To anyone else I look like a completely normal Hatfield student. I love Klute, going out, meeting up with friends, Sunday brunch. On first look you would have no idea that I am also depressed. That’s the problem with depression; you become so good at pretending you’re ok that you really can convince other people. When you conjure up an idea of a ‘depressed’ person, people too often imagine some gloomy person dressed all in black wearing too much eyeliner and constantly complaining. The truth is that anyone can be depressed, around 7% of adults have depression, the likelihood is that someone you know has depression and you have no idea. The symptoms of depression are sadly too often missed, especially at university, and in my case in first year when there were very few people looking out for me.
I have had depressive episodes from the age of 7. This is something that when I tell people they find very confusing. What could a 7 year old have to be so upset about that they are seriously depressed? The answer for me was nothing specific. That answer has never changed throughout my 13 year journey with depression. What could happen to someone that was so awful that they regularly hope to no longer exist? Especially as I got older it became a vicious cycle of feeling guilty about having such a charmed life (one that led me to Hatfield) and being depressed and feeling guilty about being depressed because there were so many people with tough lives who didn’t have depression. I decided I must just be weak and worthless. It was with the help of my incredible mother who has also struggled with depression all her life that I realised you don’t have to have a reason. It’s ok to be depressed. It’s not something you should ever feel guilty about. You have every right to your feelings.
Depression was something I had managed fairly well up until leaving school. I was surrounded by an incredibly supportive family who really did not treat having depression as anything different to having a broken leg. It was when I started at university that everything began to collapse. I knew the warning signs of a depressive episode, I knew I was spiralling, but unfortunately not enough other people did to help me. So many of the early symptoms of depression are behaviours that are sadly completely normalised at university. I’ve made a little list of some of the things to look out for in your friends, in the boy you don’t really speak to on your corridor, in the friend of a friend you smile at in the dining room, everyone.
- Staying in bed – spending all day in bed is one of the immediate images that comes up when you think of a student. It’s important to notice when a couple of lie-ins turns in to a person’s daily routine. At my worst I would only leave my bed for the occasional lecture, if I could muster the energy at all. I would lie in bed and desperately try to tune out the rest of the world. If you’re worried one of your friends is spending too much time in bed, how about suggesting you go to breakfast together or head off to the library together in the morning?
- Drinking too much – most students at university enjoy a drink, a lot of socialising centres around alcohol. But when does too much become too much? My drinking suddenly escalated massively at one point in the year, I was branded a ‘drinking legend’ and a ‘sesh head’, when really I was just desperate to forget my depression for a while. This was probably my rock-bottom place, I was drinking completely recklessly on nights out and alone in my room in between. I ended up doing serious damage to my liver to the point where more than a year on it still hasn’t recovered and probably never will. I couldn’t drink at all for several months, where I was called ‘boring’ and was increasingly excluded from social events. Please stop calling your friends boring for not drinking and definitely be very careful encouraging people to drink who might be going through a tough time. You don’t know what bad habits they might already be in without your help. They might view nights out as one of the only times they get to socialise, how about suggesting going for a meal or watching a film together another night as well?
- Withdrawing from social situations – if someone’s pattern of socialisation rapidly changes this could be an indication of something being seriously wrong. The situations that I avoided seem almost laughable now but were seriously debilitating. Waiting until the early hours of the morning to shower so you’d be certain no one saw you in the corridor, avoiding going to pick up a package from the Porter’s lodge for days in case you saw someone you knew, being terrified of keeping anything in the kitchen in case someone asked you how you were. It got so bad that I once went 6 days without speaking to anyone at all. People with depression usually do everything they physically can to pretend to other people that they don’t have it. If they don’t feel strong enough to pretend, they withdraw. If you have noticed someone not being around, pester them, go to their room and just ask for a chat, invite them to do anything with you. To the girl on my corridor who noticed I was spending a lot of time in my room and came for chats, thank you, you kept me sane.
- A change in eating behaviour – ‘I’m not hungry’, ‘I don’t fancy the look of dinner’. This is a particular challenge for livers in. Meals can be a really difficult thing for someone who has withdrawn. Make sure they’re eating; invite them to go with you to a meal or even just offering to make them some toast can be the highlight of their day.
I am here a year on from my worst depressive episode yet. I have found a medication, which works for me and helps me through some of my tough mornings. My best advice for if you have depression or think you could be depressed is to TALK ABOUT IT. Talk to anyone and everyone who you trust and will listen to you. You’ll be amazed how amazing and supportive people can be. Find a GP who you feel understands you, depression is a serious illness and there is so much out there to help you. If you had a broken arm you wouldn’t just ‘deal with it’ or ‘wait for it to pass’. Explore every avenue of care you can; whether that’s finding a new hobby you love, talking to friends, talking to Welfare, the University Counselling service, therapy, medication or a combination. You’re worth it and you’re going to be ok.