On the 4th of May, the Student Wellbeing Ambassadors are honouring University Mental Health Day as a time to come together and recognise our shared resilience during some of our most difficult times. You might have seen Shivani, Neel, Sarah, Henry, Victoria or Daniel’s friendly faces at wellbeing events and activities across Campus, such as Bullying Harassment and Discrimination trainings, Wiki Whai Hauora, or Wellbeing Mornings. As the student voice within the Student Wellbeing Team, this University Mental Health Day they are projecting the voices of students who have found support through reaching out to others when times were tough.
I’d always been an anxious kid but moving away from the familiarity of home to a big, new city made that feeling double time. 2020 was probably the hardest year for me mentally, with my new job suddenly taking on a whole new meaning. What really helped me was talking to the uni counsellors who listened to me, taught me strategies on how to reduce my anxiety, and mostly just gave me the power to realise that yes, what I was feeling was valid and okay, and I was allowed to be kind to my mind. Now, I have what I like to call my wellbeing toolkit; things I do which have become part of my everyday life. Like running, regular counselling, talking openly about mental health to my friends and residents. Different things help different people, and the best thing is finding what works for you, even if it takes a while.
At intermediate school, I was bullied. As a guy growing up in a household where my family didn’t share emotions, I had zero emotional intelligence and no support networks to help me. I couldn’t find a way out of the pain, which led me to try to kill myself. It was one of the hardest times in my life. Luckily, I was caught halfway through my attempt and so didn’t follow through. I saw a counsellor when I was in my final years of high school and gained so much from just talking to someone about the experience. Now, I feel blessed as I remember everything that has happened over the past nine years and how close I was to missing out on all the happiness, the heartbreak, and the friendships that I have made. Life is hard sometimes, but we just need to keep going. Trust me, all pain is temporary.
At one point of absolute hopelessness, I found myself detached, cracking sardonic jokes about myself after attempting to take my life. It wasn’t until I began to be honest with myself, my university family, and some role models, that I accepted my mental state was valid; that mental health conditions, such as depression, can affect anyone regardless of background or upbringing and have their own individual driving factors. I learned not to compare my struggles with others and instead accept what I was going through. Fast-forward to now, and I’m the same person, yet completely different. I use my experiences to guide others through their distress, empathise, and let people know that their experiences with mental health are valid and real. There are still days I struggle to drag myself out of bed but those rise and fall in frequency. What makes the bad times manageable for me is being open about them with my friends and family and acknowledging when I’m struggling.
I was at Bar 101 with the girls when I accidentally bumped into a close friend of mine. I was in my first year of uni, pre-med, wanting to really make a name for myself. We hugged and I was so conscious of the fact my skirt didn’t fit, and I could hardly breathe from just one short dance. The day after, he messaged me asking how I was really doing and that he was concerned I was losing a lot of weight too quickly. He’d been there for me when I asked for help, but this was the first time someone reached out to me and said they were worried for me. I had been ignoring all the signs, evading all the mirrors I walked by, pretending that I was fine. With his help, I was able to see my GP, chat with the uni counsellor for eating disorders, and then finally get a referral into treatment. I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t reached out to me.
These stories are just a small handful from students who have experienced some of their toughest times and came out of them resilient, hopeful and more powerful than before. They stand to remind us that even when we feel hopeless, there is always help. For this year’s University Mental Health Day, let these stories carry within you and make your mental health a priority. Check in with each other, reach out for yourself or a friend who might be struggling. Together, we’ve got this.
*Names have been changed for privacy.