Unversities, in my opinion, could do more. If you are ‘lucky’ enough to join univeristy already declaring a mental health problem, then it is likely you will have some support from student services. However, if you develop mental health problems in your first term, you may either not recognise your illness or be too embarrassed to ask for help. This leaves the illness lingering to get worse. I know that in student services there are leaflets on all sorts of problems, from anxiety to eating disorders, but if you haven’t set foot in student services, how are you meant to gain this advice? Often there will be emails circulated about student support and advice sessions, which is fair enough. But I’m really not sure that there is enough awareness for students.
I’m not saying that I know the answer to this problem, but I do know that I think it is a bigger issue than people think. It’s so horrible for a young person to leave home, full of optimism and excitement, only to crash into a dark place and have to leave, feeling defeated and unhappy. How can we stop young people having to go through this? Should we all be assigned some sort of mentor, be it professional or by an older student? Should we be encouraged to keep a check on ourselves? Should we be made more aware that things like counselling do not make us weak, but could in fact help enormously?
I don’t know the answer to this issue, but I think it could be something that should be looked into. I want people with mental health problems to have the same chances as those without and if this means having a lot of support then so be it. I know that if I hadn’t had a mentor at my second uni, sorting out things for me when I was unwell but also when I was stable, then I might not have got through it. Students may need support, but if this gets them through their degree and having a sense of achievement then surely it is justified. But we need the awareness to begin with, or many students might not know that they can get that support.
Lets make all students aware that it’s okay to talk, no matter how small the problem. Things can snowball, and before you know it you’re sinking. Lets catch those students.
Something to think about. Take care, Skye.