I got depression at university

Getting depression at university can be very scary, especially with the added pressure of exams and being away from home. Oxbridge student Anne* tells The Mix how she got through it.

True Stories

depressed student

"I was a lifeless robot."

Around the room everyone wrote frantically but I just stared at the front of my question paper. As the minutes slipped by, I began to panic: tears prickled in my eyes, and I was barely able to breathe. I grabbed my pens and ran from the room. It was a week before my university finals and I couldn’t even survive 15 minutes into a mock exam. That was the moment I knew something was seriously wrong.

Getting stressed about university exams

The term before my university finals was stressful. I was contributing to the student newspaper, working on my dissertation, doing a module I hated, and I had various family commitments. By the time I reached the end of term, I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was go home and spend my Easter holiday relaxing. Instead I faced three months of revision – all day, every day.

But I didn’t start revising. I told myself it was fine to take it easy, that I deserved a break after the previous term. It felt like I had ages before I needed to start getting serious about work. I thought I’d find the motivation closer to the exams.

First signs of depression

It still amazes me how quickly depression crept over me. I knew I was tired, stressed, and lethargic, but it was like my life crumbled apart within a couple of weeks. I went from always being busy and working hard, to sleeping up to 17 hours a day. When I was awake, I just watched TV in my room – I was a lifeless robot. I only saw people when I cooked dinner, and then everyone would be talking about work and exams, so I stopped joining in. There was a period when I didn’t talk to anyone for five days. I sat in my room, only leaving to make food when I knew no one was in the kitchen.

I began eating a lot. I’d watch TV with a huge bar of chocolate or packet of biscuits to make me feel better. Though, when I saw the changes to my body and skin, that made me feel so much worse. In two months I’d gained a stone and a half. My clothes didn’t fit anymore, but that’s fine when you don’t get changed out of your pyjamas.

A couple of my friends noticed they hadn’t seen me and came round to watch a film. For them, the film was a break from a long day in the library; for me, it was the first time I’d got out of bed that day. I couldn’t talk to them – I knew how much pressure everyone was under and I didn’t want to burden them with how I was feeling. I felt lonely and helpless, and increasingly guilty about doing no work. Yet I still had absolutely no motivation to do any.

Hitting crisis point

A month before my final exams it hit me that I had to learn three years’ worth of information and I confronted just how much work I had to do. I began to cry uncontrollably, I was terrified. Every day I heard my degree grade would affect my whole life. Bad degree, no job. No job, no money. No money, and everything I wanted to do – rent a flat with my friends, go travelling, just simply live – was out of the question.

I signed up for a mock exam. I ran out of it. All I wanted to do was crawl into bed, turn out the lights and never have to face anything again. I’d barely visited home and felt disconnected from everyone. I called my mum in tears and she drove to see me immediately. From the moment she walked through my door, she said she knew that girl wasn’t her daughter.

Getting help

She urged me to see the university doctor who immediately diagnosed me with depression. I saw my tutor and we discussed my options. I knew I couldn’t go through my exams just yet, so I arranged to take a year off and work on getting better. This spring, I’ll be returning to university to take my finals.

I’m getting counselling now and taking each day as it comes. From the moment the work pressure was gone, I felt better. Slowly, I’ve returned to the person I lost during those months. Looking back, the worst decision I made was not talking to anyone – not going to my tutor when I first had worries, not talking to my family, not speaking to someone impartial like my university’s Nightline. I urge people not to make the same mistake I did, and to talk to someone if they’re feeling low or pressured by uni work.

In the back of my mind there’s still the fear that the depression could come back. But now I know I have a strong circle of friends and family around me, and ultimately my health is more important than taking those exams.

Photo of depressed student by Shutterstock and posed by model

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015