Did you know it was #UniMentalHealthDay ? No? Me either.
In school, I had a Pastoral Support Manager. She lived down the road from me and was old drinking friends with my mother. I knew her two sons. I would go out on a limb and say she was not educated in anything other than secretarial skills. She was also the biggest gossip in town and wildly missed any point I ever tried to make.
From the age of 13 onwards, I was a “troubled student”. I put that in quotation marks because it sounds so woefully clichéd. Other than that label, I didn’t really feel like I had an identity. (that’s not a woe-me point, who really feels sure they know who they are at 13?) I had this label, but I had a big group of friends, I skipped school a bit, I was loud sometimes and quite others, I was in gifted and talented, sometimes I didn’t eat at lunch sometimes I did, that didn’t mean anything, right? I was just a teenager.
By mid-way through year 11, teachers had stopped telling me to take my headphones out, stopped telling me to read the book assigned, rather than the one I carried around with me, they had stopped telling me off for no homework, for being late, for being absent altogether, stopped telling me to stop falling asleep in class, to pay attention. I had a big group of friends, my grades were good, so it didn’t mean anything right?
In sixth form, I couldn’t even tell you the name of the person I was supposed to ask if I had a problem; academic or otherwise. What I did have was a very in depth relationship with my head of year. I had a slight problem with attendance, and I looked tired. That was because I was lazy and it was student night last night.
I was called into a meeting with my best friend, the head of year, when it came to his attention that I was uninterested in attending university straight away. He asked me if I had problems writing my personal statement, if I was worried about money, if I didn’t know what to study, if I was worried about leaving home. I answered his questions, but he didn’t know what to do with the information. All of those questions were valid, but they weren’t the right questions. I wanted help and he couldn’t give it to me.
When I told him I was going to be a chalet girl, I was tut-ed at and a waste of potential. I was just lazy.
I am a student and I struggle with anxiety and bouts of insomnia.
Student mental health is wildly overlooked or scoffed at. What could we possibly have to worry about? That scoffing, ignorant attitude is crippling students. It makes us believe that our problems aren’t real. They’re a manifestation of our minds. We’re just being teenagers. We’re just being lazy.
I have spent the majority of my accadamic career trying to understand why I feel the way I do. What can I do about it. Honestly? I still do not know. I’m more aware of myself now and have developed my own way of coping, but I would have struggled much less if someone in my school, sixth form or university could have helped me out.
At uni, I still don’t know how to find mental health help. Not only does that fact alone induce a panic, but coupled with my school experience, highlights how much the welfare of students is fundamentally ignored. I’ve never been able to work out if staff are untrained in understanding and recognising mental illness or is it just easier for them to ignore it?
Educational administrations have a moral responsibility to their students mental health. It’s not something new, it’s not a trend. For students to flourish as adults, as people in any society, both during and after education, we need access to information that can help. We need to know it’s okay to not be okay, Ultimately, the attitude surrounding student mental health has to change. This shut-your-eyes-and-hope-it-will-go-away approach is not helping anyone; it’s simply breeding bad precedent about mental illness.
Teachers and support staff need to be educated in warning signals. They need to know what to look for and how to help. There needs to be a safe place for students. A no-judgements, legitimate option to turn to without feeling like they’re taking the most drastic steps in their lives. More than that, it needs to be accessible. To go looking for help and find nothing is the most isolating and distressing experience.
Personally, I believe I am much better in comparison to my school-aged self. I am happy. The issues I had at school aren’t around anymore. I have two years of attempting to tackle adulthood and working out what I want to do with my life to be motivated. I’m not lazy. I work hard and I enjoy what I’m doing. I am a student and I struggle with anxiety and bouts of insomnia.