Seeking Help at University

In December of last year, I decided to make an appointment with my GP about my mental health. I had been struggling, more than usual, with my mood swings and impulsivity since I had started Uni. I felt as if moving away from home had opened a box of insecurities and horrible memories in my mind that I couldn’t escape from. I couldn’t get an appointment until after Christmas so I planned ahead, writing a bullet point list in my A4 pad of all the problems I was having, knowing there was a chance I would slip up and feel overwhelmed when it came to the appointment.

My only other experience speaking to a GP about my mental health was two years ago when I had just turned 18. I visited my family doctor on the advice of two friends who I had confided in about my very low moods and social withdrawal. The GP had put me straight on antidepressants without much assessment or referral to any external services and I felt horrible. The antidepressants gave me panic attacks and made me lose weight, my mum eventually put an end to it.

Naturally after this experience I was very sceptical of turning to a GP for mental health problems again. It was my boyfriend who convinced me this was the right move this time and he reassured me that university GP’s have much more experience dealing with the mental health problems students face. I returned to Uni after Christmas feeling anxious as anything; was this still a good idea? If the GP couldn’t help me then surely I was just going to feel worse? What if they just put me on more medication? Are my problems even important enough to warrant this much hassle?

Nonetheless, I went to the doctors that day, clutching my A4 sheet of problems and repeatedly telling myself this was the right idea. I sat in the waiting room nervously looking around, praying that the other people waiting could not look through me and see that I was taking up this space only because I had problems inside my head. I felt like a faker. The doctor called me in, and I sat down feeling the sweat forming on my forehead and the shaking of my hands and voice. I blurted out that I had written down everything I wanted to say, and she kindly replied that was a great place to start.

After I started talking it all began tumbling out. Halfway through my sheet I looked up and realised I didn’t even need it; all my problems were at the forefront of my mind. The more I said the better I felt. The GP listened so intently, nodding and validating me throughout. When I spoke of my experience with self-harm and my suicidal tendencies, she was gentle and understanding. I realised I had barely told anyone about this, sometimes you don’t realise the severity of your problems until you have laid them out in front of you.

The GP instantly recognised I was experiencing emotional dysregulation and displayed symptoms of emotionally unstable personality disorder. This also explains my reaction to antidepressants when I was 18, as these types of psychological problems can rarely be solved with medication. I was shocked at first, I had not even considered this as a possibility for me. She offered me loads of resources to help me understand what these new labels meant and immediately referred me to two programs that focused on Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT). As a psychology student I had never even heard of DBT. I had a lot of research to do.

Walking back to my house after the appointment I was overcome with waves of relief. I didn’t understand my problems yet, but it was a start. I had been listened to and validated by a professional; my problems were not all in my head. Within two months I had started a group therapy course and had got myself a DBT self help book. For the first time in my life I had a clear view of what was going on in my brain and where my insecurities came from. DBT taught me that a large part of changing your current behaviour is revisiting your childhood and forgiving yourself for all the things that happened to you.

It hasn’t been an easy process at all. However, 9 months down the line I truly feel that seeking help was the best thing I ever did for myself. I am so glad I overcame my apprehension about visiting the GP because she gave me an explanation and a lifeline. She still checks up on me every few months and I always know to make an appointment if my situation worsens. My emotional instability wrecked my relationships and friendships when I didn’t understand what it was. I still have bad days and weeks, especially after lockdown, but I have things in place to help me manage them. I urge anyone who has had a bad experience seeking help or is unsure how to seek help for their mental health, to pick yourself up and keep trying. Finding the right treatment can be life changing and everyone deserves to be listened to.

Biography: By Daisy from Sheffield, a 3rd year psychology student who hopes to go onto study clinical psychology.

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