The importance of acknowledging mental health

In November 2020, I had a breakdown.

I was a postgraduate student when the news broke that Covid-19 was worse than we thought, resulting in all classes going online. We all thought it would last a few weeks, have a few awkward Zoom interactions, then it would all be over and remembered as a strange but interesting time. Fast forward 2 years, and it’s only now the class of 2020 is finally having its graduation ceremony. Exams had finished come June 2020, which meant from July to September, all postgraduate students were now focusing on dissertations. I was looking forward to it, as I had aspirations to go further with my education and pursue a PhD, with the master’s dissertation being my opportunity to build the foundations of my future thesis.

In our first meeting, my supervisor informed me that I had spent too long researching. Stress increased, along with anxiety. As time went on, my chest was feeling heavier, I was having headaches and I was snapping at my family and friends whenever they asked about the dissertation. I was feeling terrible but told myself it was fine, “all part of uni”. I eventually wrote up my research, sent it off and awaited my next meeting.

“Is this just your plan?”. I was so embarrassed, I wish I said: “No, this is just over a month’s work that I worked hard on, and I’d appreciate it if you recognised that”. But instead, I nodded my head and agreed that my work wasn’t good enough. I let slip my mental health had been getting bad; “It’s natural to feel like that with the dissertation, get your head down and do your best”. The meeting ended, and I was feeling more lost than ever. I had under a month to restructure my dissertation, write it up, analyse, send it off and pray I get a pass. I’d started comfort-eating a lot, I wasn’t sleeping and I was crying most days – somehow still convincing myself this was all fine.

What followed was more meetings and more bad news, which all culminated in an extension on my dissertation from the university. I remember describing how I was feeling to my mum at this point: “There are two sides fighting in my head, and both are telling me I’m doing terrible”. She was rightly concerned, as was the rest of my family; just not me, who was still convinced I could power through. In the last meeting, I had with my supervisor, I received the worst possible feedback; “you’ll most likely fail”. Just typing that out makes me stop and relive the experience of crying on camera, while my supervisor tried desperately to glean something positive from my work.

And then, it happened. I had my breakdown.

I couldn’t face the world. I was sobbing, curled up, swearing at myself for “being a failure”, shaking like mad. I couldn’t breathe, and quite honestly, at that moment I wasn’t sure I wanted to. I was completely broken, and couldn’t go on. My family were concerned, with phone calls flooding in across the globe from concerned aunts and uncles. I couldn’t speak, I was either crying or screaming into a pillow about how my life was over, how I would never get a job and I was no use to the world.

If it weren’t for my mum pushing through, and convincing me to speak with the local NHS doctors – who were and still are amazing, I must say – I wouldn’t be here to write this. They got me on Sertraline, which I still take to this day, and continue to support me with my mental health. I quit my master’s, and decided the best thing was to focus solely on my health; a decision I’ve not regretted at all.

So please, if you take anything anyway, let it be this: at the first sign of your mental health taking a dive, address it, speak up, don’t let it fester or think you’re “being a burden”. You’re far from it, the people in your life who love you will want you to tell them that something’s wrong, and you need help to get through it.

* Jack Meredith is a Welsh Liberal Democrat member.