Updated: Aug 10, 2020
Before being diagnosed I had little knowledge about mental health. I didn’t know of anyone close to me that struggles with their mental health and I never thought I would be diagnosed.
Fast forward to the present; I am a second year medical student who suffers with depression and anxiety. How did I get from not having much of a clue about mental health to being diagnosed and educating myself in the process? I started medical school straight from Sixth Form, eager to dive right into being a university student. By the beginning of second term I started showing symptoms of depression and anxiety. I started thinking ‘Am I depressed?’. I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind and kept everything extremely hidden from both my family and friends and also my university. I didn’t want people to know. I was embarrassed, simply put. I continued to focus on my studies and turned up to lectures but something was wrong. I was failing mock exams and did not feel capable of doing the work. I was tired all the time and I just wanted to sleep. I was thinking so negatively about everything - mostly about myself. I still didn't seek help. I did not want to seem ‘weak’ by asking for help, even though I so clearly needed it.
The time for taking my end of term summative exam came. I failed. This failure pushed me deeper into depression and I was worried and overthinking all of the time. How did I get this far? How did I make it to medical school? How have I already failed medical school? I desperately hoped that everything would be okay, after all, I had the opportunity to retake in August. I was not feeling mentally well and I was at my lowest point. The results came out and I failed the retake as well. I thought my life was ending. My prospects of being a doctor were shattered.
At this point, it was vital for me to ask for help. I went to my GP and discussed how I had been feeling and I left with a diagnosis of depression and anxiety. I was offered 12 weeks of counselling and I took a year out of medical school to ensure that I was ready to come back with the tools to manage my depression and anxiety, alongside balancing university life. This was the best decision I could have made even though at the time it didn’t feel like it. I spoke to my personal tutor, my course director and the counselling service at King College London. It was crucial to have a support system in place for when I returned to university. This was needed in order for me to deal with the high stress environment that comes with being a university student.
When I was first diagnosed, I felt just as embarrassed to when I did not want to seek any help at all. I didn’t want to tell certain people that my mental health was the reason I took a year out of university. There was a stigma surrounding mental health and getting diagnosed – there still is to a certain degree. During my year off, I endeavoured to make sure that I was putting myself first and making my mental wellbeing a priority. By the end of the year I felt ready to come back and study at university, but still extremely nervous about failing again. One thing I was sure of was that I was no longer embarrassed. I had come to terms with being diagnosed and I had realised how normal it is. My depression and anxiety is a part of me, but it does not control me anymore.
Having an understanding and supportive circle of people around you is so important. This can be made up of your friends and family but also other organisations that may have more experience with mental health. ‘The Big White Wall’ is an online support network that utilises technology and is an online platform which provides peer support and information regarding depression and anxiety. They also provide one-to-one online therapy sessions. The best thing about ‘The Big White Wall’ is that it is anonymous. I wish I knew about this organisation when I first thought I had symptoms of depression and anxiety - I know it would have helped me so much. It is also valuable to seek the help of professionals - whether that be via your GP or university counselling service. As a university student, the advice I can give for those struggling with their mental health, is to utilise the services that your university provides in regards to mental wellbeing. At King’s College London there are many workshops and opportunities provided, some of these include: learning how to be more mindful, resilience and how to handle exam anxiety and stress.
Everyone has different ways to maintain their mental wellbeing. It should be noted that what works for one, may not work for another. It’s important to try different methods and see what works best for you. If I am having a panic attack or feeling quite anxious, I try and focus on my breathing. I have my inner voice telling me to breathe in and out as I do so. I then think of what I can hear, feel, taste and smell. This is known as ‘grounding’ yourself. You try and make yourself aware of the environment you are in. You try to bring your attention back into the room. I learnt about this method through meditation. I highly recommend the ‘Headspace’ App or ‘Calm’ as they provide guided meditations. I still struggle with consistency regarding meditation, but I find on those days that I manage to do it, I am more aware and mindful of my surroundings. I manage to focus less on my doubts and internal worries. I find exercise has positively impacted my mental health. It serves as a healthy outlet for me, allowing me to work on my goals and feel better about myself. Any form of exercise is useful, whether that be running, gym, yoga or a form of martial arts, whatever works best for you. More recently, I have been more compassionate to myself, allowing myself to make mistakes and trying to not beat myself up for it. I talk to myself as if I was talking to my friend, a friend who I love and who I want the best for. I’ll give you something to think about: if all the negative self-talk you say to yourself actually came from another person, would you want to be around them anymore?
I can say with conviction that I no longer feel embarrassed about getting diagnosed. There is nothing embarrassing about struggling with your mental health. It is so much more common than I thought. We need not to be afraid of having open discussions about our mental health without fear of judgment. We need to create these safe spaces. ‘My Mind Matters Too’ can be that safe space! We do not need to be embarrassed.
If you have been affected by any of the topics raised in this blog, and wish to seek help, these organisations offer a range of services and resources:
If you're looking for immediate support please visit our urgent support page: www.mindmapperuk.com/urgent-support
Message from the editor: Be kind. Be kind to yourself first and foremost. This goes for anyone, whether you struggle with your mental health or not. Everyone is struggling so be kind to each other. The world needs more compassion, more love, and it really does start with us. Everyone has the potential to make a positive impact on each other, and to create social change. Realise your potential, understand how you are special, and use your gift to help others.