Being a student with a constant barrage of assignments, deadlines and exams is tough. Throwing mental health difficulties into the mix makes things a whole lot more stressful. However with the ever increasing number of students with mental health issues it is certainly not an uncommon situation to find yourself in. Dealing with your own health issues can get in the way of experiencing the college life and can hinder your education, no matter how much you wish it didn’t.
I was diagnosed with depression and severe anxiety at the age of 17 in the January of 6th year. A tense time for anyone with the overwhelming shadow of the leaving cert hanging over your life. I didn’t get the points I needed but after a year spent doing a FETAC course I was offered a place on my dream course in UL. I’m sure there are many others who had similar experiences in their final year of school and it can be a real confidence knock. Just getting to university is an achievement in itself, so let’s all give ourselves a pat on the back!
Personally, the hardest challenge I faced in first year was the amount of assignments that were handed out like sweets and how they all seemed to be due at the same time. When you have a mental health issue, it can seem the easy route to use it as an excuse for missed deadlines and failed exams. It’s something however that shouldn’t be relied on. If you use it to defend your shortcomings it will become a safety net and soon you won’t bother at all. Yes, it was difficult and a lot of tea and chocolate was purchased to get me through long days in the library but it was worth it for the sense of accomplishment when I handed in three 2,000 word essays at the same time.
One thing that was so reassuring throughout my first year, and something those reading this in the same position as me should take solace in, is the willingness of lecturers to help you in whatever way possible. On one occasion I found myself having a breakdown the day before I was due to sit a history exam. So I rang the counselling service in UL who rapidly put my mind at ease. They told me I would receive an I grade (grades distributed to those suffering an illness at the time of exams). I contacted my lecturer and explained the situation and he went above and beyond to support me. So if you find yourself in a similar situation, be comforted in knowing that the support systems are there for your benefit.
As well as your degree, the other most important thing in third level is to form friendships but having anxiety can really hold you back. There were so many occasions where I wanted to include myself in the conversation with my classmates but felt like there was a brick wall in my way. At the start of second year I made it my mission to involve myself with my class as much as I could. Just five weeks in, I already feel like my friendships are strengthening daily.
Another issue for students like myself is whether or not to divulge your issues to your friends. This of course is up to you, but having people around you who are aware of your problems can be incredibly comforting and they can be a reassuring presence to have around. If they know something is up and you hide it from them, it will only cause them to worry on your behalf. So be open with those you trust and depend on them.
If you find yourself struggling with any sort of mental health issues in college there are so many resources out there. Counselling and chaplaincy services are offered in universities and colleges throughout the country. Most universities will have their own on-campus psychiatrist and I cannot encourage you enough to contact them if you ever find yourself struggling. The services are there, your friends are there and more importantly you are not the only one going through this. We are all in this crazy world together.