When I tell people I study medical science the response is nearly always the same, “Wow that sounds hard- you must be smart.” On the contrary, the coursework is thrilling and intriguing, satisfying the part of my brain that wants to know everything from how proteins make up our DNA to what chemical changes in the brain make alcohol and music festivals go together like Anna Wintour and couture. My studies also made me well aware of the signs, symptoms, causes and treatments associated with mental illness. Unfortunately this didn’t make it any easier when they struck.
My first year went by smoothly and I quickly adjusted to campus life- attending (most) lectures, making friends and hitting up the university bars for those discounted beers. It was in my second year with an impending Europe trip that things started to spiral downward. My classes were demanding, and I had exceedingly high expectations of myself (I admit to being a perfectionist), I was working long hours to save up for my big summer trip and on top of it all my social life was skyrocketed. A typical week looked like classes Monday-Friday, nights out ending only hours before work at 7am on Saturday and Sunday and sleep to battle the exhaustion of work and a hangover. This cycle continued until I was running on fumes. To use a mindfulness term, I wasn’t “living in the moment” and instead saw Europe as an end goal I would do anything to achieve. Uni work went on the back-burner. An assignment I hadn’t started the week before it was due, turned into one that sat untouched long after the due date. I was depressed and I didn’t even know it. I only found out when it became too much and I tried to end my life. It sounds dramatic but it’s true, looking back I almost can’t believe how oblivious I was.
Next came the part no nineteen year old should have to experience; being an inpatient in a mental health facility. Over the four weeks, not only did I have to begin reconstructing my life while adjusting to new medications and learning new behavioural techniques but, I was also drowned in the paperwork associated with being a mentally ill university student. When I was having trouble simply existing, Special Considerations Forms and Applications to Withdraw Without Academic or Financial Penalty were daunting. My advice to those who find themselves in the realm of hardship while studying is to use the resources available to you. Most universities have support services that are familiar with these struggles- use them. You’ll be assigned someone who can help organise note takers if you can’t make it to your classes, extensions for assignments and even supplementary exams. Not knowing these details cost me hours of unnecessary stress when I least needed it. It also added an extra year and a half to my degree.
Mental illness and university are not mutually exclusive. There are services available to students in need, whether that need be financial, legal, health related or due to mental illness.
People aged 12-25 seeking help for a mental health problem should contact headspace at www.headspace.org.au. If you are feeling down, suicidal, or just a little out of your depth and would like to talk to someone about how you are feeling, call Lifeline on 13 11 44, or speak to someone online at lifeline.org.au. It can get better, and there is always someone who wants to help.