Depression at university is common yet many of us don't know where to go for support. I hope that by sharing my story, you realise that you are not alone.
Over a quarter of students in the UK currently suffer from a mental health issue, with one in five seeking help through counselling. I quickly developed depression in my first year, despite no previous cases or family history.
I didn’t realise at first; it slowly crept up on me throughout my first semester, as my problems piled up.
Firstly, there was the shock of leaving my family and friends for the first time in my life, and being 80 miles away from home in a strange city with no one I knew.
Then I couldn’t get on with my new flatmates or the others on my course; I’d suddenly lost all of my confidence. My grades were going down and I felt stupid and useless compared to the incredibly confident kids on my course. All through school, I had been the type of girl who studied hard and was obsessed with being top of the class; university was the only future I’d ever considered. Yet now I was here, nothing was how I wanted it to be.
I started coming in late, and sometimes I just missed lectures. What was the point if I wasn’t good enough? I began to feel so down that I couldn’t be bothered to leave my room. I had nothing to do and no one to see anyway.
People think that depression means feeling sad or angry, but to me, it’s more of a great numbness; the idea that the world is so terrible that all you can do is shut it out and try not to feel anything so that you won’t get hurt. I’d always been raised with the idea that you should just get on with things and not complain, so I tried to block out the idea that anything was wrong at all.
When I came back for Christmas, my family were immediately concerned; I had lost weight and was noticeably quiet and withdrawn. But I smiled and said that nothing was wrong; that I was working hard and going out every weekend with all my new friends, enjoying the “best years of my life.”
I finally broke down to my oldest friend about the truth. She immediately suggested that I seek counselling and referred me to the NHS’s Let’s Talk-Wellbeing service. There, I had a long talk with a doctor who diagnosed me with depression. She told me that I had to start taking my mental health as seriously as my physical health, otherwise, I would deteriorate.
When I returned to uni I gave myself a target: I would stick at the course until summer, and if I still wasn’t happy then there was no shame in leaving and trying something different.
I signed up for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) sessions with the campus counsellor – this form of therapy involves changing your way of thinking to improve your mood and behaviour. I learned to block the negative thoughts from my head and always look positively at a situation; to play to my strengths in lectures and to see mistakes as an opportunity for learning.
I was set daily goals, such as talking to a new person on my course each day. I realised that they weren’t so bad and I began to make some friends. I finally started to enjoy my course and came in every day, achieving a 2:1 by the end of my first year.
I have just finished my second year now and I can’t wait to graduate. I still may not be the most sociable person, but that’s ok; I’m happy to spend a quiet night in with friends, or even alone sometimes. I realise now that there is a lot of hype with uni, and sometimes it’s not what you expected. You may find hidden aspects of yourself and come out as a very different person than you used to be.
This is my personal experience. I do NOT speak for anyone else and I know that some people may be in far worse circumstances than me. I was lucky to have strong support in family and friends, to find a therapy that worked for me, and I never felt so bad that I wanted to end it all. If you do feel like you’re alone and that there is no solution, I beg you to not give up; there is always hope for the future and there is ALWAYS someone out there to help you. Only you can change yourself – life is far too precious to throw away.
If you feel like you're struggling, here are some numbers you can call:
- Mind: 0300 123 3393 - This line is open 9am-6pm Monday to Friday (except bank holidays). They can talk to you and help you access support in your area.
- Samaritans: 116 123 - This line is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It's free to call and they stress that you don't have to be suicidal to call and can ring any time you're feeling down.
- You can also go to a family or friend who you trust, the NHS, or your university. There is support available and you should never feel like your problem is too minor to speak to someone about.
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