Dominique Hegarty, a Literature and Languages student at the University of Kent has just completed her degree with First Class Honours.

Here she shares her experiences of university life with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and talks about raising awareness of the support available for students with anxiety and similar mental health conditions.

“I didn’t come straight to university but chose to do a gap year instead. I’ll be honest, I found A Levels tough and just wasn’t sure if uni was really for me. Following a Careers event at sixth form in Year 13 I found out about volunteering with the charity Project Trust, teaching English as a Foreign Language so went to Cambodia for a year.

I still applied for uni whilst in Sixth Form though and gained a place but deferred for a year. After Cambodia, I still wasn’t entirely sure about what I wanted to do long-term, but uni felt like a natural option. I saw it as a safe space to explore my interests but also to give myself extra time to understand myself and prepare for the future.

The main reason I chose the University of Kent was the course. It was one of the only places where I could combine English and American Literature. The course sounded exciting and there was freedom to choose from a diverse range of modules. Kent also offered a joint honours degree which meant I could study French as well.

My biggest worry about university was coping with the workload and level of study. I thought it was going to be A Level 2.0 but A Levels were so much worse! Once I started my degree, I realised that although it was fast-paced and at a higher level, my mind had to be in fewer places at once. The workload was more manageable, and I had the time to delve deeply into subjects.

Looking back, I started experiencing anxiety, low mood and depression around age 15 but never spoke to anyone about it. I had no idea that a mental health condition is considered as a disability. I didn’t share this information on my UCAS application form as I didn’t recognise it as something you could get support for. It was only in the first year of my degree, with the onset of the pandemic, that a friend with ADHD and anxiety told me about the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA). I looked online and wondered if I was eligible, which I was!

From my second year, I had support put in place. The first was short-term counselling through the Student Support and Well-being team which was really useful. I was also assigned a Mental Health Advisor to discuss what could be provided as part of my Individual Learning Plan (ILP). This included 25% extra time in exams and concessions around attendance and submission dates if my mental health affected my ability to study. Through the DSA I was given a Specialist Mentor. We met weekly to discuss academic progress and mental well-being, and how to manage and study at the same time. I also received a laptop with specialist software and apps already installed. All of this alleviated some of the pressure and allowed me to study more effectively.

I’d say my biggest challenges at university have been the pandemic and strikes! But I think all students experienced challenges there. In my first year, I struggled with the skill of writing academically. However, talking to seminar leaders and lecturers really helped. They had so much time for me and my questions and were willing to spend time on my development. Getting the work/life balance was also a skill I had to learn. I kept putting too much pressure on myself. It was only in my final year that I realised I was less stressed and more productive when I spent time on my social life too.

There are so many highlights from throughout my degree, particularly forming close friendships with those on my course. We have grown together both personally and academically and I have formed some of my first adult friendships. As part of my degree, I lived in Switzerland for a year and was only 30 miles away from my closest friend. Sharing that experience together was unforgettable. I’d also say that becoming fully independent has been one of the best bits of uni – I chose to live by myself in the final year. This helped me to grow as a person and became more responsible.

I’m still not certain of my future plan, but then I only received my degree result yesterday! However, I am currently in the process of applying for Graduate Schemes. There’s one organisation I’m particularly interested in which aims to increase young talent in the not-for-profit sector. I’ve always been interested in advocacy and inclusion, but Ambassador work has given me a clearer idea of where I want to go in the future.

If I had to give any advice to students with mental health conditions like anxiety it would be don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for support. It took me a while to overcome the fear that I would be judged for struggling. Once I took that first step everything else just fell into place. I know it can be daunting, but it really is worth it.


Lucy King

4 Jul 2023

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