The Gradlife – How to cope with mental health issues as a student

Stress, depression and anxiety affect more of us than you might think…

In support of Mental Health Awareness Week, we wanted to help break the stigma and silence surrounding the topic. And it isn’t just how to talk about mental health at work that’s important.

So we collaborated with an up-and-coming blogger, Deborah Ojelade, who shared her experiences of how she coped with being a full-time university student whilst diagnosed with anxiety and depression.


The facts

1 in 4 young adults will experience some form of mental health trauma.

By the age of 24, 75% of these cases will develop into deeper problems. However, with the proper care, support and advice, it is possible that these numbers will reduce. But it won’t happen overnight.

Research also shows that young people are the main bearers of these types of illnesses. With the demand and pressures of life increasing, it isn’t really surprising to see the correlation between the two.

So, if you’re not quite sure how you’re feeling, but you’ve noticed a change in your mood or emotions, whether feeling more stressed, anxious or worried, do not suffer in silence. There is no problem too small or too big. It’s time to speak up and speak out.


What was your experience with mental health?

My depression stemmed from childhood trauma, followed by a break up at 19 years old, which resulted in me being in intensive care for four months.

I had to take time out of university to recover and returned after a year. However, I realised I couldn’t do things as before. I experienced low moods that left me demotivated, overwhelmed and panicked.

Christmas 2014, when I tried to overdose, was my wake up call.


What mental health issue did you suffer with?

I suffered from depression and anxiety.


What was your reaction to the diagnosis?  

I think ‘surprise’ would be the best word to describe my reaction.

In all honesty, I never really understood mental health to the degree I do now. Additionally, because of the stigma attached, I thought it was just an excuse to cover up laziness*.


How did this impact your studies?

Due to treatment I, developed mild memory loss, which in turn affected my concentration levels, and ability to do my work with efficiently.  Being very academic this would often trigger depressive episodes, due to feeling incapable.

The group of people I had started university with had progressed, so I didn’t have my usual close friends to share how I was feeling with and was away from my normal health team and family.

I became very depressed due to the pressures of university and feeling so alone in my situation, so fell behind drastically with coursework and slept most of the time in addition to eating too much and piling on weight which added to my depression. It was a nasty cycle.


How did you cope?

Firstly, I’d say my faith was a huge help. But my mum was absolutely amazing too.

She never once disregarded anything I was feeling. She did her research and found effective ways to help me get through my difficult periods. She literally did anything she could to be there for me, so I’m extremely grateful.


How has your life changed?

So much. For a start, I’m extremely cautious about what I give my focus to.

I am now aware of certain ‘triggers’ that could cause me to slip into a depressive state.

Also, honestly speaking, I’m more wary about ‘normal’ things such as starting a new job. With mental health, it’s a fluctuating journey. Some days you’ll want to question everything. But other days you’ll feel brilliant, positive, and energised.


What would be your advice to anyone in a similar situation as you?

  • Be compassionate and honest with yourself
  • Work to get to the root of why you are depressed – it’ll help to manage your emotions
  • Don’t be afraid to speak out and tell people how you’re feeling (people you can trust, or health professionals)
  • Don’t feel ashamed or let people shame you for how you’re feeling
  • Never dismiss your feelings


Finally, take some time out, if you need it. Your degree isn’t going anywhere. University will always be there. Do what’s best for you.

I also suggest reaching out to the university mental health adviser and making use of any extra help on offer.


So remember you’re not alone, and it’s not your fault.

Be sure to let those closest to you know what’s going on, and make use of all the support you can get.

Inform your employer or university of your situation. There are people out there to help you get through your studies so make use of them, and don’t be afraid to utilise their advice.

Remember: they can’t understand or support you if they don’t know. So be honest, reach out to them, and it could change your life completely.




* Excessive sleeping can be an indication that something may not be right. So, if you do feel a dip in energy levels, speak to a doctor about it. Tiredness does not mean you’re lazy.



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