Monthly Archives: March 2014

Universities approach to mental health and my issue with it

My last blog a larger amount of attention than any of the previous ones. Which I am stoked about, out of all my blog entries, that one had the most potential in my mind, but this entry changes format from the last. My focus is not on myself, or on other people but this is instead an opinion article about how universities treat students with mental health problems and the issues I have with it.

The reason I have decided to write this is I was recently in a conversation with several other people about how good our university was at treating people with mental health problems. At the time I was in a bad way and was struggling with personal things, so was unable to weigh in to the conversation as I would like to have, so this is my belated opinion on the matter. The university I attend is very good with regards to mental health, they let me switch to a part time course, they give me any extensions I want and are in general very accepting and understanding. As far as universities go, it is a good university for students with mental health problems. However the problem I find with it, and the problem that makes me think universities approach to mental health is wrong is that there is a minimal focus on recovery. I have to meet with academic advisors, lecturers, senior staff, tutors and counsellors on a semi regular bases and (as previously stated) they are all understanding, but their focus is solely on how to cope with your current problem. This is fine, but a university is in a position of care and I believe should have some focus not only on dealing with the present, but also on the recovery of students and dealing with the future, no amount of extensions are ever going to make me not depressed and even the counselling service only helps people deal with the current, day to day problems and fails to address any long term turmoil or negative internal processes, both of which is required before any substantial recovery can occur. I have said, and I reiterate that my university is very good with regards to mental health for a university, but in general I think the approach adopted by universities to mental health is inappropriate.

                An appropriate analogy is to compare what institutes of academia currently do to the act of a doctor giving a patient morphine. It removes the pain, and cures the problem in the short term but at no point does it address the central cause of the problem, and as a result the doctor would need to pursue further treatment before recovery can be made, in most cases a doctor cannot simply cross his fingers and hope the problem goes away. I do appreciate that an argument exists that the current effort put in by a university to manage mental health problems is enough and the role of recovery should be entirely separate from them, I respect this train of thought and intend to address it later. I don’t like to criticise without offering a solution. This, like all this entry, is just my opinion, but my experience with my university is that they are effective at signposting students to services that may help them in the present situation, but research should be put into broadening their sign posts to include services that offer treatments that encourage long term recovery, such as cognitive behaviour therapy or courses in anxiety. I have been told about both of these, but not by my university, by my friends (and have yet to try either of them unfortunately as I have no idea how to apply). I am not in a position to comment on how hard it would be to achieve this, but my opinion, forged from my own experience is that it would be beneficial.

                A secondary problem I have with academia’s approach to mental health is how accepting they are of it. It is known that a lot of mental health problems stem from the stress that comes alongside a degree, and universities do put some effort in to reduce the chances of students developing mental health problems, but the feeling I get is that there is a high level of acceptance that students are likely to develop mental health problems, and in my mind that acceptance shouldn’t exist. Developing a mental health problem is horrible, I won’t go into detail but my most recent term (trying to study while managing a newly diagnosed mental health problem) at university was the hardest few months of my life. I’m not blaming the university for this, I am simply stating that no one should be put through what I went through if it can be avoided.

                I accept there is a possibility that I am wrong when I say there is a high level of acceptance, but that is the impression I get, and getting this impression is just as damaging as if it were true. I ask you to put yourself into my shoes, or the shoes of someone like me- when your mind tells you that you don’t matter and that you deserve to be suffering, it doesn’t matter if the idea that you don’t matter is accurate or not, the fact you are allowed to think it and that enough evidence exists to hold onto this impression is what matters and what allows your mood to plummet and your depression to grow. Yet again I am not certain how this can be fixed, I think it would need a big change in focus. Students are allowed to think that their degree means everything, and while it is important, the world of a university student is a world which is heavily warped. I’ve been told by friends “We need you to finish your degree” and they speak as if that is the highest concern. I think work needs to be put in to keep students priorities in check and worldly. Health should come before your degree, if you mess up an assignment it is not the end of the world and nothing within university is worth losing yourself. In my mind the best way to do this would to be to constantly remind people of the outside world and to stop students forming “university bubbles” which I believe play a large part in warping their priorities and allowing them to think their degree is worth destroying themselves over. Though as I have stated (many times) this is my opinion, and very possibly wrong.

