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Mental Health & Uni

Brief background: aged 15 I suffered from depression and this lasted for 5 years. Whilst it never fully leaves, I learnt to manage it a lot better and due to many lifestyle changes depression no longer had such a hold over me.

Now I am 22 in my final year of university and I have found that depression and stress related symptoms have been creeping up on me once more. This is almost 100% due to stress caused by the seemingly endless essay deadlines.

Last November I decided to seek medical help (this was the first visit to the doctor re stress in 6 years). I was given advice and a letter that I could submit to my university, which advised that due to my mental health it may be necessary in certain circumstances to provide me with an extension. I had 8 deadlines in total before Christmas and only requested an extension on 1 of them.

Whilst I have been coping with stress pretty well in 2017, I had a week in which everything fell apart. I got a knee injury on the Sunday night, visited the doctor on Monday to find out that I had arthritis, had to withdraw from the London Marathon on Tuesday and then on Wednesday I was working Parliament whilst the Westminster Attacks happened. Safe to say my mood rapidly decreased and I spent Thursday and Friday uncontrollably crying, unable to eat and too anxious to go outside.

With the support of my wonderful family (and a pair of crutches) I soon managed to resume my daily activities. Despite carrying on, inside I was crying out for help and jumping out of my skin whenever somebody shouted or ran past me. But in my head I knew the reason for being so jumpy – being caught up in a terrorist attack is bound to encourage feelings of anxiety, nervousness and suspicion. Whilst trying to behave as “normally” as possible, this period of time massively knocked my confidence and I know that my concentration at university was damaged because of this.

Now, getting to the point! I had an essay to do about my time in Parliament which included a daily journal and portfolio. I found it near to impossible to write about the terror attacks but it was a huge part of my experience in Parliament and I wanted to write about it to reflect upon it. I managed to do this … but submitted it 12 hours after the deadline. Due to this, I applied for extenuating circumstances and submitted my doctors note, assuming the senior tutor would understand.

Well, I was wrong. Now, I do not rely on preferential treatment and would not normally make a fuss but the reason that my extenuating circumstances claim was denied was because the letter from my doctor (November 2016) did not cover the period of time in which I was claiming the extenuating stances for. Essentially, because the letter was not dated April 2017 for my submission date, it was invalid. Here are my arguments for why this is ridiculous:

  1. Mental health issues do not have a timeframe. It is not as if I have submitted a letter to say that I had a broken leg in November and was still using this broken leg as an excuse months after it has healed. Mental health is an ongoing battle. I could feel absolutely on top of the world all week and then have a weekend where I want to curl up into a ball and not talk to anyone. In my opinion, a letter dated November 2016 in which my mental health had been acknowledged by a doctor should have lasted throughout the academic year.
  2. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Why didn’t you just go to the doctor after your terrible week?” I knew that week was an anomaly. I think that it would have been tough for anyone to go through, whether they had existing depression or not. At the time, I tried to be rational and thought that a trip to the doctors would not have any impact because nothing had actually changed. The doctor would not have done anything differently other than give me the same advice as they had done in November 2016.
  3. Finally, as a student funds are tight. My letter from November cost me £25. If I had visited the doctor in April to receive a copy of the exact same letter with an updated date, then I would have spent a total of £50 on two letters which discussed the exact same topic and would be read by the exact same person at my university.

At a time of feeling my most vulnerable, I had hoped that university would be more understanding. Even if they had responded identifying my reasons for the late submission and politely advised I visited the doctor again (or they could even phone up my doctor in order to hear my medical history and then they would maybe understand that my mental health issues were not limited to November 2016).

Situations like these remind me that there needs to be a better understanding of mental health. Claiming that my doctor’s note is dated is ridiculous – I am fully aware that it will take me a long, long time to overcome my current issues and learn to manage my stress effectively. Mental health is not something that you can stick a plaster on. It isn’t simple.