My story stretches back 10 years or more, when I began my first adult educational programme in Childcare and Education as a young mum of a child with additional needs. With the understanding that I have now, there is no doubt that I began that college course in a state of mild anxiety and depression. It wasn’t until I reached crisis point, just after beginning my final year of that programme that I began to receive treatment. That process is ongoing to this day. Sadly, much of the distress could have been avoided had I been able to label and address this illness. There was little discussion of mental health this time and although a small awareness on my part that I wasn’t feeling myself, the idea that I may have been suffering from a clinical condition wasn’t on my radar.
Unfortunately, like many people who suffer with anxiety and depression,
I started to engage in behaviours that made it worse. I started to avoid new social situations and spent more time absorbed by my sad thoughts instead of living in the moment. Very often, I felt tearful, anxious and a sense of dread. I also started to experience minor panic attacks. It was difficult to know who I should be speaking to and if so, what I should say to them but I did think about speaking to someone many times. I think I’d began to except those feelings as a “normal” part of my life as I had no experience of adult life without being a Mum of a child with additional needs, I hadn’t ever had a full time job and there I was studying a full time course, living independently with a small child who also required a lot of support.
If the bad news is that anxiety and depression is often a recurring illness, as with me, the good news is that in most cases it can be effectively treated, with a combination of the right support and an understanding of how lifestyle can impact mental health. Fast forward to 2018, with initiatives such as USW Mental Health Day that challenge the stigma of mental illness and promote a culture of openness and discussion about mental health, these are significant steps in the right direction towards recognising the importance of student’s health and well-being.
Ten years later, I am now studying to become a Learning Disabilities Nurse, I have been given fantastic support by my personal tutor, always supporting me and I am encouraged to see a student counselling service which is offered at USW with a range of online resources to support the emotional well-being of its student population. I feel that this information needs to be well advertised and every undergraduate should be aware of the counselling services available to them, as well as the circumstances in which these services can be accessed, maybe in a simple email format.
I would like to see all universities take a proactive approach to mental health. I feel that sometimes, there is a reactive approach to mental health crises, rather than preventing such emergencies in the first place. It is time to adopt a proactive approach; one which addresses the many challenges students face, in their personal and professional life. I would like to see a course in mental well-being attached to every single undergraduate programme. This course would be about raising mental health awareness, as well as sharing knowledge and skills that enhance mental well-being. This doesn’t need to be an academic course, it might take the form of an online, self-contained course in the students first year of studying at university, ideally supplemented by occasional workshops. Over time, this course could grow and develop based on feedback.
Graduates will then emerge from their degree programmes with a range of well informed strategies for mental well-being, an understanding that will serve both the individual and the people around them as they progress through life. No institution is better placed to provide this kind of holistic training, and no institution has more of an ethical obligation to do so.
Joanne Morris (Student Learning Disabilities Nurse at USW).
For more information about the course, please see https://www.southwales.ac.uk/courses/bachelor-of-nursing-honslearning-disabilities/ or contact Rachel Morgan (firstname.lastname@example.org)