August 19, 2015

13th September 2014 was one of the most important days of my life so far. I was moving to university to study a social work degree. I’d blogged about my journey for months on my blog and it was finally here. The moment I had been waiting for. I was elated. But at the same time, I was filled with dread. This was a big experience for me, and one that would test my mental health.

Just a few months before, I was diagnosed as having anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder by a therapist. I’d told the university, but feared that it would be all too much. I didn’t want help from the disability support team: I’d been managing my own recovery using meditation and mindfulness techniques, since things didn’t work out all that well with the therapist. I was doing pretty well for myself.

Fresher’s week came and went, with mixed emotions. Induction week went well at university. I settled in and made a few friends. I told my university class about my anxiety and OCD to make them aware: I wanted to break down the stigma, and everyone seemed to accept it. I was happy. I felt included. My anxiety and OCD levels were decreasing and I loved university. I shrugged off my obsessive thoughts and worries, and threw myself into opportunities. Little did I know, something was coming up around the corner that would change my direction in life.

Everything was bright and rosy, until an incident occurred at university. It knocked my confidence and it made me anxious. I went into my shell, wanting to be on my own again. Before university, I wanted only my own company and this was the case again. I stopped spending time with my class before lectures and spent my time in the library.

Stricken by anxiety, I started to have sleepless nights. One night, when I was laying in bed; thoughts of placement hit me. On the social work degree at my university, we had to do shadowing days, where we shadow a social worker or care manager. At that moment, I realised that I would have great difficulty doing some of the things we may have to do. Some of my lecturers knew about this, but I got anxious. Really anxious. I fought off the thoughts with meditation. The next morning, I had a meeting with my personal tutor at university so I could talk to her about what was worrying me.

The meeting didn’t go well. Afterwards, I decided to change my degree course. Many things  contributed to this decision, but my mental health and wellbeing was definitely a factor I began to feel like I had to legitimise my problems. I felt that I had to prove my anxiety and OCD. This would not be done with physical health conditions as much as it would for mental health problems. I spoke to many people and finally made the decision to switch to Journalism.

Mental health problems are invisible right? They can’t be there if you can’t see them. In fact, they are often visible, in a person’s behaviour, in the way a person talks. Nonetheless, I often feel like I have to show that I have a mental illness to get people to believe it’s real. I have felt this stigma over and over again. Why would I lie about something that is affecting my life so much?

It may be covert stigma, but at the same time, it isn’t fair. I have fought to be at university. My mental health problems won’t stop me, and neither will the stigma surrounding them. My mental health has improved since I have been at university and I hope it will continue to do so. Just because I find something difficult does not mean that I can’t do it. I will challenge this stigma head on, because graduating from university with a degree is something I have wanted since I was a little girl. I am the expert in my situation.

I blog about my situation and am involved with lots of voluntary work, so I know I can succeed at university. Yet I still feel like I have to show my anxiety and OCD. I feel that lack of knowledge has been a part of the stigma, which is why I blog to break the stigma down. We all need to work together, so that individuals get the right support and aren’t shunned just because of their mental health problems.       

You can follow Sophie's blog at https://socialworkjourney2013.wordpress.com

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