Students are dying. Four months is too long to wait for mental health support.
For people with mental health issues university can offer a toxic combination of stress and anxiety, fuelled by booze, late nights and unhealthy diets.
During my undergrad, I had a positive experience with our counselling facilities. For me third year was incredibly difficult. Stress levels had sky rocketed, final year exams and dissertation submission fed a constant fear of failure. It took me ages to admit that something was wrong.
I have always been a happy-go-lucky kinda gal. The glass was always half full, never half empty. So accepting that I had any form of a mental health problem was hard, near impossible, because I was always the girl with a smile on her face. It took me ages to reach out to my college nurse, but once I did I was soon set up with a weekly counselling session. Without these I doubt I would have made it through the rest of the term and potentially my degree.
Through cognitive behavioural therapy, I was able to rationalise my thoughts and calm my nerves. My mind stopped spinning, I was able to focus and the idea that I was a complete failure became a distant memory.
However, there is no magical cure for the cruel games your mind can play on you, only coping mechanisms. I knew it could rear its ugly head again and I was right.
Three years on from my first episode, I found myself back at university (evening classes in economics while I work full time in PR) and back on a waiting list for counselling. 2017 was a hard year for me and the self-doubt crept back in. I felt utterly lost and ashamed. I cried for no reason on the tube. I drank heavily at the weekends to escape. I thought about what life would be like if I wasn’t alive.
My mum recommended I see a doctor, after a particularly bad weekend of panic attacks and self-loathing. I went to my GP, who was very concerned by my distressed state of mind. Together we decided that counselling would be the best way forward. However, three months on since my initial physiological assessment and I’m still sitting on a waiting list.
Accepting that I had a mental health problem was near impossible, because I was always the girl with a smile on her face
In the meantime I made some positive steps forward, in the form of some good old fashioned self-love. I gave up booze in August, to regain some control over my mind and body. I started singing and acting again in my local players group. I moved out to a hip little flat in Peckham. I began to write about issues I cared about and had my first article published with a major newspaper.
For the first time in a long time, I am genuinely happy.
But the sad thing is when I really needed the counselling, I was put on a list and told to wait my turn. It is during this time where I feel many students are left behind. It is such a crucial period of time for healing and more needs to be done to get people into therapy quicker.
Equally, if you do begin to feel better you might not see the point of the therapy or think that someone is more deserving now that you are out of your black hole. When my time comes I will definitely go. I know that my mind can snap back at any time and there are some things I want to discuss with a professional, not friends or family members.
That being said, I guess I’m lucky as I was able to get my thoughts under control, but the point is that other young people aren’t. Other young people are killing themselves.
Back in May, our prime minister pledged an extra 10,000 staff for NHS mental health services. This has since been earmarked as an ‘empty promise’ by Labour MP Luciana Berger, when it was revealed that half of local NHS bodies plan to slash spending on vital services.
These meaningless pledges must stop. Quite simply local authorises need more funding to ensure that people get the help they need, when they need it. Until then more avoidable suffering will be felt and more innocent lives will be lost.