Megan shares her experience of struggling with her mental health and receiving a diagnosis.
I’d suffered from recurring depression since I was 14, but when I started studying at university, I considered myself to be well.
Throughout the year I thought I was fine, but now when I look back to that first year, I realise that I became very depressed. I barely went to any lectures, and when I did I couldn’t focus, and felt like I didn’t take anything in. I sometimes wouldn’t leave my room for days. When I did go out to socialise, I’d drink until I couldn’t feel anything. I thought it was the only way I would be able to be a fun, confident person, and make friends. I barely scraped a pass, and that summer I realised I needed some help.
Visiting my GP, I was put back on anti-depressants and sleeping pills. But my mood would be so unpredictable. Unfortunately, a month into second year I ended up in crisis and was hospitalised for a short time.
When I returned to university, I attended a few counselling sessions. After talking to my personal tutor, I was advised to make an appointment to see the mental health advisor at the Disability and Dyslexia service (DDS). I’d heard of this service, but I never knew that mental health could be considered a disability. I’d also never considered myself to have a disability, so found this quite an odd prospect. But I knew I needed all the help I could get if I was to make it through my degree.
My advisor listened to my difficulties and we discussed the available support to help students with mental health problems. I had a needs assessment, where we discussed the effects my mental health had upon my learning, and worked out how I could be assisted.
Throughout this time, I had also been seeing a Consultant Psychiatrist, and was eventually given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. To hear this was a relief; for years I’d had extreme changes in mood, and had repeatedly asked for help when I had hit rock bottom. I was only given six weeks of CBT and a variety of anti-depressants and sleeping pills. With a diagnosis I felt like things could change for the better.
Everything was beginning to make sense. As my medication was monitored and altered by the psychiatrist, I gradually began to stabilise. For the first time in years, I felt well. In my first appointment with the psychiatrist, I told him that I had often struggled with suicidal feelings. 14 months later and I’ve been discharged. I am now enjoying my life, and looking forward to the future.
My illness is constantly with me, it’s always in the back of my mind that although I’m currently stable, I know I could become unwell again. I have to be careful with alcohol, which can be difficult as a student. But I don’t resent having bipolar disorder, it’s part of the person I’ve become.
I have since taken part in two videos made by students at my university about mental health; one talking about my experiences of the support available and the other a self-harm awareness video. I am also about to finish my degree and I’m on track for achieving the grade I want.
There were times when I thought I wouldn’t make it through university at all, and I believe the outcome may have been different had it not been for the amazing support I was given. I now hope to work in the mental health field, to help others like myself. I want to help people enjoy life, as I do now.
I would encourage anyone who wants to enter further education to go for it. Don’t let your mental problems define you or hold you back. Support is out there, and success is achievable.
Megan will also be running the Norwich Half Marathon for Mind in November, find out how you can sponsor her.