Mental health is one of the most pressing issues we are faced with as students in the 21st Century. Nearly 50% of all students at the University of Glasgow have problems with their mental health and while there is provision – in the form of counselling services – I believe there is a lot more that can be done. As I progress through my own mental illness journey at the university, I think it’s important to illustrate this point by going through the different steps that I have taken and showing where they have been successful and where they ultimately failed me and should be improved.
Depression is a scary word that comes with a lot of negative stigmas. It’s not easy to tell a complete stranger that you think you’re depressed, so the idea of telling my GP that stopped me from making an appointment for a long time. But in late 2017 I had my first interaction with how the UK handles mental health, I was referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), with a GP’s diagnosis of mild depression and validating it with a diagnosis meant that I had opened up the ability to focus on getting better. However, after my referral, I had to wait. CAMHS has an extortionate waiting list, not only are they a service running at capacity, they are in higher demand than ever with a severe lack of funding. I got my first appointment 3 months later. What’s important to understand is it’s hard to be in a dark place and ask for help. Depression comes hand in hand with a lack of motivation and self-worth, so when I was left alone for those three months without a support line because of the strain on the system after coming to terms and actually asking for the help, it was horrible. I think a simple solution for this is checking up, after a referral, there should be signposting of your progress, and where to go, and who to speak to, even temporary help while waiting is useful.
After the wait, I had a diagnostic appointment with a clinical nurse, therapist and a psychologist and although my next scheduled appointment was months away, I left feeling better about myself and my situation. This became a key theme with my appointments, as it is with everyone, I left with a greater sense of hope that I was, in fact, getting better. Nevertheless, between each appointment, I would have another period of feeling very depressed. As time went on, I realised there were greater, more deep-rooted problems. I think therapy is only beneficial when you commit to it, emerge yourself with it and believe that it can help you, but I also think that the lack of consistent communication and the depressed periods caused by this discourage people and eventually causes people to doubt the effectiveness. Realistically the reason this problem exists is the strain on resources. If there were to be some form of contact, online or otherwise, with your therapists or just people with the knowledge to somewhat help in the periods between appointments, it would go a long way in reducing the strain on the service. Some people could further their therapy remotely, and it has the potential to help people, making their appointments more active in progression, meaning people can develop quicker.
My therapy continued, and while I felt I was better, I suppressed it. I had a volatile relationship with my emotions, and it only took one bad week to tip me over the edge. In September 2018 I attempted suicide by overdose, and since then I have improved through a combination of monthly meetings with my GP and further therapy which I think has genuinely put me in a better place but there are still holes, and unresolved thoughts due to the overcrowded nature CAMHS has.
Ultimately, CAMHS helps a lot of people, but there is so much room for improvement. I think there are three things we need to prioritise: changing to a unitary system of communication between GP’s, CAMHS or Community Mental Health and hospitals which allow for instant reporting of issues, rather than writing letters, as is the current format. Teaching of different mental health issues in depth in schools, which would allow people to be diagnosed with long term issues at an earlier age. Finally, the increased work to destigmatise discussion of mental health amongst men. As one of the most important topics of the 21st-century student body, I genuinely believe that the system will improve, and I hope it does soon.