Studying with depression
Posted Friday 19 October 2012
I'm a student. I've done one year of university so far, and I still have another 3 to go, including a year abroad. A professor in my department once made a remark about to me saying that there should be a guide to being a student with depression. That stuck in my head. So I'm going to tell my own story, and describe the problems I've faced, and how I have dealt with them.
For someone with depression, the prospect of moving somewhere where you know nobody, and living with strangers is terrifying. I would imagine this would be a difficult for anyone, with or without a mental health problem.
Sometimes socialising is difficult for me. In Fresher’s week I found the best thing I could do was be myself. I socialised when I could and when I couldn't; I didn’t. They tell you to make as many friends as possible, and join in with as much as possible. The key words being "as much as possible", rather than "everything".
I'm sure 99.9% of students would agree that 9.00 am lectures are horrible things. I had trouble sleeping, so waking up to get to a lecture at 9, 10 or even 11 seemed very difficult at times. I tried to keep my attendance as high as possible, but there were times when I physically didn't have the energy or motivation to leave my room. I then set myself targets. If I got up to go to an early lecture, I could go back to sleep afterwards. Or I would go to at least 2 of my 3 lectures that day.
My course work assignments always came at the worst possible times, when my mood was low. When this happened I spoke to a member of my department. I was given a week's extension on one of my essays and lab reports. Although the extra time didn't help me feel better, or concentrate any more, it took the time pressure off, which meant that I got it done.
I also found it helpful having close friends on my course. Of course these can be difficult to come by, but I had to come out of my comfort zone and talk to random people on my course - everyone else is new and nervous too.
Societies are a great way to make friends. If you're a bit shy/ anxious like me, it will take a lot of courage to go to a society's meeting, but once you've done it you'll have made friends and be proud of your achievement. It's also good because you'll find people who are interested in the same things as you.
As a person who has occasional panic attacks, going out can be challenging. It’s also the last thing you want to do when you are feeling very low. After a while I found a solution: If I didn't feel up to going out, I didn't go! It was an amazing revelation for me as I tend to do what other people want me to do, for fear of letting people down. After experiencing a panic attack on a night out, I also learnt to remove myself from a situation if I started to become anxious, like moving out of the crowd.
I found that most people were very understanding; I spoke to my housemates about my depression and anxiety, and they did their best to help when they could. A lot of people don't know what to say, but to be perfectly honest, listening is the best thing they can do.
It’s also useful to acquaint yourself with some of the staff members of your department. I was worried that I would be judged, but I found the staff members I spoke to very helpful, and I was certainly not the first to have spoken to them about these things. The worst thing is to try to handle everything by yourself; if no one knows about your problems, they can't help.
Doctors can prescribe antidepressants and offer you alternative treatments such as counselling. It's good to see the same doctor each time, as they will grow to know you and your symptoms. Counsellors can also be useful in your battle with mental health issues, and I think most universities have a counselling service.
With a lot of hard work and support from others, I am proud to say that I got through my first year with a First! Now, after a summer to relax, I am ready to go back to university and face a whole new set of challenges in my second year.
I am hoping that over time I will feel better, but for now I'm just doing the best I can and remember to ask for help when I need it.
Starting a new university or college course can be really daunting, if you're struggling to cope, you can get in touch with our infoline on 0300 123 3393 who can help you find the support you need.
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