About: Jade, 23, shares how she struggled with her mental health at uni as someone with learning difficulties, and why leaving uni was the right decision for her.
This blog contains references to suicide and self-harm. Please do not read on if you think the content may be triggering for you. If you are currently struggling with your mental health, please visit our find help page for information, advice and guidance on where to get support.
No one knew how bad my mental health was, not even me.
Have you ever wanted to scream but couldn't? Have you been so angry but couldn’t shout? The emotions I feel are intense. I’m never just happy, I'm elated. I’m never just sad, I feel distraught.
If I’m honest, when I have my sad times, I feel lifeless. Like nothing matters. Like I’m alone on the battlefield. Like I fought a good fight, but it’s time to surrender.
My experience of uni and mental health
My mental health progressively got worse over a four-year period, all while studying a degree.
No one knew how bad my mental health was, not even me. I always thought of my mental health while studying as a game of chess. One move from the opposite side and the game is checkmate. At university I didn’t know who the right people were to talk to about the state of my mental health.
If I took two steps forward in making progress with coping with my emotions, I would encounter someone that would say the wrong thing. This would derail me ten steps back into the cycle of feeling disheartened, lost, vulnerable and numb.
I sought support through student online forums, the disability team at university, friends, peers, family, and healthcare professionals such as my GP and a mental health nurse. I also found comfort in food, watching endless series and films on repeat in bed.
The majority of my time was spent in bed.
It would take me at least an hour to have the courage to leave my bedroom and then leave the flat completely.
How my GP helped me and my experience of medication
Propranolol was given to me on a short-term basis to help reduce my panic attacks. Some days I was too scared to leave my student accommodation. It would take me at least an hour to have the courage to leave my bedroom and then leave the flat completely.
I was fine when I left my room, but initially the door between my room and my flat hallway was my biggest barrier in my second year of university.
I had worked so hard but everything in life got in the way of my studies.
Mirtazapine made me sleep for 14 hours. This meant my days started in the afternoons. Even though I was actually getting sleep, it didn't benefit my studies. I would miss the revision sessions. My exams were only a month away and I didn't have the ability to retain any information.
From the outside I was deemed lazy, unbothered and not serious about my exams, however that was far from the truth. I had worked so hard but everything in life got in the way of my studies.
I am currently taking sertraline. I was reluctant to take a different antidepressant as I haven’t had the best experience. But my mood has slightly changed since taking sertraline as it has allowed me to face the day ahead. The intrusive thoughts don’t control my life any more.
If I could do anything differently I would have gone to the university councillor sooner.
Where I found support at uni
If I could do anything differently I would have gone to the university councillor sooner. I gained a lot of clarity within the sessions which allowed me to find consistency in my studies.
Student Minds - a mental health charity for students – stated that “around 40% may now meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health problem”. I wish there were better mental health support in universities.
I wish for tutors to be aware of the impact that university pressures and a student's personal life has on their mental health. University tutors are one of the first ports of call to reach out to about anything that may be impacting your studies. If you are struggling and reach out to your tutor, they will offer time to talk and give information about the counselling team.
In my case, my tutor wasn’t the person I could turn to when something within my personal life was affecting my studies. However, there was support available to me. The support that I found most helpful for me was speaking to fellow students in the student union.
My student union had a wellbeing team who I could speak to whenever I felt overwhelmed. I would have to wait two to four weeks to see the university councillor, so having the option of speaking to the wellbeing team was helpful.
The support that I found most helpful for me was speaking to fellow students in the student union.
Why I decided to leave uni
I reached out to my GP because I didn't recognise myself anymore. I was self-harming while on placement and attempted an overdose twice. I knew my environment was impacting my mental health at this point, but in hindsight my mental health had been going in a downward spiral since my second year of my degree, if not before.
Studying a competitive degree like physiotherapy meant I was constantly comparing myself with my classmates. I had to be perfect all the time because if I wasn't, I would be scrutinised.
I couldn’t handle the responsibility of being perfect 24/7. As someone with learning difficulties, dyslexia and dyspraxia, every day was hard as my brain didn’t process things the same way as my peers. I struggled because I needed extra time.
I was scared at first, because I didn't know what my life would look like if I did leave.
However, a lot of people don’t have enough patience for people with learning disabilities and there's a lot of judgement and stigma, especially at university.
I was constantly questioned about the reasonable adjustments I needed for my learning difficulties. This made my time at university hard as I was never given a chance to show my true potential, because the classroom or placement wasn’t accommodating to my needs.
After a lot of debating with my thoughts, I decided I needed to leave university. I was scared at first, because I didn't know what my life would look like if I did leave. So I decided to speak to my GP as I knew my mental health needed prioritising.
Leaving uni may not be the right decision for everyone, but it was the right decision for me.
My GP could see that university was having a massive impact on me. They knew that I wasn’t myself. They advised me to speak to my head of year and talk about my decision to leave university. Speaking to my GP allowed me to realise that it was okay for me to leave university.
At the start of August 2022, I simply emailed my tutor noting that I would not be continuing my studies at the university and closed my laptop.
I couldn't keep fighting any more.
I may return back to studying, but for now I want to focus on bettering my mental health. Leaving uni may not be the right decision for everyone, but it was the right decision for me.
My advice for students struggling with their mental health
Speak to your student union
The student union at your university is a good place to start if you want to speak to someone about your feelings. There will be support from fellow students that can empathise with your situation and direct you to what support is available to you. Speaking about how you are feeling may seem daunting, but there are people that want to support you during your time at university.
Express your feelings
If you know someone that you can trust, speak to them about how you’re feeling. Let yourself feel your feelings. It’s going to be tough, but your feelings are valid and you deserve to express them.
Make time for yourself
Sometimes university can get on top of us and start to feel distressing. It’s important to indulge in the things that bring you joy. Set some time each day to do something for you. Whether that is meeting up with a friend, watching a movie, going outside or just allowing yourself to sleep after a long revision session.
More information and advice
We have tips and advice to help you find the support you need. Take a look at our guides.
Where to get help
However you're feeling, there are people who can help you if you are struggling. Here are some services that can support you.
Supports students to look after their mental health by providing information and advice.
They also provide details about local services offered by universities and information on how you can access support group programmes.
You can call or email for more information (this is not a helpline).