I struggled with mental health issues at university, graduating only made things worse

Grads of the UK is an Instagram project and series of articles run by graduates, for graduates. We are documenting what being a millennial in 2017 is really like, with honest stories about life after university. 

Every week we hand over our Instagram account to a new grad and share their unique story here on GradTouch. This week Fiona is taking over. Fiona finished her degree at the Academy of Contemporary Music in 2014 and now works as an Administrative Assistant. 

You can read the story Fiona has written below, and see more daily insights into her graduate life by following @gradsoftheuk on Instagram. 

 

 

Fiona:

One in four university students suffer from mental health issues. Throughout my time at the Academy of Contemporary Music as an undergraduate, I was one of them.

Uni is a stressful time for everyone. For me, it wasn’t really the workload or that I wasn’t enjoying my course, I just literally couldn’t make myself get out of bed. On top of that was the difficulty to keep in touch with friends from school, a break up with my long-term boyfriend, and a series of prescribed medications that weren’t right for me. I found myself spiralling downhill by the time my degree came to an end.

 

The realisation that I would be leaving university to live with my family, with a 2:2 I was miserable about and no idea what I wanted to do next, only worsened things.

 

I was overweight, alone, and all my friends seemed to be doing four-year degrees with years abroad or had managed to get good jobs right away. The transition to graduate life was not one I was ready for, and the remainder of 2014 was split between unemployment and jobs I really hated. By the time the Christmas period got going in the year I finished uni, things had started to look better. I took on a temporary position at Game, which I absolutely loved. I spent my time talking to different people each day and working with people my age who were interested in similar things to me, while managing to fundraise for a trip to South Africa with the International Citizen Service.

 

 

Helping people less fortunate than myself helped me to put things into perspective, and the incredible people I met there gave me some hope that I would be ok when I got home.

The time following the trip, however, marked one of the hardest times in my, and many of my friends' lives so far, as we lost our friend Alexandra. We had met her volunteering in South Africa; she died in a tragic car accident just weeks after the trip. 

 

In the months following my time abroad and Alexandra's passing, I was more miserable than ever. Meanwhile, I was still unemployed, and felt ashamed that I hadn’t found a job at all. It seemed like all my coursemates were doing exciting things in the music industry, as I had initially hoped to when working on my Music Business degree. Even my own tutor said to me: “Why the hell did you go back home after uni?” and my only answer was that I couldn’t afford to stay.

 

Eventually, the Job Centre told me about an eight-week placement at a company in the local industrial estate. After interview, I was offered a place and quickly learnt about working in an office and what was involved in supporting management roles. I’d barely finished the placement when I was hired to work for the company I’m at now.

 

Here, the factory makes electrical switchgear to go in transformers, whilst I work to organise transport, schedules, dispatch and certification of goods. I’ve gone from starting my first day knowing nothing about the sector, to now being able to read complicated drawings and identify products just by looking at them.

 

 

Finding a full-time, permanent job was a real turning point for me and my mental health.

It’s helped me set a routine, given me a reasonable income and enabled me to get a good start to a career. I’ve also been writing for a blog called Musicology in my spare time. Initially, when I began studying music, I wanted to be a session musician, but now I really enjoy picking apart and analysing music. Being able to say: “I’m on the guest list” for gigs is a huge perk too.

 

I do still have days where I struggle and it’s important to remember that, just because you have a few areas of your life on track, mental illness doesn't just automatically go away. There have been many occasions where I've been asked: “Why can't you just cheer up?” when it's really not as simple as that.

 

In November 2016, I made an attempt on my life for the third time, having made two suicide attempts as a student. This served to remind me that, no matter how good something looks from the outside, you might still feel awful inside. A friend of mine recently confessed that, despite her high-paying job and seemingly amazing life, she hates what she does and has been grappling with her feelings about it for a while. Another told me she too felt left behind after university, having struggled like I did to find a job.

 

These conversations showed me several things: I’m not alone. And it’s really important to have someone you trust to talk about your feelings. But also, just how prevalent mental health issues are. It’s likely you know more people than you think who are struggling, but even in 2017, mental illness comes with a stigma and is not helped by the situation many grads find themselves in after university.

 

 

I don't think life for graduates is getting any easier, and I don't think my story is in any way unique.

Competition for grad schemes is tough, and internships often don’t pay well enough to be a viable option for many of us. The cost of living is continually increasing and many graduates are unable to get on the property ladder. Many of us can't imagine ever really being on the property ladder. When you have peers who are doing well and broadcasting it on social media, the shame and dissatisfaction that comes with living at home or being in 'mediocre' employment is heightened.

 

Sometimes, as a young adult with mental health issues, I struggle to picture my future. Sometimes I get incredibly jealous of my friends who all appear to be doing wonderful things – two friends are getting married in October, one of my friends has just had a baby and asked me to be godmother, and one friend has an amazingly well paid job and gets to take wonderful holidays in exotic places. But I also have to remember that my friends experience their own difficulties too, they have their down days, and sometimes they probably struggle to picture their futures too.  

 

Fiona is running the @gradsoftheuk Instagram until Saturday 15th April. 

 

 

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