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Starting University with mental health issues

5/12/2016

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Calista Arthey
BA History & Archaeology

Mental health problems are becoming an increasing issue for young adults across the world, and these issues can have a significant effect on life at university.

Recent studies from the Mental Health Foundation show that around of quarter of students at university have mental health problems, and a staggering 64% of university drop outs cite mental health as the main reason for them leaving.

Unfortunately, I came to university, in the former category, with two mental health problems. I was always an anxious child I guess, but I didn’t realise it was such a significant issue until I started college, and it began to become unbearable, with random panic attacks almost constant thoughts back to times I would rather forget and never wanted to discuss.

When I first started getting help, in the form of local counselling, there was an issue. Nothing they traditionally offered for anxiety was working, and I didn’t have typical problems such as social anxiety. A year later, in December and January, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was discussed, and I received my formal diagnosis a little while later.

Moving for University

I was extremely worried about coming to university for a couple of reasons. One of them being just how far away I would be. I knew for a quite a while, and it was confirmed through therapy for the PTSD, that it was ‘must’ for me to move away from home, as it would improve my symptoms. But moving away for me was not like moving away for my friends – I was going to whole other country.

This made the move unexplainably daunting. Living at home may have been high source of stress, but it was all I had ever known; my mum wouldn’t be able to help me now when I had flashbacks or unexplained anxiety. But I took the plunge, just as I knew I had to, and it seriously payed off.

Public perception and understanding of mental health

Another would be understanding. Of course I don’t shout from the rooftops that I have PTSD or anxiety, but when you’ve been friends for someone for a while, it eventually comes up. PTSD is one of those illnesses that has a stigma, and a public perception of what it ‘should be’ – to many, seeing an 18-year-old with a diagnosis is incomprehensible.

PTSD is, for many, something only those returning from war can get. After a while, many are understanding and supportive, but I still feared what I could encounter in Belfast. Would there be anyone else who knew what I was going through? Is there a support network for those with PTSD?

Could I get more therapy (I had EMDR therapy - Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy - back home, which only so many people can do) if I needed? Luckily, the student guidance centre have been incredibly helpful and supportive, despite my health improving on its own.

Self-doubt

Then, of course, there was the idea that my therapist, and my instincts, may have been totally wrong, and I would only get worse when I moved away. It was a niggling idea that sat in the back of my head as I was sick with worry on the plane over from England. How would I cope?

What if I have no idea how to look after myself in general and just fall apart? I’m very happy to say I was right all along, and my problems are practically non-existent, but the fear leading from my university applications to my arrival was rather immense.

I also panicked on my first week, when I saw the fresher’s timetable - I knew I’d have to get over my fear of travel as an archaeologist, but I panicked when I saw that my fourth day of university was a two-day trip in another county, with people I didn’t know. But, I went; I pushed through, and it turned out to be the trip were I met all my amazing friends.

Support at University

I can’t stress enough that there is support if you need it. Please go to the student guidance centre at Queen’s if you have a mental health issue, or think you might be developing one. Even if you just ‘feeling a bit stressed’ or ‘down’, you will get guidance, help and support. You will never be turned away.

The Doctors at the health centre are amazing as well – on my first general appointment, I mentioned my past problems, and my new Doctor was keen to stress to always come back if my symptoms got worse, as there was always help if I needed it.

Don’t wait for ‘things to improve’

I was foolish enough to wait when I started college to talk to my Doctor, because my parents, and therefore I, didn’t think my unexplained panic attacks and anxiety were something I should to a Doctor about. My last note would be to ask of you to please talk to someone if you’re struggling, in whatever way, no matter who says you should or shouldn’t – It may just change your life for the better.

Calista Arthey

History and Archaeology | 1st year | Colchester, England

18 year old student who came from England to study at Queen's - I study my passions (History and Archaeology!) and am also an exhibited artist and writer. Lover of the old-fashioned, and serial avoider of the gym. Play pool with my friends an incredible amount since I moved, yet I still manage to be a absolutely terrible player.

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