Why I wish I’d been honest with my school about my mental health
It can be scary telling your school about mental health problems, but it can also help them support you. Maria, 18, shares her experience.
As this term ends in such bizarre conditions, the thought of returning back to school of any form in September might seem distant. However, for some of us who struggle with our mental health, the uncertainty about what we’ll be going back to - and not being able to prepare ourselves for whatever that might look like – may hang over us this summer.
No matter what level of education you’re at or how far you are in your recovery process, I think it is important – now more than ever - to be honest about your mental health.
When in May two years ago I found out that I got a scholarship to a boarding school, it was a dream come true. But the dream was over as soon as it came to filling the medical information form, which asked me to list any medications I was taking.
A few years before, I was diagnosed with depression. Thanks to antidepressants and regular therapy sessions, I got myself to a very good place, never actually having to let my old school know about my condition.
But now I faced a dilemma. I was afraid that admitting to having suffered from mental health problems and still being in the process of recovery, I would be denied the scholarship. I thought about keeping the medication in my room so that I wouldn’t have to register it, but I was worried what would happen if they found it during a room-check. In the end, my mum and I decided that my condition was stable enough for me to stop taking my medication before the start of the school year.
The results were perhaps unsurprising. A combination of the new environment, living away from home and not having the support of medication caused me to feel worse and worse. In addition, my therapist was unable to continue our sessions online. It felt like in a few months I had sacrificed everything I had worked for for two years.
After the Christmas break, I went back on meds. Registering them in my school’s medical office, I had to explain to the nurse why I had not been taking them since the start of the term, and why I hadn’t told them about my depression.
I told her all about my concerns over the scholarship, and how I felt embarrassed that I was not able to control my own feelings. She looked me in the eye and said, “I am so sorry you had to feel that way. We are all here to help you, not to shame you. Believe me, you’re not the only one here who needs this kind of support.”
These words couldn’t be more true. So if you are in a similar situation, please bear this in mind.
Tips when thinking about how much to tell your school
Here are some things I learnt from my experience, which you may find helpful if you’re in a similar situation.
- Be honest about your struggles. Mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of, so there’s no need to hide them – you wouldn’t hide allergies or other health issues. If you ever have to fill out a medical information form at school, remember it is there for a reason, to provide you with sufficient help and not to humiliate you.
- Talk to your school nurse. If you are still concerned about sharing delicate information, talk to someone in person first. A school nurse or psychologist can help ease your worries and you may fit it easier to talk to them as opposed to your teachers or tutors.
- Remember your school can help. If the school knows about your situation they can be more understanding and provide you with additional help, like counselling sessions.
- Don’t rush ending medical treatment! Discuss it carefully with your doctor. If they have any objections, listen to them. They cannot make you continue against your will, but they really know what they’re doing so you should prioritise what they have to say when making your decision. Don't rush to make up your mind - especially if there is a major change in your lifestyle coming. I can’t stress this point enough.
- Remember you are not the only one. Mental health problems are common. People that pass you by every day might be dealing with the same problems and you have no idea. We’re all in this together!
Author: Maria, 18
For more information, tips on looking after yourself, and advice on where to get support, have a look at our find help page.