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Student mental health crisis: there’s help out there, and things can change

University is one of the most stressful times of our lives. According to The Guardian, when surveyed 8 out of 10 students said they had experienced mental health issues in the last year. Worse still, more than half of those respondents (54%) said they didn’t seek help. Last year, I sought help, and the change it made for me was immeasurable.

Just under a year ago, I was itching to start university.

I became so irritating, my own parents later admitted that they weren’t actually too sad to see me go.

The whole prospect of university was exciting to me: I’m an outgoing person, who has always loved making friends and trying new things, and I was moving to one of my favourite places in the world to study a course I cared about deeply.

My biggest worries were giving myself food poisoning, liver failure, or a brutal combination of the two – mental health didn’t even cross my mind.

So why was it that, halfway through first  term, I found myself spending the majority of my spare time locked in my room, crying? Why had I stopped eating? Why had horrible habits started creeping into my daily life?

I’m not saying I constantly felt awful – that was part of the problem: I could have an amazing time with my new friends, or a brilliant night out, or enjoy a lecture, and so I convinced myself that nothing was actually wrong. The other, more concerning issue that was stopping me from getting help was the fact that this new, warped version of ‘myself’ that had come out of the woodwork refused to allow me to get help and, crucially, didn’t even think I deserved it.

In my first meeting with my academic advisor, he drilled into my group that the place to go if we needed help was the Student Life Centre. So, one day at 2AM, in one of the rare moments where the rational and healthy side of me prevailed, I booked an appointment with an advisor at the Centre, and got myself down to Bramber House the next day. I saw a wonderful guy who I would love to thank, who simultaneously helped me realise that things in my life really weren’t OK and I shouldn’t be feeling like this, but also, remarkably, didn’t make me feel panicked about my situation. He even called the doctors for me, and helped me make an appointment. Long story short: his work was exactly the intervention I needed.

Soon after my session, I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and bulimia, and shortly after I was put on medication. I’m not going to lie and pretend that everything was suddenly better – anyone who has been put on anti-depressants knows that they can seriously affect you, mentally and physically. Especially if you ignore the warning about drinking alcohol on them – blacking out in Oceana Watford was a low point.

But, about 8 months later, things are definitely on the right track. Like anyone else, I have good days and bad days, but the biggest difference now is that I’m able to deal with the bad days and enjoy the good ones. I ended up with grades I’m proud of and I’m now eagerly counting down the days until I move back to university for my second year, which I have to admit, I never thought would be the case.

If there’s one positive I can take from this experience it is that I’ve realised fully how wonderful the people in my life are – from big, overwhelmingly selfless acts of kindness to just small everyday things, it has all made my recovery so much easier.

The past year has also shown me the brilliance of the staff at the Student Life Centre.

 My experience means that my biggest piece of advice to all incoming students – and indeed, to every single student currently at Sussex –  is that if you’re finding things  are difficult, make use of the support facilities available, as hard as it may be to motivate yourself to do so. No problem is too small for them, but the difference they make to your life could be huge.

Useful contacts: your academic advisor and the Student Life Centre.

Student Life Centre: book an appointment online or via phone.

http://www.sussex.ac.uk/studentlifecentre/

Tel: 01273 87 6767

Email: studentlifecentre@sussex.ac.uk

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