Today is World Mental Health Awareness Day 2017, a day designed to break down stigma and open up conversation about mental health.
Mental health conditions affect 1:4 individuals during their life time. Increasing numbers of people are seeking support for mental health and stress related disorders, and yet we still stumble over talking about mental health.
The theme for this years MH awareness day is mental health and the workplace. I’m going to extend that to mental health in education.
I have long been a high achiever. By the age of 14 I had discovered a passion for science and a love of reading and writing. But behind my string of A grades and music exams and writing prizes was the beginning of a battle with my mental health which would shape my life for the next 11 years.
My school were made aware of my mental health difficulties very early on in my struggles. I was depressed and self harming. But they didn’t know what to do with me, how to support me. I was high functioning, my grades never dipped. I saw a psychologist for a couple of years who questioned me occasionally on my self harm, dismissed my worries with food and discharged me when I turned 18 with the comment “don’t go getting an eating disorder on me.”
I continued to struggle with my mental health the whole way through my schooling but despite secondary school being a hotbed of pressure and the time when a lot of mental health problems begin to manifest themselves there was next to no conversation about mental health and no openings to ask for help.
I achieved top grades at A level and gained a place at a prestigious university studying Microbiology. But within such an institution there is a lot of pressure to achieve the highest grades alongside the pressure of just moving to university. I asked for help during my first year when my eating disorder was starting to spiral. I received no support. I was attending university lectures right up until the day before I was admitted to an eating disorders unit in my third year. When I returned I was once again left to my own devices so long as my academic performance was good. I had a brief meeting with my head of year and then dropped. I was outwardly coping. The day before I was sectioned I was working in the laboratory on my dissertation. It was only once I was sectioned that I was given any support, I had my deadline extended on my dissertation. And that was that.
I’m not in education any more but I will continue to talk about and raise awareness of the need for support services within school and university. People assume you can see mental health problems. If you saw me you would assume I was fine. And yet I have BPD and atypical bulimia, I’ve been ill for 11 years and spent the best part of the last 5 years in and out of hospital. I wish there had been someone at school right when it all started who had taken time to find out why I was self harming and helped sign post me to the right services.
So I say this to all schools and universities and places of education, mental health problems come in all guises but they all deserve help. From the A grade student to the one barely scraping by. Mental health is indiscriminate and support needs to be too.