In today’s post we speak on the importance of thinking carefully about whether or not to stay in university when suffering with depression…

Dropping Out Of Uni vs Staying At Uni…

This is something only you can really decide but others who care about you can help you reach an answer.The truth is not everyone finishes university and contrary to what society and or your parents may make you feel, that is perfectly fine. Your health does and should always come first. Getting yourself together and in a healthy space will always feel better than failing university.  Irrespective of when you choose to take it, at some point you will need a break. Depression isn’t only just mental and emotional, it’s very physical. At some point you may find yourself experiencing exhaustion or feeling extremely lethargic and unable to wake up on time. This can either be your routine in university or your routine out of university. One important factor in making your decision is ensuring you understand that your university space will always be there, if you inform your university of what it is you’re going through. You can retake the year, you can defer your year. Do not be in a rush to graduate with your friends, ultimately they’d rather you get better.

Under-performing as a result of depression can have one of two effects (if we approach it on a basic level), you can either come to terms with it in the sense that you’re grateful or proud that you even made it through or you can end up wishing you took some time out to get better. Ask yourself why you want to stay at university and why staying will have a positive impact on your health in the long run and understand that if you do stay you will need to ensure that you do all you can to make that experience a healthier one. Staying does not always mean you will under-perform, you can do remarkably well despite your circumstance but that does not mean you are in a better space, it just means you managed to get the grade you wanted despite it. Doing well despite your circumstance may however have a positive impact on your health. Either way, you will have to face your issues at some point.

It is important to anticipate what staying will feel like once you’ve made your decision and prepare yourself for what you may have to endure. Remind yourself that it’s okay to take a bit longer to finish your work, remind yourself that you will get there eventually, avoid comparing yourself to people who are not in your position if you are going to do so negatively. Be real with yourself, are you going to make those job applications? If not embrace it and say to yourself, okay I’m going to focus on my degree and ensure I do all I can to achieve the grade I want whilst working on my well-being and eventually looking for jobs after university (also having an awareness of the implications such a decision may have in the long run). By doing that you are constantly reminding yourself of why you are not making applications whilst everyone else is, meaning you don’t negatively internalise the progress of others just because it doesn’t look like your progress. If getting a job straight after university is what you desire, then break it down. Make one application every week and a half, inform them of your condition, seek out help and advice from the careers advisers at your university, they can direct you to the right companies and even help you with your CV and application process.

If you choose to take a break you need to be aware of what that means. Unless you plan to get a job, understand that you may not have the safety net of student finance, unless your family or friends will be supportive. Will a job be the best thing for you in your current state or is it more about the specific type of job? Ask yourself whether your home environment is better than your university environment and don’t answer that through the lens of a person totally dissatisfied with university. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how uncomfortable living at home is until we are back in that environment. What will you do when you’re back home? have some sort of a plan, do you intend to seek help? If you don’t feel strong enough, do you have the right support system around you to seek help on your behalf?

Sometimes we also underestimate how much being busy or being around others and not just being at home when everyone else is at work can be helpful, not being occupied and just sleeping away the days can make you feel like you’re a failure. So even if you are not working, what will you be doing? If you find university is the source of your depression and you need some time to get your mind healthy, maybe leaving is your best bet. If you don’t want to take a huge jump, maybe defer initially and spend a year figuring out what you want, then if you find that you prefer doing something else just don’t go back. I know a couple people who did this and they are happier than ever before. But just have some sort of plan even if it’s to rest for a couple months whilst seeking help and then getting back into doing something you love, being idle and out of university is just as unhealthy as being idle at university.

L. talks on her refusal to stay idle, providing insight on some practical ways to stay productive…

What did I do? I started distracting my mind a bit more. Literally did anything that will not make me think too hard/much. Spent longer time at the gym, did other activities, such as adult colouring, went to the cinema or concerts by myself, visited art galleries, watched new TV shows, and etc. Whenever I started thinking, I was writing. Writing how I felt and what was going through my mind (this was also my best friend’s idea). It helped because I hate seeing what I was writing. I was disgusted with how I allowed myself to get to this point. Oh, and I also got out of my relationship; this was probably the worst part of it. Being in a relationship and going through depression is just… I don’t even have words to describe it. Especially when your partner has no idea. Just like my housemate, he was upset with how I reacted at times.

I realised that for me to keep up, I needed nothing but positive vibes around me. So after leaving my ex, I also cut off people who just brought negative energy. Went back to social media like nothing happened and also did something that I should have never stopped: praying. Believing and trusting God. I continued distracting my mind by focusing more on my fitness journey and spending more time with my family. And honestly, it worked so well. It’s like everything was coming back to place. I was so determined that I even left my job so I can literally just focus on me.

Today, I’m in my final year. In a much better place, surrounded by love and positive vibes, learning more about God and meeting people who can make me a better person in the future. However, my biggest fear is going through that again, especially with how stressful 3rd year can be. But I’m learning to be strong. To become better. To look at myself and believe that no matter what, I am and will be great.

Distract your mind. Find new activities to do (ask a friend to join, I find that more helpful). I am now a fitness blogger and vlogger which helps me a lot when I have to free my mind

A. also shares the same sentiment about the benefits of distracting your mind advising to “stimulate the mind with music and stay positive”.

If you plan on getting a job, it is also important to remember that entering environments such as the workplace without people being aware of your circumstance can be just as much of an issue as being at university and being bombarded with accusations that you are lazy and not taking group-work seriously. So yes, the grass is not always greener and it’s important to remember that when making your decision, that neither option will be without it’s issues. With all this being said, for a couple of people I know, a year out or a semester out was the best thing to happen to them and their health, coming back to university in both a better space and with a new perspective on life. Also some jobs are understanding once you let them know what you’re going through,

G. shares her thoughts on finding out that depression doesn’t always go away once you change environments:

“Do not stop adopting this mind-set after university. When I started my grad job, I declared my conditions in the admin stages of starting my job. Depression & anxiety do not always disappear when you change environment, and this shocked me. I felt like leaving university was ending that difficult chapter, but unfortunately not. Declaring my condition has helped me greatly in continuing to cope after university, and my workplace has been just as supportive as my university was. It’s fine to get pissed off when people ask you to “just cheer up”. It’s fine to cry (I have cried in front of nearly every tutor I have ever had, and now my boss too, erg). It is fine to feel like shit. Just don’t let yourself feel like shit for too long before you or someone else gets you some kind of support.” – G

Unfortunately, not all work environments are as understanding as G’s, here is M’s story:

Ok so, I was afraid of being labelled with the ‘depression’ title. A young, black, ambitious mother. Risky. I was terrified that they may take my child and also that I would be stigmatised with the depression tag. I went through A LOT whilst in my final year of uni. I lost my mum a couple of months before my final year exams. Multiple assignments & dissertation not even started.  I also was having issues with the father of my child. So emotional I was in bits. Mentally I was dead. Physically I was fighting through. Luckily I made it and I exceeded both my own and tutors expectations. I got the qualifications I required for my new job.
The company, the largest privately owned company in the U.K. turned out to be my worst nightmare. I opened up to my manager about things I had gone through. Expressing how one thinks so irrationally whilst down in the dumps. He opened up to me too about his wife. I didn’t feel threatened or judged by him at the time. However months later, in a meeting with HR this same manager used the information I had given to him against me. He had a duty of care, well so says that company’s policy. He failed me. He didn’t even try to assist me with finding help. Yes, I was doing so independently but he truly just didn’t care.
As down as I was, apparently he saw me as a threat and he was willing to use slander to get me out of my role.  That threw me all the way back down. I felt so defeated and fed up but as I had done before, I just kept going. My rationale was that my child doesn’t deserve to suffer all because of my current state of mangled emotions and mental state. My managers words of ‘As a woman you just have to pull yourself together’ resonated in my ears for the best part of 6 months. – M
A change of environment can be a healthy distraction but it also can be an extremely unhealthy one, see how L’s experience joining her universities ACS proved an issue:

Second year of university: that’s when the happiness disappeared. I got fed up with the way that I acted anti-social during my first year, so I decided to join my university’s ACS team. Unfortunately, that didn’t go to well and drama started; so I left. And went back to my anti-social ways. I just wanted to be away from the drama and focus on what I really went there for, which was for my degree. Again, having a weird behaviour by acting a bit lonely, being surrounded by negative energy and suddenly stopped praying. Stop paying my tithe. Just having this “I don’t care” attitude. And that got worst during my 2nd term. I became extremely unhappy. Which was something that I’ve been going through for a very long time but it was always “on and off”. But this time, it was just worst. I woke up crying, I went to bed crying. One moment I was smiling, the next 5 minutes I was angry. I didn’t like who I was, what I was going to be, how I looked, I didn’t believe in myself – I just literally hated every single bit of me. I felt weak and useless. And the more I went through that, the more I hated myself. I kept asking “why are you acting like this?”, while I had tears dripping on my face, clothes wet as if I had a bucket of water thrown at me, in my bed with lights switched off.

So that’s it for today, the next post within this series we will discuss more important points to remember about dealing with depression at university.

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