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Student blogs: Considering a postgraduate degree when you have a mental illness

Those who are a good chunk into their final year of their undergraduate degree, or perhaps even earlier, are probably starting to think about whether or not they want to continue onto postgraduate studies. There are many things to consider when looking into continuing your university education: money, accommodation, which course suits your needs and whether you really want to stay in academia. Something a lot of students will be thinking about is mental illness.

Mental illness is an obstacle a lot of students come up against during their studies. Many students experience symptoms of mental ill health such as depression and anxiety during their undergraduate degree due to the stress of increased difficulty in assignments, the pressure and occasional disappointment in socialising with new people and the need to perform at a high level for both themselves and others. The pressures change as students move through their undergraduate degree and they change when students move into postgraduate degrees, but the effects – and the potential for the effects – stay the same.

During my second year of my undergraduate degree at Keele University I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. It took me almost a full semester, or longer, to realise why I was feeling the way I was. In a way I was lucky, as I was already dealing with physical illnesses and already had an idea of the services that were available to students and contacted the Health and Wellbeing team to speak with someone on their counselling team. The university also had a GP on campus, which I was able to easily access to discuss medication. As I gradually got better through the rest of my second year and through my third and final year, I began to doubt my plans to continue on to a Master’s degree. If I couldn’t handle my undergrad, how was I going to handle a postgrad?

Fast-forward a few months and here I am in the middle of my first semester on a Master’s degree at Keele University. I spent a while doubting myself – not my academic abilities, but my ability to keep up with the good progress I was making with my mental health. How would I continue to cope with the increasing pressures of academia and performing to ever increasing standards? I forgot, for a little while, about the little and big things that had helped me through while I was at my lowest and still studying. I forgot that the same services for undergraduates – such as the Health and Wellbeing department and the Disability Support team – are also available for postgraduate students. I forgot that just because I’d been through university once, it didn’t mean the university was going to dismiss any problems I had the second time around. I can still, and do, make use of extenuating circumstances and speak with my tutors, my friends and my family.

If you are thinking about continuing your education and you suffer from mental illness, or even just symptoms without a name, only you can know if you’re ready to keep going or if you’re ready to leave. If you want to apply for postgraduate study and you are still unsure about whether or not you will cope, remember that all the services your university offers are available to talk through the kind of support you could receive in the future. Keep your family and friends close and talk with your tutors, or plan to do so when you start in September. Your priority should be your health – don’t forget that you can defer a year if you aren’t ready.

Sophie is an English graduate; she recently began her Creative Writing MA at Keele University. She also writes book reviews for an independent publishing company, North Staffordshire Press.

Note: 'Student Blog' pieces highlight the student perspective on issues relating to ProtectED. Consequently, this article reflects the views of the author and not ProtectED.

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