In this two-part series, a St Andrews student anonymously recounts their struggle with mental health — and the lack of support offered — in St Andrews.
I told them I thought I was going to kill myself. They told me they were angry at me.
The summer of 2014 saw the onset of my depression and anxiety. During this period, I did all I could with the help of doctors, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists to be healthy enough to attend the University St Andrews. When I finally convinced my medical team to let me attend university, I was far from fighting health. But, I made it. I was where I wanted to be with the support I needed, the place of my dreams. By November I was suicidal.
Any person suffering from health issues is entitled to support on arrival to college and university in Scotland. Universities are equipped with disability support services and St Andrews is no exception. These services offer the option of speaking to advisors both before and during your studies to make it as constructive and supportive as possible. Some students have access to DSA, a fund for disabled students to make university life more accessible. This is present in many institutions and helps those struggling to get through their studies.
Furthermore, the SEE ME campaign has worked tirelessly to increase awareness of mental health in all walks of life. In particular it has focused on youth and further education. The campaign suggests that mental ill health is not a barrier to further education and there is no reason that, with the right support, an individual suffering mental health problems cannot further their learning experience.
Stigma and discrimination, however, still exists throughout our universities and colleges. According to
a recent anonymous study conducted by the NUS (National Union of Students) the following examples show how some students still may be stigmatised and discriminated against: fellow students stating, “You are just choosing to be unwell”, or a lecturer telling you that it is, “natural nerves” or “an over-reaction”.
Unfortunately this form of prejudice and discrimination was the catalyst for my Leave of
Unlike at school, where I had been private, even secretive, about my health and
personal problems, at University I attempted to be more open. This was not a decision of ignorance, but
of hope. Hope that students would be more mature and open minded than when at school.
This was destroyed when, for the first time, I let people know my ‘dirty little secret’; that
I suffered from anxiety, PTSD and depression. I confided in two of my closest friends at university (and likely future flatmates) the depths of my illness and its symptoms – the lack of sleep, the self-loathing and the constant battles with panic attacks and anxiety. At this point I shared something even more personal and hidden within my layers of compartmentalisation –I was suicidal. From this point forward, our friendship changed entirely. Suddenly, daily plans began to fall through. When I was going to meet them for dinner, they had already gone. Travelling was cancelled due to ‘work commitment’. Group chats fell silent. I was excluded from events and study groups because they forgot. My deepest fears had been proven right; people will hate me if they know my illness.
The sickening truth is that I am not alone. The SEE ME campaign found 9 out of 10 people who experience mental health problems have experienced stigma and discrimination in work and education. Shockingly, this statistic has come from health professionals or family members. The question therefore is, how have the government allowed this crisis to escalate to this point? It is thought that 70% of children and adolescents who have clinical problems did not receive counselling or treatment when they needed it most. In addition, the St Andrews Student Services are so stretched, that people in crisis often cannot receive an appointment for 2-3 weeks.
A group of experts within the NHS and at the Department of Health wrote a report stating that, ‘radical reforms are needed’. This must come not only by government funding, but through the education of our nation seen, personally in my experience, at university.
After struggling with this illness and being isolated somewhat, I tried to talk to my two friends. That one raining Monday night, was going to become one of the worst of my life; they shut the door in my face and told me they were busy. I walked out of my halls, broke down and blacked out. I walked the length of St Andrews, the next point of memory was sitting in an area called ‘the Scores’ watching the rain on the blue, black water. My parents drove up from Edinburgh and asked an old school friend to try to find me. The only thoughts running through my head were ‘I have nothing to live for.’
‘I could keep walking towards the water and either way the world keeps on turning.’ My parents and friend found me soaked to the skin, frozen and exhausted at midnight. I still couldn’t cry or speak, I was frozen mentally too.
Read the next part.