Student Depression: 'University Can Be One Of The Most Isolating Experiences Ever'

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DEPRESSED STUDENT
The perception of university being a no-holds barred fun experience needs to change. | Getty

The pressure of university life contributes to the causes of depression, according to students, who say they felt isolated and intimated by cliques, while the drinking culture worsened their mental health.

"Being at University can be one of the most isolating experiences ever," Katy, a University of Liverpool student, told The Huffington Post UK.

"I have been feeling depressed for just over a year now," the second year says. "It began with an obsessive, over-working mind and I've now doubled my anti-depressant dosage. You don't know people at university like you know your friends at home and not being able to 100% be yourself can be depressing and upsetting.

"People become very cliquey and this is isolating and intimidating."

Katy says university often makes her question her self-worth, saying she feels she is "constantly waiting for something".

"I sometimes feel as if I am bumming around; waiting to live my life properly and make a difference. Sometimes, because it's difficult for me and probably everybody to imagine or think about the future, I feel as though I am wasting my time at university."

The student says she feels "quite alone" but adds she has not sought support from university counsellors.

In the last decade, there has been a notable increase in students experience mental health problems. In 2001, a Mental Health Foundation survey found 50% of university students showed signs of clinical anxiety . Between 2007 and 2011, suicides amongst students rose dramatically by 50%. More recently, there have been calls for mental health lessons to be provided at school, so young people are familiar with the effects of depression.

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Amy, also a second year student, says her university's drinking culture aggravated her mental health, making her feel more depressed. "I've been struggling with my feelings for over two years," the London School of Economics undergraduate told HuffPost UK. "The last year it has been a lot worse, although it is hard to say whether that is just because I've been at university.

"The drinking culture at university has been a huge factor in making things worse. Towards the end of my first year, and throughout most of my second year, I was really struggling with suicidal thoughts. Whenever I was drunk I would cry and say that I didn't want to be here any more and that I couldn't cope.

"That really scared me. When I was sober I knew that I wouldn't do anything, but if I had been drinking and got myself into a state, I didn't always trust myself.

"I'm so anxious that I rarely go to classes, and if I do go to classes I never raise my hand" Amy adds. "I worry about every single thing that people say to me over and over in my head, unpicking it and thinking about what it might mean.

"I'm constantly worried that people dislike me. I cry in the toilets at university all the time because I work myself into such a state over nothing. Sometimes I cry for no reason at all."

The increase in students seeking help is evident as far back as 2001, when a University of Sussex counsellor told the BBC: "Twenty years ago, when I started, it was rare to see people who were suicidal, who had issues of self mutilation or who were taking, for instance, hard drugs.

"Now I think that constitutes 40% to 50% of my work load. I think there has been a major shift and it has the implication that we are working more as a psychiatric outpost than a counselling service."

Recent reports showed students are turning to "smart drugs" such as Ritalin to boost performance. Many cited pressure to perform highly and the fear of unemployment as reasons.

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So what steps could be taken to make things easier for students such as Katy and Amy?

"I feel that being able to read about depression and other personal issues, minor or major, would be so beneficial." says Katy.

"Reading about people's experiences and mind frames would be comforting and reading something that would make me think 'yes, I am like that' would be satisfying in that, you know you're not alone.

"Depression needs to be read about in accessible places such as student newspapers. It's something I feel people need to make time for and would be of paramount importance to those suffering.

"It's something I believe many people think is silly and not serious but what is more serious and important than somebody's well being and happiness? Nothing."

For Amy, an important step for her was rejecting the excessive drinking culture: "For two months I stopped drinking, and that has been great for me.

"Recently, I have started to drink in moderation, and I feel comfortable doing that for the time being. Although dark thoughts come to me from time to time, I feel that I have understood my thoughts of suicide, and moved on. It's hard to express how much of a relief that is.

Additionally, for Amy, the counselling provided at her university were helpful.

"Counselling sessions are a place for me to untangle my thoughts. It's a place where I'm not afraid to say anything, sometimes even nasty things - and in that way it's a big relief.

"I'd describe my experience of counselling as a big mind map, with each session you draw a different bubble and try and think through the issue in detail. That's what I mean by untangling; it sets everything out on the page and gets you to think about what you want.

"Still, I'm working on it."

As Stephen Fry noted: "Student life is not always the party people might think it is."

Stories such as Katy's and Amy's suggest he may be right.

If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at ukstudenteds@huffingtonpost.com

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 home@mentalwealthuk.com