Content Warning: This article contains references to suicidal thought and other mental health issues. Please be aware before reading. This series also contains to-the-point references to a chronic bowel illness.
Part 3: Universities and Health Services
I was in my second year of university when I got diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. I had been suffering for the entirety of the first term, and at the beginning of the second term I was admitted to hospital and officially diagnosed. I was nervous. There were people around me with severe health issues that had been struggling as a result of lack of help from the university. Despite my good experience, there is still immense work to be done when it comes to the general university approach towards students struggling with their health.
I got extremely lucky as my department were phenomenal. Deadlines were extended indefinitely, lecturers sought me out to check up on me throughout the rest of my degree, and the head of department made it clear that I would receive every bit of help I possibly needed. The Disability and Dyslexia Services gave me tools to record lectures, extra time in my exams and a permanent seat by the door (should I need to run to a toilet). I was supported, and never felt like I had to fight for my voice to be heard. This, I can clearly say, is a privilege that the majority of students across the UK don’t get when it comes to their illnesses.
I could ramble on for pages about how hard I worked to catch up on my essays, continual missed lectures and all of the office hours I went to. There’s no point. I worked extremely hard to catch up, that’s all you need to know. It was difficult, but made achievable through the support that I had. My hospital discharge letter was like a key to get into the exclusive club that is getting support from your university. What about when a student is suffering mentally? What about when a student is undiagnosed? What about when there is no magic piece of paper to say that you are suffering? Heads are turned, attention diverted, and the student is left stranded.
Universities in the UK love to play the part of ‘inclusive institution’ for the sake of their image. But when a student needs something that is difficult, awkward, or expensive, they can’t help but turn a blind eye. Only when the media pick up a story and someone is forced to apologise will anything ever be done. Cut a big chunk out of these tuition fees for the principal (a man that we have never seen except through a picture on a weekly condescending newsletter) but god forbid a ramp is built for someone who can’t reach their allocated accommodation! Unthinkable to invest in mental health services despite suicides and psychotic breaks! Absolutely preposterous to suggest making campus more accessible in any way besides a single gender neutral toilet the size of a box room that’s then used as a shining example of just how inclusive we are!
I won’t undermine how great the support and accommodations that I received were. They were incredible. I’m just aware that this is absolutely not a universal experience. Mentally, physically, and emotionally there is suffering on university campuses throughout the UK. Students nation-wide feel alone in their experiences. “Help is available!” they shout, without noting that it’s tucked away inside a building miles away that you’ve never been in, barely signposted and when you reach it you didn’t bring the documents you were expected to. But the tiny ‘health services’ page on the website says you can just drop in, and the receptionist was really blunt, and now you’re put off from ever seeking help again. It needs to be made accessible.
I was lucky enough to still be fairly close to home, so I could use my normal hospital and GP. Again, this is not a universal experience. I am lucky, I am privileged. There is a struggle happening beyond our comprehension, and it’s being ignored for the sake of blissful ignorance and money that gets spent on the wrong things.
Photo courtesy of Rishabh Agarwal