"Depression is seen as something for goths and emos who have it because its 'cool'," student Beth Saward says bluntly. "There's definitely still a stigma."
The University of East Anglia undergraduate is incredibly open about her battle with depression. "I've had a lot of people react in surprise when they hear I have depression," Beth continues, "because I seem like such an upbeat, normal person. My reply is generally that they've only met me while I'm medicated."
Beth, who has previously blogged for HuffPost UK about the stigma around mental health, was diagnosed the summer before starting university and made sure her flatmates and the university knew about her illness.
"I wanted my flat mates to know so that if I was having a bad day, they wouldn't feel like I was being rude or anti-social, I could just say that I was feeling down. It also meant they felt more able to ask me questions about actually having depression."
Beth, 18, who is studying English Lit and Creative Writing, says she thinks sharing her experiences meant her flatmates were more able to ask for advice on how to help out another housemate, who also has depression.
"I think it helped people knowing I have it and that they could come and ask for advice on what to do to help her - that may just be me though.
"The university's been great. My only issue has been with sharing a room but that's more due to needing personal space when I'm down than anything else. All in all, uni's been pretty good with my depression."
The humanities student says UEA "was great" with providing support. "I got offered counselling on campus and when that didn't work out I was given information about various services and charities in our local area that I could access," she says.
"They also told me that as a person with a mental health illness I count as a disabled student so I qualify for the disabled student allowance (DSA), something I wouldn't have known on my own."
Beth's DSA pays for a mentor who she meets once a week. "She helps make sure everything's going okay with work, my flat mates, my medication and my whole uni experience.
"I also was told to tell my academic advisor who said that if I needed extensions on any of my coursework deadlines due to a particularly bad week she could arrange that."
But Beth says she is worried about the possibility of counselling services at university being cut due to tightening university budgets - a concern highlighted by the NUS.
"I would be very worried about this," Beth continues. "I wouldn't have got through some really tough points in this year without the support of our wellbeing team including having the courage to go to specialised therapy. Mental health funding is already pretty patchy: something which is already struggling shouldn't be damaged further.
"We [UEA] have great events on campus to raise awareness about mental health in general and a whole society dedicated to it," Beth continues. But, she adds:
"Students aren't realising how common depression is. And how it can vary wildly from person to person."
"It all depends on life experience and what they've been taught in school I think. And how open people are. I shocked a lot of people with my honesty about my depression and it mean I've had a lot of people come and talk to me about their experiences with it.
"It's a vicious cycle I think: people with depression and mental health issues don't want to talk about it for fear of being stigmatised and people stigmatise them out of ignorance."
DEPRESSION AT UNIVERSITY:
Several experts have warned students suffering from mental health problems are dissuaded from seeking help due to the stigma around the illness.
We asked our Twitter followers whether they think there is a stigma around mental health, particularly concerning young people, and Southampton University student Lucy Upshall replied:
While University of Leeds politics student Rachel Barker said:
Beth says she recognised the symptoms of depression because her mum has bi-polar and she "grew up knowing the signs of depression".
"I'd always been curious about it but going through sixth form I started to get worried that I was beginning to fit more and more of the symptoms."
Despite recognising the symptoms, Beth found it difficult to get medical help. "My doctor and the psychotherapist I was seeing at the time both categorically told me I didn't have depression but when I went home for the summer it took my doctor there ten minutes to diagnose me.
"I think I just knew that feeling so numb wasn't normal and neither was my sleeping pattern.
"When I came to uni, I'd already been diagnosed and had accepted that it was something I'd be living with for a while. I think that was what helped me get the most out of the support here: it's very much dependant on people getting themselves involved."
But, as Beth explains, it's not such a smooth ride for others: "I have a friend who has depression and he's not getting any help at all because he won't go out and ask for it. On the one hand, I think taking that first step and asking for help is the hardest and anything that can be done to ease this should be. But I also think that we're all supposed to be adults (as odd as this is going to sound) and we need to learn to look after ourselves."
She adds: "I have a few friends that have the 'you're on medication, you'll be fine forever' attitude or the 'smile and get over it attitude'.
"Maybe it's the traditional British stiff upper lip that's holding us back in recognition of mental health issues?"
If you have a story you'd like to share, email us confidentially at firstname.lastname@example.org
Useful websites and helplines:
Samaritans, open 24 hours a day, on 08457 90 90 90
Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
Students Against Depression, a website by students, for students.
HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41
Mental Wealth UK To join the community or launch a student group contact the charity on email@example.com
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