Teenage mental health

I first started struggling with my mental health at age 13, in my second year of senior school. I had to learn not only how to live my day to day life with my mental health but also how to get through my education.

I battled hard throughout the years, having panic attacks at school and struggling with low attendance. I managed to thrive at GCSE because I was so determined to make it. At A-Level however, battling through all those years of education on top of living with various mental health disorders had taken so much of a toll on me that in the first term of my second year I had to drop out. 

Having experience with mental health and education, it has become something that I am incredibly passionate about. My parents got the back end of my ranting about the state of our education system and the lack of consideration for the mental health of the student. Unfortunately, mental health in teenagers is something rapidly declining, something, that in part can be attributed to education.

I am lucky in that, despite the fact that I could not achieve my A-Levels, this October I have started a Psychology BSc (Hons) with the Open University. Going back to education I have had to take deep consideration into looking after my mental health whilst studying. In part, this is the decision to stay at home, this way I have people around me who can support me and keep an eye out for me.

I have not always been one to take advice, even if it would be best for me, so, I am not going to give you a list of things that you should do in order to maintain your mental health whilst studying. Instead, these are the things that I am aspiring to do in order to maintain my mental health over the next 3 years of study:

Celebrate the small wins

I have a habit of focusing on all the bad things that are happening. When you live with bipolar disorder often it can feel like things are always going wrong. I am often like this when its comes to education as well, stress can become overwhelming and it stops becoming enjoyable. So, instead of focusing on all of the bad things I am going to be proud of every achievement no matter how small.

Utilise the good days

When I am having a depressive episode, I struggle to engage and therefore, working for hours on end focusing on complex psychological theories is unlikely to be something that I will be able to engage in. On the other hand, often when I am having a hypomanic episode I feel inspired to do all manner of different things, although hypomania is not something that I find enjoyable, it may mean that I am able to get work done and may prevent me from doing more dangerous things whilst experiencing an episode. The good thing about the course that I have chosen is that I am able to manage my own time and therefore can choose to use good days in order to lighten my load for harder days.

Choose study locations carefully

I have spent years studying at home, throughout my GCSEs and my AS Levels I did all of my revision and homework in bed. Despite the fact that I have been repeatedly told that I shouldn’t be working in the same place as I am sleeping I continued on unsure of how to balance my mental health and study. However, this year I am finally taking the advice, I have an actual desk set up and aspirations to study outside (in the summer) or in cafe’s on the train. Anywhere expect my bed!

Have a good study routine

As someone who lives with bipolar disorder I often struggle with a boom and bust attitude to work which can make things really stressful when you have a very large workload. In order to try and help myself be consistent I have made myself a set schedule for doing my work, this hopefully should ensure that I don’t end up having 20 hours of work to do in one day.

Have a good sleep routine

Although education is important, your mental and physical health is even more so. I have a habit of ignoring my need to sleep in order to fulfil my perfectionist drive to achieve everything. It is well known that lack of sleep can have really negative impacts on your mental health, for me I often find it's a trigger for me to have a hypomanic episode. Therefore, no matter how tempting it is to work until 3am I have to put my mental health first and need to keep to a healthy sleep pattern whether I still have work to do or not.

Knowing myself its unlikely that I will be able to do all of these things perfectly (no matter how much my brain tells me I should) but at least I can aspire to these things in order to help myself balance both my mental and educational health.

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Together, we can support the person behind the diagnosis of bipolar.