How uni failed me, yet I am still here

Andrik Langfield for unsplash.com

In our December issue, Bath Time reported on the findings of a survey that investigated mental health issues universities across the country, including ours. This survey found that generally, Bath students suffer less from mental health issues relative to other Universities. However, the survey also showed that our students suffer more from academic pressure and do not feel nearly as comfortable speaking to members of staff as their peers in other Universities. Following this story, a student got in touch seeking to tell their personal story of suffering with mental health issues at the University of Bath. This is their story.

How Uni failed me, yet here I am…

CW: self-harm

This is a story about my battle with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and the lack of support from the University of Bath. I arrived at the University as an extremely eager Fresher, determined to make the most of every opportunity thrown at me, determined to do all the things I enjoyed. However, things didn’t turn out to be as perfect as I expected. I suffered several blows, such as not getting on with my flatmates, breaking up with my college boyfriend, not maintaining the academic standards I expected and failing auditions. The final blow was not achieving a first, or heck, even a 2:1, in my first University exams – all of which knocked the screws out of the box in which my monster resided.

At this point, I realised something was wrong with how I was feeling. I was self-harming so that I could feel a physical pain to drown out the negative thoughts in my head and I didn’t consider this anything to worry about because I wasn’t slicing my wrist with a blade, or drawing blood. I was just digging my nails into my thighs and calves until there were little crescent shaped bruises on my skin. My closest friend recognised this change in my mental health and suggested I talk to the Uni counselling service. I did this, and they dismissed me to online self-help. The exhausting process was enough to have my monster out of its box and clambering all over me. It made me feel like I didn’t need help or my current state wasn’t serious enough to warrant their attention.

Second year threw me back into the stresses of Uni. The content became more difficult and any technical questions had me running a mile. I partied every other night, turning to alcohol to hide from my problems so that I could spend the next day in bed with a justifiable reason. January exams came and went: I got the worst grades I could have imagined. I faced two resits, barely passing my other three subjects. I started to spiral.

Results day saw my first panic attack. This was when I finally told my mother about my feelings. I had wanted to show her that I could do this on my own. She was not at all disappointed, as I expected her to be – in reality, she proved to be my voice of reason. She convinced me to book an appointment with a doctor to get a diagnosis: Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

I thought the diagnosis would force Uni to give me the support I had been craving. Instead I was advised to suspend my studies, focus on restoring my mental health, and then repeat my second year the following October. To many people, this may sound like good advice, but by dropping out, I was re-confirming the idea that University was the cause of my anxiety. Student Services set me up a Disability Access Plan: outlining the reasonable adjustments my department should make to cater to my needs as a disabled student, including alternative exam arrangements.

They then advised I should meet a well-being advisor. They were unable to offer me anything useful, only tell me things I already knew: exercise, eat well, take time for yourself. They were unable to comment on the causes of my anxiety and only give practical advice on how to alleviate it in the short-term. I carried on through the semester with a new-found confidence that helpful procedures were being implemented. I was wrong. January exams left me in the same place as I was the year before: two resits. The same chain of events was happening, and I felt powerless to stop them reoccurring. When I couldn’t name any majorly significant changes, my mother sent a strongly worded email to my Director of Studies, requesting a conversation and threatening a lawsuit on the grounds of disability discrimination.

I had a meeting with my Director of Studies, the head of Disability Services, and my mother. Having my mum by my side meant I did not feel as alone. By sharing my thoughts with her, she knew, better than myself, what was in my best interest. One comment from that meeting still haunts me, to paraphrase, my DoS suggested that if I couldn’t hack it here, I should leave and go to a lesser university.

They have also been insensitive at other times: they have sent emails that answer half the questions I asked, or with sections written in Caps Lock. This is inexcusable in ordinary circumstances, but especially when being sent to a student with GAD.

That summer I sat the resits and got lucky with passing one of them, but the other I now face resitting for the fourth time alongside my final year units. Things have got better but are nowhere near perfect. I have been failed, but would a better response from the University have made a difference? I cannot say. It would have made my time at university easier and meant that I could have graduated with my friends at the end of last summer. Yet, it has brought me to where I am today: happy, determined, and loving myself.

In response to this article, a University of Bath spokesperson said:

“We are very disappointed to hear that the level of support we have provided this student has not met their expectations and encourage them to contact Student Services to address the concerns that they have raised and identify how best we can provide the support they need.

“At the University of Bath we do everything possible to ensure that all students, including those with mental health concerns or disabilities, are provided with the support that they need to succeed in their chosen course. In partnership with the Students’ Union, [we] are committed to building a caring community which promotes positive health and wellbeing and in which all students feel safe.  

“We strongly encourage anyone who is concerned with their own or another student’s mental health or wellbeing to contact the Student Services team on 01225 383838.”

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