When Charlotte Jones first stepped into her university’s gym two years ago, she had no idea that exercise would be the remedy to the depression and anxiety she’d been living with.
Charlotte experienced mental health difficulties following a series of personal issues which coincided with the pressure of her final year at the University of Bristol, where she was studying Neuroscience.
The 23-year-old is shared her story on World Mental Health Day [10 October] to give hope to others who are going through a tough period, particularly whilst at University.
Charlotte had experienced low-level mental ill-health before coming to university in 2014, but was coping well. This was the case until her final year when her brother fell ill, a family member passed away and her relationship broke down.
At the same time, Charlotte was having to manage her dissertation project and the looming prospect of her final exams.
The cruel irony of her course teaching her how the brain works in situations of stress and overwhelm, whilst living the experiences first-hand, was not lost on her.
Charlotte said: “Everything got on top of me. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and was prescribed medication aimed at helping this about eight weeks into my final year. I was feeling really overwhelmed and behind.
“I ended up writing my dissertation in four days and then realised I had no time left to revise for my final year exams. By March, I decided to defer my finals so that I could have longer to focus on them.”
Although she had a whole year to focus on her exams, Charlotte knew she needed to get better first and reached out to the University’s Counselling Service.
She soon spotted a leaflet for Healthy Minds – a programme run by the University’s Sport Exercise and Health Department (SEH) that provides mentored physical activity opportunities to improve student mental health.
Participants of the programme are guided by a professional fitness mentor and have free access to facilities during their engagement in the initiative, to support them in finding a way of being active that feels right for them. They receive a bespoke user-led activity plan which aims to foster new skills and interests, with the outcome of promoting recovery and better enabling them to stay well in the future.
Despite never having set foot in a gym before, Charlotte enrolled in the summer of 2017 and has never looked back: “I really didn’t think I would get along with it. I have asthma and had never been sporty in my life, let alone entered a gym. I had to be shown how to use all the equipment.
“Despite my reservations, I soon came to love it [exercise] and having regular catch-ups [with a mentor] alongside the physical goals was invaluable. I started coming off my medication eight weeks into the programme. I cannot imagine not going to the gym now and feel much more positive about the future.”
Charlotte went on to secure a paid role with SEH as a Student Sport Development Coordinator, helping the team to develop Healthy Minds so more students can benefit.
She was went on to pass her exams confidently and graduated from the university in July 2018 with a high 2.1.
Charlotte’s advice for students in a similar situation:
- “As everyone says, do not be afraid to seek support and try new things if one thing isn’t helping. For example, medication can help many people but wasn’t the solution for me.
- Try and get into a routine. I found the lack of routine associated with university in general to catalyse my depression, and only set on the road to recovery when the gym helped establish a regular routine. Try and spend nine to five in University, even if it’s just the library – sometimes it’s better to treat it as a full-time job.
- Be honest with your doctors and counsellors and the University so they can accommodate you with things like extenuating circumstances to give you extensions etc.
- Be careful with alcohol and caffeine consumption.
- Always, always talk to someone – whether it’s your department, counsellor, a family member or housemate.
Helpful contacts for advice and support:
Bristol Nightline – student confidential listening and information service
Off The Record – Mental Health support for people aged 11-25 living in Bristol
Changes Bristol – Peer Support Groups running in Bristol
Bristol MIND – mental health resource for people in Bristol and surrounding areas