Thankyou for reading. As I have stated many times, these are just my opinions and I don’t wish to force them onto anyone, I just offer it as a form of feedback to universities.

Stay Brilliant,

Love Steven  🙂

A message to anyone who needs help

I haven’t done anything for ages, so I’ve made up for it with a video.

I spend alot of time talking about myself, because I am frankly quite self centred at times, but this blog changes that. Instead of talking about how depression makes me feel and what life is like for me, I’m aiming this entry at other people. This is what I wished someone would say to me when I am upset, down or struggling and I know everyone is different, but if this helps me I’m crossing my fingers it will help someone else.

Please watch.

Im sorry I don’t know to embed it into the blog all fancy like 😦

Keep smiling,

Steven

Depression and Acceptance

Hey guys! I’m not sure if this blog is as good as the previous, I am simultaneously having quite a bad depression day and not drinking tea at this exact moment, both of which may have a negative effect on my writing, but I’m going to give it a go-I want this blog entry to focus on acceptance and there’s two elements of this theme I want to focus on:

1-      There’s a quote that’s been rattling around my head recently. I have no idea where it came from, but I like to think I made it up. It is “I would rather buy you flowers, than buy them for your grave”. This applies to the first element of acceptance I want to focus on, that is how acceptance is relevant to other people. I know of people who look at me, or may look at anyone with depression and just accept that I am broken. As I have said before I have some fantastic friends, but there are some people who I can’t help but feel have simply accepted I am depressed and given up. They look at me and think “you can no longer do x, y or z, so you should stop trying” and accept that this is the case. This is where the quote I previously mentioned comes in, these people who have just accepted that I have lost are, in essence, buying flowers for my grave. They’re not supporting me, or helping me get better, they have just accepted I am broken and have decided my failure is just an inevitability. I understand how hard it can be to be friends with someone with depression, I honestly do and can see how people can get fed up of supporting a friend with depression, but I find it hard to believe that it can be harder than being made to feel your friends don’t think you deserve to get better, or being made to feel you can’t turn to them.

Despite what I’ve said I do also understand that my view may get warped sometimes, I may simply be just too far down the rabbit hole to see sense, but I don’t think you should ever tell someone that they simply cannot do something. I live in a world where I get such a small say in what I do. I feel so out of control, like a marionette with one string held by depression, one by my my M.E., one by fear, one by pain and the last thing I want is someone to grab the few remaining strings, even if it in an attempt to help, and take control. It just enforces the idea that it’s not my life to live any more. In my mind it is far more helpful not to take the stance of “you can’t do this- stop” but instead take the approach of “this is going to be a struggle, let me help you”.

2-      The previous section is about how acceptance works with regards to third partied. I want to now discuss the two ways in which acceptance is relevant to the individual. The first is acceptance of your own health, in the sense I believe you should always fight it. As I’ve said before, depression forces you into a world of doubt and darkness, and it is so easy just to accept that this is your life now and just grit your teeth and deal with it. When your mind is telling you that you are useless and that no one likes you, you need to fight it. I’ve been given the advice before to just “keep your chin up”, but I don’t think that’s right, it implies that you should accept you’re in a storm and bear it. As much as it feels like it at times, depression does not make you like a boat trapped in a storm with no way out, it’s better to look at it as you’re in a boxing match against someone of a considerably higher weight class, it’s awful and it will hurt, but you can fight back, and a lot of the time you may lose but there’s always that time where you turn it around.

I understand that this is hard at times. The main reason is the harder you fight depression the healthier you look. I’ve been having a really bad depression relapse the last 2 weeks or so. The reason I mention this is not for sympathy, it’s because I’ve adapted the previously mentioned strategy of constantly fighting it (though there have been days where I just haven’t), and as a result I think people haven’t appreciated how awful I’ve felt. I say again that I don’t say this for sympathy, I say it as a reminder to people that just because someone seems well doesn’t mean they are. Just because someone can laugh louder than they cry doesn’t mean you should stop trying to help them, because the only true way to indicate someone’s level of well being is to ask them.

I’ve just realised that this blog was titles acceptance, but then was about how you shouldn’t accept. It was quite a misleading title, but thank you for reading this far.

Keep Smiling

Steven