University and Mental Health


Rhiannon Jenkins TV-Bay Magazine
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University study and mental health has been in the media quite a bit over the last year, and I’m sure there are many people wondering what is going on? The issues are complex, and I suppose the focus of employability off the back of a degree course has raised the stress stakes for a lot of young people. I’m only qualified to talk about this from my perspective, and my story began when I joined a course not knowing I had a mental health condition.

From an early age I always knew there was something a little different about me. I always had boundless energy, never cared what people thought about me, didn’t care much about fashion, and I displayed my personality as honestly as I could. However after a tough time at secondary school that all changed. I did start to care what people thought about me, I cared how I looked and about the weight I had started to put on through my teenage years. Whilst at the time I did not realise, I was developing generalised anxiety, depression and social anxiety.

I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression in January of 2016, three months after joining my course - BSc Television and Broadcasting. This brought huge concerns and panic attacks, and I began to struggle when going into university. What I thought was me being full of energy, was actually my brain being in flight mode most of the time.

I didn’t realise that it’s a real animal instinct when faced with anything you consider danger, that you can either fight it or run away. My brain constantly wanted to run away from said “danger” hence why I was always active and on the go. I started e-counselling and began to feel better, but then in second year it began to rear its ugly head again. The second year of uni for many students is the year where the reality finally kicks in. My course was very vocational with a course leader committed to providing really real experiences, so great for my learning, but less great for how I was feeling. Again, I opted for counselling with a local provider for all things mental health called Talking Change. When this came to an end I was sent to cognitive behavioural therapy to learn techniques and coping mechanisms to better manage things.

I am very lucky that the University of Portsmouth offered many services such as counselling, a Student Union advice centre and the chaplaincy that all offered fantastic advice, a cup of tea and a chance to talk. As well as this I had a whole lot of support from lecturers and friends who would always be there to offer advice and to calm me down when I was panicking or doubted my capabilities. One of the major tests I had to overcome was my dissertation, which was focused on how mental health is represented in television programmes. My course leader spent many a session calming me down when discussing how on earth I was going to write 10,000 words when I didn’t even feel that confident about my writing skills. It was a real eye opener researching how mental health used to be treated via television, and although this was upsetting, it was also heartening to see how production companies, and to a certain degree society in general, is slowly becoming more tolerant of mental health.

When it came to the end of year two, I decided to run for Disabled Student’s officer. This role is part of a voluntary role at the Student Union representing people belonging to that community. I won the vote gaining over 1500 votes and acted as an ambassador for mental health, speaking to hundreds of students on Time to Talk day. Due to my commitment to this Student Union role I won full colours and the Roxanne Negru Participation and Involvement Award.

When I asked some of my friends to describe me in one word their answers were; loving, caring, energetic, bubbly and unique. It was a surprise to me that none of them associated me as a person with a mental health condition. I still feel that my condition occasionally controls me sometimes and makes me think the worst, but most importantly I have come to realise that it doesn’t define me as a person, and it is more than possible that the challenging university study I have just completed has helped me come to this realisation. I have achieved so much at university and I go forward into this next chapter of my life understanding my capabilities better, which is no bad thing. I’ve even
been working at Disney World throughout the summer, and it feels somewhat appropriate to quote Walt Disney who once stated, “If you can dream it you can do it”, and I cannot argue with that outlook.


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Contributing Author Rhiannon Jenkins

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