When you start university you get to meet a lot of people, all with their different quirks and interests. Since being at university, personally, I have become more aware of how many people suffer from some type of mental illness. Whether they did in the past or are suffering now, it is heavily present in many young people. This article will be focusing on Generalised Anxiety Disorder, commonly known as anxiety.
I think at some point during your life you will have felt the common emotions of fear or felt nervous, but anxiety is a very significant mental illness. Generally overlooked by depression, anxiety can be seen by peers as part of depression or someone who is being overdramatic when it comes to change. Before learning about how deep anxiety goes, I was ignorant of how much it effects people and their lives. On the NHS website it is estimated that anxiety impact about 1 in every 25 people in the UK.
I interviewed three university students who suffer from anxiety and asked them several questions about their anxiety. For the purposes of the article, the students will remain anonymous and have given their full consent to taking part.
The similarities between the students correlated with their adolescent years, “I’ve had anxiety since I was little. It seemed to get worse when I started high school”. While another admitted she had suffered for a long time without seeking help, “I’ve had it for about 5-6 years, but only got diagnosed this year due to the fact that I kept it a secret”.
The views on help from local doctors got mixed reviews, either they experienced a patronising response or were given useful advice. But, the doctors didn’t want to put them straight onto some form of medication. One student described the long process and how it isn’t always effective depending on circumstances, “...eventually I did go see a doctor about my anxiety and they referred me to multiple counsellors. Even though this helped, a situation happened to make me worse so I got put on medication for depression and anxiety.”
One student talked about how they were prescribed medication after they were originally turned away, only to come back and diagnosed with depression as well as anxiety. In some cases, some of the medication wasn’t always successful in controlling anxiety, one student described how she had been to the doctors several times about her problems and t said she had been given some “beta-blockers in the past, but they have been ineffective.”
Symptoms and Effects
When we think of anxiety we don’t think about how many symptoms you can get from it physically as well as mentally. The students I asked listed several symptoms such as, shallow breathing, shaking, numbness in fingers, feeling sick, stuttering and feeling as if you cannot breathe at all. The general ordeal of having an anxiety attack is terrible and extremely uncomfortable and stressful for the individual.
While having systems to personally deal with, anxiety also effects family and friends. There are limitations to what a person with anxiety can cope within social situations, “I couldn’t go to a lot of family events and social occasions, no birthday meals and such. I was also very dependent on other people, very reluctant to do anything on my own…”
While, in other cases support was hard to find due to lack of understanding and only thanks to a counsellor they were able to give them proper support. Now at university, away from home one student admitted to being heavily dependent on her partner most of the time, “I am very dependant on my boyfriend to calm me down after a bad episode, I think it also upsets my parents and friends when I get too panicked to calm down.”
When it comes to the next big step from GCSE and A-Levels the thought of University can be very daunting. And for someone who suffers from anxiety the change can be more difficult. “To begin with, going to seminars, taking the bus, eating in the cafeteria, and even doing my laundry seemed like a huge hurdle.”
As well as mundane everyday tasks the actual involvement with university can also cause unnecessary stress as described by a couple of students, “I definitely get stressed more easily, it almost consumes my university life, walking into a room or lecture theatre is terrifying still, I also tend to panic more if something goes wrong with work because speaking to a tutor is just awful for me.”
The simple structure of university is too much in severe cases. Everyone gets stressed from time to time, but this can be amplified, “I find that even after doing revision notes 6 or 7 times I still feel unprepared and I often have panic attacks before big assignments.”
Of course universities to have specialist departments to support all young people with all sorts of problems and are very well catered to do so. I asked the students if their university does give support, but not all of them have actively gone to them. One student who had gone to her university to seek out support praised their super friendly approach in full confidence, however, another criticised how their university wasn’t well managed, “There is therapy but the waiting list is very long so it’s somewhat uncomfortable requesting it.”
‘Anxiety is more common in young people’
While the statement isn’t scientifically accurate, I asked interviewees what they made of the comment. They agreed to some extent due to the “pressure young people have today to get good grades, get into uni and get a job” and it is worsened by the less life experience youth have in dealing with independency and change. One student even went as far as to say that they believe anxiety in the youth could be caused by universal upbringing,“we’ve been raised in a generation taught to be scared of the world.”
This article has focused on student anxiety, but isn’t just a young person issue, it is a mental illness and does effect people of all ages. According to the NHS, more women are affected than men, and their findings state that the condition is more common in people between the ages of 35 and 55.
Anxiety can be caused by many different factors, it’s not all down to anxiety being hereditary, which is the cause in some cases. At university you do meet a lot of different people from all different backgrounds and it is very likely you have come into contact with someone who is suffering from anxiety; but not necessarily showing it.
Mental Health Awareness Week
At Liverpool Hope University this week it is Mental Health Awareness week with a variety of talks, sessions and workshops taking place across the campuses. These are taken by university staff and students as well as outside guest speakers and support workers. You can pick up a copy of the schedule of the week around the campus, such as in the Gateway building or by downloading the booklet.
Aside from this week there is round the clock support during the week if you ever have any problems. Times for you to come and speak with the Hope University Student Support and Wellbeing team take place everyday, to give you daily support when you need it. These are managed in 20 minute session and you are able to talk to a counsellor or mental health adviser. Drop in times are Monday to Friday from Midday to 2pm, with the exception of Wednesday, which is from Midday to 1pm.
For more information from you can access them through the Hope website, which includes relaxation downloads and podcasts and also information on how to access the service: Student Support and Wellbeing
There is also a guide on the website to help spot and manage anxiety, provided by the Student Support and Wellbeing team: How to Spot and manage Anxiety
More general information can be found through the NHS website: NHS – Anxiety
The details of respondents in the interview have been kept confidential and consent was provided to share their comments.
Image: Used under Creative Commons license. Copyright Maxwell GS on Flickr.
By Alice Denmark
Online Writer and Reporter