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Starting uni can be really hard

Monday 12-10-2015 - 00:00

I'm Laura and I am the current full time elected postgraduate education officer at Bristol SU. I graduated with my undergraduate degree from Bristol in 2013 and I am currently half-way through a Masters here (studies on hold to represent Postgrads here for a year). I have been here for five years now, I am head-over-heels in love with Bristol but my first few months here were probably the hardest of my life.

I came to Uni fresh out of school. I was so excited and my expectations were high. I had grown out of living with my parents in the same old town I'd lived in for years and was so ready for the new adventures that university would bring. But it didn't all go to plan.

It's hard to say exactly what went wrong. I didn't make loads of friends (but I made some good ones), I didn't enjoy my course much (but I changed it fairly early on) and I didn’t feel particularly homesick. But fairly quickly after the haze of fresher's week I started feeling terrible. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't socialise and I certainly couldn't study. I managed to make it to some of my lectures, but it took all the energy I had to get out of bed, and once I was out all I could think about was getting back in.

Those of you who are familiar with the symptoms of depression have probably diagnosed me by now, but at the time I had no idea what was going on. After a few weeks of feeling confused and too demotivated to do anything about it, I rang my mum to tell her I was dropping out. My mum is a mental health nurse and recognised my symptoms straight away. She is not normally the type to tell me what I can and can't do but she told me explicitly not to drop out as she thought I was depressed and that I could get better. Despite the fact that I couldn’t see how things could improve, I didn't drop out. And I am so glad I didn't.

It took a while for me to get better. I moved home for a bit and stopped studying, without formally dropping out (the University is used to dealing with students with mental health difficulties and will make allowances - you just have to let them know). I began a course of antidepressants and started trying to make sense of what had caused my depression. I realised that I had had impossibly high expectations of myself, and of my university experience, and that perhaps the failure of reality to meet those expectations had affected me more than I knew at the time.

To be honest I think the drugs were what made me able to come back to studying and made me able to mostly enjoy the rest of my first year. But it wasn't until about 3 years later, after another bout of depression, that I addressed the underlying thought patterns that lead to my depression, with therapy and mindfulness training. However, the vast majority of the rest of my time at uni was amazing. Second and third year were probably the best years of my life so far and, as I said, I am even back to do a Masters.

I think it can be hard, during your first term at uni, to admit that you're not having a good time. Your Facebook feed is filled with friends at other unis having what seems to be the time of their lives. But as we all know, social media can be deceptive and I believe that this phenomenon is more common than it appears to be. Statistics show that the highest dropout rate for university courses is in the first few weeks of term and I think that experiences similar to mine are largely to blame. I was lucky that my mum knew what to do but not everyone has that luxury so I hope that this blog helps. If just one person reading this identifies with my experiences and decides to seek help rather than drop out I will be glad.

Please share this with anyone who you think this might be relevant to.

If you need to speak to someone you can contact our Just Ask team.


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