You might remember that last week we shared a blog post about the Think Positive Hub, a website designed by NUS and Mind Waves. The online hub brings all of the projects, services, resources and news relating to student mental health together in one place, for students and those who support them to easily access.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be sharing a series of blog posts written by students, discussing their mental health. This week, I thought I would kick things off by telling you my own story.
Writing the blog post about the Think Positive Hub got me thinking about my own student experience – which is ongoing, I started a masters last year! – and how I manage my mental health alongside studying.
I started my undergraduate English Literature degree at the University of Glasgow in 2017. I was 18 years old, and although I was excited to leave home, I was nervous to live by myself, and anxious about making friends. I dropped out of school when I was 14, and finished my exams at home, due to my chronic illness. I tried to re-enter high school a few times, but looking back, I think a large reason why that didn’t work out for me was my poor mental health.
High school social circles move and change very quickly, and whenever I went into school, I felt out of place and like I had missed too much to fit back in. When I moved into student halls, this anxiety was reignited; I was in a new place, away from the comforts of home. Everything was different, but I felt like all of my problems and anxieties were the same.
I was lucky to make friends on my course quickly, and although I did not like living in halls, (shared kitchens are the worst) I managed to carve out a life for myself, and adjust to the workload at uni pretty quickly. My main issue throughout my undergrad, was how poorly educated some university staff were when it came to making adjustments for my chronic illness.
Uni is a lot less hands-on than high school; which has its pros and cons. I was basically left to get on with studying myself, which suits me, but whenever I needed accommodations; resources emailed across, or more lenient attendance rules, I was basically left to rely on the kindness (or unkindness) of my individual professors. The majority of my tutors were lovely to me – English Lit supremacy!!! – but on a few occasions, I was left in the dark. I remember once getting a very rude email from a tutor about my low attendance, despite me alerting him that I was chronically ill, and that the attendance rules didn’t apply to me as strictly. I can still remember how my stomach dropped when I opened that email, it made me feel like a teenager in high school all over again, like I was constantly rushing to catch up while everyone else was streets ahead.
The thoughtless behaviour of a few individuals was the primary reason for the periods of low mental health I suffered over my undergraduate degree. I was made to feel like my conditions were a burden, and I think it put me off asking for help when I needed it.
These days, as I’m completing my masters and thinking about a PhD (it feels scary to even write that!) I feel really far away from the nervous teenager that moved into halls. Now my student stresses are different, more focused on stability; I’m still trying to perfect the balance of studying, working and paying rent. Academia is still financially inaccessible to so many, and I feel really lucky to be Scottish – which means that my student loans are just bad, instead of genuinely traumatising.
To sum it all up, I think that the reason why I loved my degree despite its flaws, was because I really love the subject I chose, and I really love the friends I made. I never felt pressure from my parents to choose a more ‘useful’ degree, and I had the privilege of growing up with enough money to make uni an accessible goal for me. If I could go back in time and tell my teenage self anything, it would be to chill out a bit and stop worrying about what my tutors thought of me. If someone is being unkind to you, it’s usually a ‘them problem’ not a ‘you problem’. But, you know, the benefits of hindsight!
So, there you go! My student mental health story. It felt very cathartic to write it out, and also made me feel a bit emotional thinking about my younger self, even if it was only five years ago. If this post inspired you to think about your own student days, or the support you gave to a student in your life, get in touch with me at email@example.com