• Mental health conditions come in many different forms

  • John Servante offers a personal account of suffering from depression at university and shares some advice

  • If you're a student or parent and want to find out more about therapy, check out our directory here

“I can't be the only thing that makes you happy anymore".

Those were the last words my ex-girlfriend said to me just three weeks in to starting my degree at university. What was she talking about? I wasn't unhappy. What an odd thing to say. She made it sound like I was hiding from something. I wasn't hiding from anything… was I?

At university, I was formally diagnosed with mental health conditions. You see since about the age of 12, I had battled with depression and anxiety. But I didn't admit I had any problems: when I was a teenager, I couldn't handle going to clubs because I would suffer what I now recognise as panic attacks, I had a great deal of social anxiety, I was very self-loathing and depressed and I often wrote about committing suicide in journals. But, I told myself it was natural to feel suicidal.

I had to come to terms with how much I hated myself and how brutally depressed I was. It wasn't easy – only after a lot of self-harm, a lot of drinking and suicide attempts did I finally accept that I needed to change things. It didn't help that there's a lot of prejudice against people with mental health conditions, especially from young university students who just wanted to have fun. But if I hadn't sought help, I know I wouldn't be alive today.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in males aged 18-25, and I could have easily been a part of that statistic.

The hardest part of addressing a mental health condition is to admit that you have one.

Fortunately, I'm still here! The hardest part of addressing a mental health condition is to admit that you have one, but once you start your journey things can and will get better. If anxiety, compulsions, misery, invasive thoughts or if anything else is regularly having an adverse affect on your life, it's time to address it.

Think of mental health conditions like any other illness: if you had a sore throat every day for weeks, you'd visit a doctor. Similarly, if you hear voices every day telling you to hurt yourself, you should talk to your doctor about it. Many people feel ashamed or scared of mental illnesses – they think that they're signs of weakness or that they're 'weird'.

The truth is that they're very common: one in four people in any given year will suffer with a mental illness (most commonly depression). In fact, the World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030, mental illness will be the largest cause of disease burden in the world. And some truly inspirational people have suffered with mental illnesses, such as Stephen Fry, Kurt Cobain and Winston Churchill.

Even super masculine 'strong' people like American quarterback Terry Bradshaw aren't immune to mental illness. In short, having a mental illness is as accurate an indication of how 'strong' you are as height is an indication of how clever you are. So what can you do if you think that you or someone you know is suffering with a mental illness? Well, there's a lot of help out there. Your first step should be to talk to your doctor. On top of that, there are many avenues for different forms of therapy through IAPT – an NHS initiative set up to help you get access to therapies.

Be honest with your friends, family and peers.

If you're a university student like me, your university should have a counselling service and student support service that you can access, as well as a welfare officer at your student's union. There's also a lot of help available on the internet through charities such as Mind and Depression Alliance, and right here on Welldoing.

Of course, if you're feeling very self destructive and need to talk to someone urgently, you can talk to someone on the Samaritans hotline or (again, if you're at university like me) Nightline. My personal advice? Be honest with your friends, family and peers. It will liberate and empower you for one, and secondly it begins to build a support network to help you through the process of getting better. If anyone isn't supportive, it just means that they've got a lot of growing up and learning to do. Ignore them. After all, you wouldn't treat someone with a cold or a disability or a missing limb with anything but empathy and compassion, would you?

Mental illnesses are no different. A mental illness is just your brain, but with a cold!

Further reading

Student mental health: can mindfulness reduce stress?

Student mental health: what can parents do from afar?

Breathing techniques for depression

Why do university students see counsellors?