19 May 2019
Anxiety word cloud. Graphic: Renée Bleau
Millennial mental health data on anxiety is concerning. One student tells of her struggle.
With more and more millennials are suffering from mental health problems, especially anxiety, the student population has been identified as being particularly at risk.
As mental health awareness week draws to a close, 23-year-old Brodie Rodger talks about her experience of mental health problems.
Rodger, an undergraduate BSc Hons Nursing student, is keen to reduce the stigma associated with mental health.
It all began when her grandmother died unexpectedly in September 2015. Rodger explains: “My parents wanted me to go back to university for the start of term, and then return home for the funeral. I just felt it was impossible. I couldn’t focus, I didn’t want get up, and I especially didn’t want to be around university friends talking about their exciting summer, when my grandmother had just died. I hated she was gone forever. Although I had experienced anxiety before, it seemed that this feeling of impending doom was much greater.
“After my grandmother died, my mum took on the full-time home care of my grandpa, who had suffered a stroke some years earlier and was paralysed. As a result, he came to live in our family home, as granny wasn’t there to look after him any more.
“At that time, I felt guilty being four hours away from home at university and mum was working full time at home, in Elgin, while organising his home care. I started driving home on a Friday after class, to help out for the weekend. I also took up a part-time job in a bar, in order to earn money, as I had to. I would drive back to Edinburgh at 4 o’clock on a Monday morning so I would be there in time for a 9am lecture.
“While all this was happening, I became involved with someone, who I was trying to help transition and find themselves. My parents found out about it and were really disapproving. I felt everything was becoming too difficult and I just felt really anxious all the time.
“Then, on New Year’s Day 2016, grandpa was admitted to hospital and on 3 January 2017, he passed away. Everything felt so heavy and horrible.
“I didn’t feel psychologically well enough to keep attending university, but I didn’t know what else to do. Eventually I started having frequent panic attacks and was feeling so depressed, I didn’t have the energy to scratch my own head. I didn’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone.
“I felt empty and like a shell. I ended up having huge arguments with my friend. The situation was so complicated and I ended up dropping out of university in June 2016 following an episode on a placement when I suffered a sort of meltdown. The course leader advised I could attempt to return in January 2017.
“But that turned out to be a problem, and in fact I couldn’t go back until September 2017. Once I started back, I wasn’t really ready yet and I felt depressed. I was struggling with my course, and on top of that I was given a diagnosis of dyslexia.
“The difficulties of returning after having time out were tough to handle and I didn’t have enough support on my return. I was entitled to one counselling appointment at university services, but that simply wasn’t enough.
“I was still struggling to cope and then because of a misunderstanding over when I was supposed to submit coursework for some modules, I was given a decision by the university that I was not able to return to complete my studies.
“I was devastated, and really, really upset. I decided to appeal, and received help from student support services, but that appeal was unsuccessful. I was informed that I would have to take a year out and then reapply for entry at Year 3, through UCAS.
“During this whole period, when I found any situation particularly stressful, I would use my nails to dig in to my skin so it would bleed.
“I was lucky that my aunt is a psychologist in Glasgow and I would visit her on a regular basis. My parents, although divorced, each started to pay attention to my mental health as they could finally see how unwell I was.
“I started seeing a counsellor once a week in Edinburgh and that helped me on the road to recovery. I was lucky that I was able to get a job as a support care worker, and so was able to gain relevant experience for my goal of returning to my nursing studies.
“Now, I am in the process of going through reapplication to get back in to complete my nursing degree. I have learned a lot about my mental health during this time, and have discovered the importance of animals to me in helping me feel better. I hope to do my dissertation on the efficacy of “therapets” in improving mental health. I love all animals, but especially cats and dogs.
“I feel much stronger now and feel able to be less placid and stand my ground when I need to. I am hopeful that I can continue to grow and understand my own feelings better. I think because of these difficulties, I will be better in the future at managing my mental health, and I know from experience that it is definitely just as important as my physical health. There is nothing more horrible than the loneliness that comes from feeling so bad.
“Although I still sometimes feel anxious, I know how to handle it, and my resilience has really improved a lot, after going through this very difficult period, which has lasted years.”
Rodger told me how much her mental health has improved by spending time with her own cat and her aunt’s new puppy. She is keen to study the psychological benefits of “therapets” for improving mental health. She knows that Scotland and the UK needs more nurses, and she tells me she is determined to become one of them. I certainly hope she succeeds.
Video: Renée Bleau