Sunday, May 19Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Depression: Illness, not Weakness

*Trigger Warning: mentions of self harm*

Being a student is not always easy. Whilst the common perception of students is that they booze and sleep their way through their degrees, in reality, the workload can pile up and many students, especially those in their first year, can become lonely and homesick. For some students, however, it is not a case of feeling a bit down every now and again; the struggle with these negative emotions can become a part of everyday life.

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was seventeen. In my case, this was mostly due to an unsettled upbringing and the death of two family members in only a few years. My problems had started at the age of 14, but I had been discouraged from seeking help by friends and family, passing my behaviour off as “being a teenager.” I was told that what I was suffering from was not an illness.

It was only when things became much worse – I was often tearful, slept badly and sometimes self-harmed – that I persuaded myself to visit my GP. Thankfully, she referred me to a psychotherapist and when I left to start my undergraduate degree at Birmingham, I was put in touch with their Mental Health Service and started a course of antidepressants. I do still struggle with depression, but I feel the help I received has put me on the road to recovery, and I have learned more about how to cope with and manage my symptoms.

Unfortunately, my experience will sound familiar to many students. One in four of the British population will suffer from a mental health issue in any one year and students make up a large proportion of cases. In July, ‘The Huffington Post’ reported that the number of students seeking help for mental health issues at some of the UK’s top universities has more than doubled over the last year.

Not everyone who suffers from mental health problems will seek help. There is still a stigma around mental health issues: although the wellbeing of physical health is greatly encouraged, not enough attention is paid to looking after mental health. Furthermore, many people seem to think that those who suffer from conditions such as depression are weak and just need to pull themselves together. For those who live with the condition, though, it is anything but a case of being able to ‘be happy’ or ‘just get on with things’.

Depression can develop for all sorts of reasons, can interfere with all aspects of life, and is not something that should be ignored. Symptoms can also vary from person to person, but may include:

· Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness or despair

· Decreased/increased appetite

· Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or low self-esteem

· Difficulty concentrating or making decisions

· Irritability

· Losing interest in activities you normally enjoy

· Thoughts of death or suicide

If you are suffering from any of these or think you might have depression or another form of mental illness, get help. Talking to your GP is a good place to start; your meeting will be totally confidential and they will be able to point you in the direction of medication, talking therapies or support groups. If you feel you can talk to your friends, you may also find the exercise of talking through things itself helps.

Ignore people who try and belittle mental health issues; ultimately, it is you who is living with the condition, so put your own needs first and don’t worry about other people’s opinions on the subject. The first step towards getting help is the most difficult, but once it has been taken, the process becomes a lot easier and most people do eventually recover from conditions such as depression.

This country is still very much in need of a shake-up regarding mental health education, but until then, sadly, we will still have to deal with stigmatisation and discrimination surrounding mental health issues. Depression is an illness, not a ‘weakness’. Don’t suffer in silence; help is at hand if you need it.

Article: Imogen Dalziel