“In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, for I had lost the right path.” – Dante Alighieri

How do people feel at university? Well, that depends on their experience of university.

A positive presentation of university can be: new city, independence, new experiences, new friends, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, and knowledge that will be prove invaluable for later life. What could possibly be negative about university then? Well, it is not unnatural to experience the following:  homesickness, loneliness, wholly bad experiences, no new friends, instead there is an absence of previous friends, and a course one may come to hate.

The essential point I am seeking to make is that it’s not predetermined that you will have a certain experience at university. Art ought to imitate life, not life imitating art. Preconceived notions of what a good university experience constitutes may not come to fruition. Nevertheless, how one feels in relation to an environment is important. How one comes to feel about university will no doubt emanate from the parts that make up the university experience.

It is normally one’s own individual experience of the university which can lead to debilitating moods. My situation was the following: first year was a joy to behold. My course was interesting, and I had developed a strong friendship group with the people I shared residence with. Second year arrives. Specifically, second semester of second year is when difficulty arose. Unfortunately, my student house was robbed whilst I happened to be on a night-out, and my friend died. The abrupt nature of this death perturbed me because it shattered the illusion that whilst at university one becomes invincible. It did not help that it was only a fortnight previous that I spoke to him on the phone, and we discussed the possibility that I would see him at his university.

The result of these two events can only be viewed in relation to the following segment for Styron’s ‘Darkness Visible’:

“Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self – to the mediating intellect – as to verge close to being beyond description. It thus remains nearly incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it in its extreme mode, although the gloom, “the blues” which people go through occasionally and associate with the general hassle of everyday existence are of such prevalence that they do give many individuals a hint of the illness in its catastrophic form.”[1]

The result was that I believe for a brief period I had “the blues” for a prolonged period. That being said, I was still able to function. Second year came to a close, and despite the previous aforementioned two events, I maintained acceptable grades. Then comes third year which viewed fairly, contains a certain amount of stress. A biochemical explanation of depression says that depression is chemically induced amid the neurotransmitters of the brain, probably as a result of systemic stress. The effect is a depletion of the chemicals norepinephrine and serotonin, and the increase of a hormone, cortisol.

To be perfectly candid, third year is stressful. On occasion, this stress led me to over eat, forget to eat, to deprive myself of sleep, to drink excessively, to be antagonistic towards friends and family, and to lose interest in my course. My mood during these stressful periods in my opinion can be viewed similar to this segment from Styron:

“The madness of depression, is generally speaking the antithesis of violence. It is a storm indeed, but a storm of murk. Soon evident are the slowed – down responses, near paralysis, psychic energy throttled close to zero. Ultimately, the body is affected and feels sapped, drained.”[2]

At times I felt drained, alone, and uncomfortable in the daily routine I found myself in. I am not alone in such feelings. Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) revealed that a record 1,180 students who experienced mental health problems left university early in 2014-15, the most recent year in which data was available. It represents a 210% increase from 380 in 2009-10. So, what can we do about this?

At the University of Liverpool, there are numerous services available which can be used if students feel like mental health problems have arisen. There is the Counselling Service, details of which can be found here. There is the Mental Health Advisory Service, details of which can be found here. There is also Brownlow Health, details of which can be found here.

The Counselling Service is located at 14 Oxford Street (Building no 436, ref C4

I found these services useful. Furthermore, at university one can draw understanding from reading other’s words (note: my use of Styron). Such similarities can be useful in understanding how we feel currently. The essential point is that there will no doubt be negatives and positives to one’s university experience. There was with my experience at least. However, it is important to know that there are services available when one happens to experience a negative event.

“And so we came forth, and once again beheld the stars” Dante Alighieri.

The Mental Health Advisory Service (MHAS) offers mental health support to students at the University of Liverpool. The Service is based at the Student Services Centre, Alsop Building (Building no 750, ref E7)

[1] Styron., W., (1991), Darkness Visible, p.7

[2] Styron., W., (1991), Darkness Visible, p.47