Features Invisible Illnesses

Invisible Illnesses III: Learning More About My Mental Health Than I Learnt From My BSc

Words by Caitlin Parr

Illustration by Amelia Field

University can be an immensely challenging time for any student. Whether you’re naturally very confident or were at the top of your class in school, University is sure to present challenges and anxieties that are totally new and have the potential to disrupt your time there.

Unfortunately the majority of University students, 1 in 4, will struggle with mental health issues at some point during their studies. The increasing pressure of workloads; the amount of time missed due to industrial actions; and returning to lectures in a pandemic – all contributors that will likely make the 2020/21 academic year even harder for so many. 

University has always been a difficult step, before these added pressures. Often, the things that we struggle with the most in the transition period are the unknown – things that we have not yet experienced in order to build a resilience for.

When I first moved to halls of residences I made more friends than I had ever had in school; had my first ever drink and night out; and signed myself up for a load of societies straight away. I was the person that I had always wanted to be. 

However, I was in a terrible relationship which only got worse for me after I had found this new lease of life as a ‘wild’ student. It ruined my entire University experience. My first year, and the majority of second year too, was spent feeling extremely low and anxious, gaining a lot of weight, and maintaining this unhealthy relationship as it was the only thing familiar to me in this new city. My grades slipped and I was no longer the shiny A* Head Girl that I had been in Secondary School. It felt as if my whole established identity had been swiped from under my feet. Now I was living in a big new city, with no friends or family close by, and a new found love for VKs and the SU night club (which sixth-form me is still very surprised about). 

People change, and you will change too (especially when something as enormous as going to University happens), but that’s okay and perfectly normal. Make sure that through anything, you try and keep contact with your closest family and friends, and never lose your passion for your hobbies and interests. Passion is what drove you to University in the first place. Whether it is re-ignited in lectures or outside of your course really doesn’t matter as long as you feel that you are fulfilling that aspect of your personality. I’m a musician, so after the tumultuous first year I joined some music societies and my mental health improved massively because of it.

I had struggled with my mental health in school, but to this day I have never sought help or advice. This  is something I immensely regret, and spurred my drive to help as many other students as possible getting through their own problems. It was time for a change, even if this didn’t include a GP or accessing the Counselling and Wellbeing Service.

The first thing I did was join the Student Advice and Welfare Executive Committee. Not only did I make a lot of new friends, I also gained great experience of working in welfare and took this forward with me. Since then, I have been in a Presidential role for two of Cardiff University’s most successful welfare Student Led Services; been elected as the Welfare Coordinator for a national charity; worked on rolling wellbeing lessons into Cardiff schools; and, been elected as Cardiff University’s Mental Health Officer.

The role, though cut short by COVID-19, was extremely fulfilling. We ran many campaigns on male mental health; mental health in the LGBT+ community; post-grad welfare and wellbeing techniques – all of which were a privilege to work on and roll out to our Students. Though unpaid and a large commitment, I would encourage anybody to apply for a Campaign Officer position. Working to design and implement these campaigns was a huge help for myself too on my self-help journey, as I learnt a lot from those who benefited most from the services provided.

Volunteer Elected Officers go unheard and unrecognised. Positions such as LGBT+ Officers work incredibly hard all year to support their communities, and it needs to change to recognise the work they are doing alongside pursuing full-time degrees. 

Without this experience, I would never have been offered my graduate job either. Working with the Cardiff Emotional Wellbeing Service and Change Grow Live is something that I would never have gained the experience to do if I hadn’t have been through any of those issues in my Undergrad. If I hadn’t been in that relationship, if I hadn’t been too anxious or low to go to classes, if I hadn’t been the lowest or in the most pain that I had ever been before. 

I like to think that everything happens for a reason, and though those reasons were often extremely painful at times, none of my successes today would’ve happened without them. 

You are so much more than your mental health struggles, or what people around you put you through. I’ve learnt more about these struggles and myself than I have from my course – which, I do really think is a lot more beneficial in the long-term.

It gets so much better. 

If you are struggling, and need help please do not hesitate to contact the following services – 

Helplines

Mental Health

Anxiety UK

Charity providing support if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.

Phone: 03444 775 774 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 10pm; Saturday to Sunday, 10am to 8pm)

Website: www.anxietyuk.org.uk

Mencap

Charity working with people with a learning disability, their families and carers.

Phone: 0808 808 1111 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)

Website: www.mencap.org.uk

Mental Health Foundation

Provides information and support for anyone with mental health problems or learning disabilities.

Website: www.mentalhealth.org.uk

Mind

Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.

Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)

Website: www.mind.org.uk

OCD Action

Support for people with OCD. Includes information on treatment and online resources.

Phone: 0845 390 6232 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5pm)

Website: www.ocdaction.org.uk

PAPYRUS

Young suicide prevention society.

Phone: HOPELINEUK 0800 068 4141 (Monday to Friday, 10am to 10pm, and 2pm to 10pm on weekends and bank holidays)

Website: www.papyrus-uk.org

Samaritans

Confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.

Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)

Website: www.samaritans.org.uk

Sharing Voices BME Support

Telephone: 01274 731166

Email: [email protected] 

Stonewall Cymru

LGBT Switchboard Telephone:  0300 330 0630 (daily 10am-10pm)

Freephone: 0800 0502020 (9:30 – 4:30 Monday to Friday)

Email: [email protected]

Abuse Helplines  (Sexual, Domestic Violence)

Rape Crisis

To find your local services phone: 0808 802 9999 (daily, 12pm to 2.30pm and 7pm to 9.30pm)

Website: www.rapecrisis.org.uk

Refuge

Advice on dealing with domestic violence.

Phone: 0808 2000 247 (24-hour helpline)

Website: www.refuge.org.uk

Eating Disorders

Beat

Phone: 0808 801 0677 (adults) or 0808 801 0711 (for under-18s)Website: www.b-eat.co.uk

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