‘I’d down vodka and selfharm to escape the stress’
For Amanda Kelly, 26, life spiralled out of control when she moved to uni in September 2010
to study adult nursing. She says, “Everyone kept telling me how much fun uni would be, but the reality was so different for me. The course was intense. Every day from 9am to 4pm, we were assigned work placements in a hospital. We also had a mountain of coursework. At just 18, it was a shock to the system. I’d never lived away from home before and I began to feel home sick.
“When I did socialise, I’d down several vodka Red Bulls to escape the stress. Sometimes I’d throw up, then just carry on. A few months into my first year, I met Chris, a fellow student. I skipped lectures to spend more time with him. I was struggling at uni and looking for excuses not to go. My personal tutor seemed uninterested and, whenever we had a rare one-toone, he didn’t seem to listen to my worries. It wasn’t until after I left uni that I found out they had guidance counsellors, but no one told me that at the time.
“I felt really low and started drinking more to lift my mood. I’d have a bottle of wine to myself at home every night and ate junk food. I quickly went from a size 12 to a 16 and became depressed. My parents had no idea as I avoided going home at the weekends. I confided in Chris, who encouraged me to see a doctor, but the GP didn’t offer any counselling or medication.
“I fell so behind that I had to retake the first year. But without any guidance, things got worse. I even began to self-harm. Then, a few months later, I broke down in front of a teacher and told her I couldn’t do it any more. She was sympathetic, but didn’t offer any support, and encouraged me to leave, as I’d fallen too far behind. I was dreading telling my parents I’d quit my course, but they were brilliant and, in June 2013, I moved back home.
But my drinking and depression escalated. I’d never suffered mental health issues before uni, but I felt like a failure. I got a job as a receptionist where I’d work just eight hours a week. Every morning, I’d pretend to my parents that I was going to work or looking for another job, then go to the pub. Then in February 2016, I began having suicidal thoughts. It was then I realised I needed help and told my GP, who referred me on to a homebased detox programme for two weeks. I had medication to help with alcohol withdrawal and a recovery nurse checked on me every day.
“After two weeks, I had a much clearer frame of mind. I knew I’d never drink again. I overhauled my eating habits and, within two years, lost 5st, going from 14st to 9st, and I now feel the best I ever have. I’m working as a nursing assistant and I love my job. I know that if I’d received more support at uni, I’d be much further in my career, and my life would be very different. It’s so important for unis to offer mental health services. It’s a huge adjustment that can affect the rest of your life.”
Amanda at uni and (right) now