I write this not as your VP Welfare and Campaigns but as a student in the middle of their degree, who has experienced General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Tendencies. Last Thursday was World Mental Health Day and your Students’ Union supported Cardiff University’s campaign. The aim was to share and reduce the stigma around mental health, whilst also reflecting on the development of our knowledge on mental health.
We chose to do this to send the message that discussions on mental health should be at the heart of our work for the whole year, not just now. So instead, we’re waiting for when students are more likely to need the support and when we will have more resources – University Mental Health Day in March. In supporting the University, I shared my mental health story below.
Looking back on my childhood, it is difficult to pinpoint when my mental health started to impact negatively on my life. I often found it difficult to settle into school and then in 2012, my mother was diagnosed with MS and Breast Cancer, and later in 2015 she was also diagnosed with Skin Cancer. She is now receiving chemotherapy for secondary Breast Cancer in the lungs.
As a child, my anxiety expressed itself in different forms and in ways that people didn’t understand. I would worry so much but didn’t often show it. Instead, I looked for aspects of my life that I could control – not my mother’s illness or what was going on at home, but the pattern of the paving slabs that I walked on (I couldn’t get to where I was going unless I did this), and how many times I checked that the door was locked (because otherwise something bad would definitely happen). My therapist explained to me once that my OCD is a coping mechanism for my anxieties – it is a way to quieten the bad thoughts.
I’ve always seen myself as lucky for growing up at a time when public opinion on mental health is changing, because I’ve never run into problems with people’s lack of understanding of my mental health in general. However, the stigma surrounding OCD is still strong – for example, of course some people do encounter problems with dirt and symmetry, but not all of us do. We are not a homogenous group, just as all people who experience mental health difficulties are not a homogenous group – in order to destigmatise we must listen to everyone and not make assumptions of their experiences.
I believe we should celebrate the little victories and that often we have to let ourselves be happy. Especially, I’ve learned that we shouldn’t hold back from being happy through fear – we shouldn’t ever deny ourselves happiness for any reason, or we will never get it.
We have to let ourselves be happy.
I believe it is important to seek help when needed. It’s cliché but it’s cliché for a reason – you wouldn’t ignore a broken leg and keep on walking on it until you have to lose the leg, would you?
I believe we have to listen to others because no two experiences are the same. In the long run, learning more about others’ experiences will help them and will also normalise conversations around mental health for everyone, which comes back round to help you.
We are always here to support you, and I mean that. Below are some essential ways of accessing support:
James, your VP Welfare and Campaigns:
Caitlin, your Mental Health Officer:
Student Advice (free, confidential, impartial advice):
Nightline (free listening service):
University Counselling and Wellbeing: