*Trigger Warning – sensitive topics discussed in this article*
As University students, we are a group that shows a higher incidence of mental health conditions in comparison to the average population. I probably don’t need to remind you, but we are accumulating a huge debt to pay for our education – which likely doesn’t help our mental state. Of course, it is not simply education we are receiving; resources at University include the use of advanced technological equipment, study spaces and access to journal articles, clubs and societies at the Union, and support through the University’s Enabling Services.
The Enabling Services website states that it exists to support ‘students with disabilities, mental health problems or specific learning difficulties.’ As a resource, it is indispensable. The benefits of its existence far outweigh the limitations, and it is not my intention to needlessly criticize the service. However, that does not mean it is devoid of flaws, and I would like to tell you about how Enabling Services failed me.
The walk down to the Enabling Services reception desk may be familiar to you. You make your way into the cavernous ‘Student Services’ (Building 37) and wonder if you are in the right place. Spotting the correct sign, you wait awkwardly in front of the Enabling Services receptionist, unsure whether to approach her or wait until she calls you. If you are there for an urgent mental health concern, you may be feeling a bit rough – you probably had to work up a lot of courage to make it here today. The receptionist points you towards the dimly lit corner that is the ‘Drop-In Services’ waiting room, where there is essentially no way of determining when it is your turn.
Depression at University was not a new experience for me. Over the three years of my undergraduate degree, I had learnt to understand and manage each new challenge it presented. In January 2017, though, I reached a crisis point. I suppose the illness had built up over the months preceding this year, but I never imagined that things could get worse. Things, as they have a habit of doing now and then, did get worse.
Late January, I attempted suicide – I contacted First Support, who saw me at short notice. My First Support adviser was excellent and I have no complaints against them, but they were not a crisis service and couldn’t offer me the immediate support I needed. Luckily, I had been on the waiting list for counselling services since early January. Since it had been almost a month, my housemates also went to Drop-In on my behalf so they could explain the urgency of the situation. Staff were helpful and offered support for my friends should they need it, and urged them to take care of their own mental state – however, they did so without offering an alternative source that could take care of me. At this point, my friends were the closest support I had. In my already poor mental state, with an authoritative figure confirming my fears that I was a burden on my friends – well, it broke my heart.
It wasn’t until early March that I finally got a counselling appointment from Enabling Services. I had also been trying other resources in the meantime, and had been to the GP and other counselling services – they had not been particularly helpful. There was nowhere else to go. In February, I had made another suicide attempt, and my housemates and I had been to ‘Drop-In’ again, where staff spent more time speaking to me about the welfare of my friends than mine. I still had to wait till March for any help from Enabling Services.
I arrived at the counselling appointment with my last ounce of hope. The counselor seemed to have absolutely no information about my mental health history. I recounted the past few months to her, and explained that I felt suicidal. After about twenty minutes discussing my past experiences, the counselor asked whether I knew how many sessions I might need – “Would one be enough? I can offer up to five. There is a really long waiting list.”
If you are familiar with depression, you might be aware that guilt is often a large part of it. When feeling so low, it had already taken so much convincing – by myself and others – for me to seek help; I believed that other people needed it more. To then be reminded that there was a long waiting list made me feel so much worse – and anyway, hadn’t I waited my turn?
The next day, in my desperation, I attempted suicide again. This time, I took myself seriously, and have since decided to suspend my studies and focus entirely on my treatment.
As a disclaimer, I want to emphasize that this is only my personal experience. My aim is not to deter anyone from seeking help from Enabling Services should they need it. Many people have likely had positive experiences with them, and any help is better than none. However, I think that there are areas which need improvement, particularly in terms of immediate care strategies and internal communication. If the Union could collaborate regularly with Enabling Services to decide what services students need, I believe that they would be able to offer a more effective service.