I think it goes without saying that it’s really important that stigma and nastiness surrounding mental health disorders is eliminated as much as possible from our society. But then there’s the other side to it – the insensitive side, not in a nasty way, but in an unhelpful and potentially damaging way.
When I was in my first year at university, I lived with a girl who like the majority of us had moved quite a long distance away from home. She suffered with depression beforehand and struggled with university much more than she had anticipated. Therefore, she decided to leave and return home after just two months.
The problem she had was the rent. We lived in the most expensive accommodation at our university, and were under contract to pay the £120 a week until the end of the academic year – and she just couldn’t afford to pay this after the student loans would inevitably stop.
So before she left, she went to speak with someone from the university to get some advice on the best way to go forward. She wanted information on whether there were extenuating circumstances to get out of the contract, or any way the situation could be made easier for her. You could tell she wasn’t OK. For her at that time, the only option was to leave.
The response she got from the university team in my opinion was disgusting and it still infuriates me to this day:
The only way you can get out of paying your rent, is by proving to the university that you are a danger to yourself or others.
Effectively, that day the advice team told someone that was depressed and feeling suicidal at the time (whilst also financially struggling), that the only way they could get what they needed was to act in an unsafe way.
If you felt suicidal and someone told you that the only way to get what you needed was to be a danger to yourself or others – what would you do?
It’s asking for a tragedy to happen.
They weren’t being nasty or stigmatising mental health. They probably weren’t even trying to be insensitive. They were just following the guidelines on what the university say in regards to when it becomes acceptable to break the contract for accommodation.
But my point is, you can’t say that to someone. There had to be a more tactical way of getting that information across. I’m not saying they need to walk on egg shells around people with mental health disorders – of course they don’t – but a bit of sensitivity can make the world of difference.
Better training needs to go into these areas of expertise; especially in an educational environment where the staff have a duty of care. It’s disgusting that these things can be said and that they can get away with it, because it really could have had devastating results.
There were 12 of us that lived in that house. 3 of us were open about suffering from some sort of depressive disorder, but of course there may have been others that suffered silently. That’s a high statistic of people that may go to the university at some point or another for similar advice, and so it really needs to be better.
You’ll be happy to hear that the girl I lived with did not take their advice, but did leave shortly after and as far as I know, is still very happy with that decision.