An anonymous student describes their positive experience seeking support from the student counselling service.
No one should be put off from seeking help.
In the aftermath of further deaths amongst University of Bristol students, and the increased criticism of the Student Counselling Services at the University, I felt it was important to share my (mostly) positive experience of using these services. If you are experiencing difficulties with your mental health and wellbeing (like I experienced) I would encourage you to contact the Student Counselling Services, and not to be discouraged from seeking help.
With a friendly and considerate counsellor, I talked (mainly blubbing) through everything that I had been too scared to say out-loud
Disclaimer: I completely agree that the waiting lists are far too long, and at times I struggled with services not being available to me. I will be marching for mental health services on the 25th May. I also understand that others have had very different experiences to me and I ask that you keep an open mind and consider the vast set of circumstances/ personal situations that people find themselves in when applying for counselling. However, my experience is a positive one and the support I was given has helped me so much over the past year.
I want to be clear that by no means am I the highest-priority applicant for counselling. I have struggled with anxiety, symptoms of a panic disorder and depression-like feelings for several years, but during my first term of university I found that living in halls exacerbated these symptoms. However, my behaviour was never seriously self-destructive, and while the services should have more funding, resources should be allocated accordingly in the meantime.
Looking after your mental health means making some space to pause. Bristol has a wealth of great open spaces - including around campus. The Japanese have a term called forest bathing - Shinrin-yoku and is widely prescribed in Japan as a form of preventative medicine to help manage stress. Over this week try to find space to stop, pause and take in our natural places around us. #mentalhealthawareness
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My adventure with the Student Counselling Services started in January 2017, when I applied for a 50 minute initial assessment session (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/student-counselling/one-to-one-counselling/). The form took a few minutes to fill out and I felt immediately better for submitting it. I was contacted within a few days and had an appointment within a couple of weeks. Another option is to drop-in for a 20 minute session when needed (no need to book in advance) but I felt that I could wait for the 50 minute session.
My initial assessment was very emotional. With a friendly and considerate counsellor, I talked (mainly blubbing) through everything that I had been too scared to say out-loud. From the days that I spent in bed, unable to leave my room to attend lectures, to the wild expectations that I had of my time at university.
At the end of the session, I was told that the waiting list for one-to-one counselling (the service I had wanted) was long, and that I would be better suited for a group session anyway. Needless to say, this was terrifying news! The group sessions were an hour per week in a small group of around 6-8 students. As I often found it hard to speak up in tutorials, I did not see this going well.
I am not ashamed to admit that I pulled a sickie for the first session. I was petrified! Then, of course, turning up to the second session was difficult as the other members already knew each other.
I found ways to explain what was happening inside my head to my family and close friends
That all disappeared soon however, and I found them to be a supportive group of students who all had common themes in their lives. Some students were really struggling, others were just going through a rough patch and wanted a little support. We were able to discuss practical coping mechanisms, and I learnt how to deal with my anxiety through these sessions. Others in the group discussed the circumstances that had led to their diagnosis, but there was never any pressure to share or even talk at all.
It was purely a discussion- there were no set themes for the sessions and we ended up filling them with whatever naturally came up and was relatable. Although they often started quietly, we all soon found confidence in the honesty of others. The group sessions were stress-free and with each week I could relax a little more and add to the discussion a little more. We started each session with mindfulness and a general discussion about how the week had treated people.
On my walk home from the sessions each week I would call my boyfriend and tell him about the revelations I had had in the past hour. I started enjoying my time at university more because I understood my thoughts and could deal with my emotions far better. I found ways to explain what was happening inside my head to my family and close friends.
The highlights of this time also include hilariously bumping into another student from my group in Lola Lo’s and having to pretend to her friends, while rather tipsy, that we met doing sports (her suggestion, I am certainly not sporty!). Since then, I have not bumped into any of the other students in my group around university.
I found my experience of the Student Counselling Services to be a breath of fresh air and I left with the tools to make my second year at university incredible. This is not to say that I no longer suffer from mental health problems- I did attend a drop-in session in May of 2017 because I was very stressed about exams (this time I was offered one-to-one counselling but declined). It’s just that I no longer consider my mental health to be purely a problem, or a problem that I cannot solve.
The support I got from the Student Counselling Service has revolutionised the way I think about my mental health and the way I treat myself and others, and for that reason alone, I seriously encourage everyone to consider whether they could use some support. In all honesty, I have moved on so much in the past year that writing this article has reminded me of many things I had forgotten about struggling with. Looking back, I feel happy and incredibly grateful that I am no longer in that place. I am very grateful for the hard work of the staff that helped me get back on my feet.
If you’re considering seeing a counsellor, please do and remember that they are aware that you’ll be nervous and that you might not want to share things. Everyone at the University has been affected by the recent student deaths and everyone should feel able to access counselling if/ when they want it. No one should be put off from seeking help when they need it.
Featured image: Epigram / Chloe Payne-Cook
Do you have an experience with the student counselling service that you'd like to share? Comment below or get in touch!