Coping with Mental Illness & Suicide - My Oxford Story

By Lottie

Trigger Warning: mental illness, suicide


Oxford had been on my radar from a young age, but only as a mystical fantasy dreamland I’d heard about. I never believed someone like me could go, and still didn’t believe it fully until I received my offer to study here. I come from a low income background, and both of my parents went to university but never finished their degrees. I’d always been curious minded and eager to learn as a child, which resulted in achieving well throughout school. The borough of south east London I grew up in didn’t have any grammar schools, and my parents could never have afforded a private education for me, so it seemed likely I would end up at a nearby comprehensive. My older brother and I were fortunate enough to pass our 11+ tests and ended up at a grammar school in a nearby borough. I know grammar schools have their pros and cons and are controversial institutions, but for me, going to a grammar school is what I believe gave me the opportunity to end up at Oxford. The teachers were supportive of me and encouraged me to apply to the best universities, and (most of) the students took their education seriously, which inspired me to do the same.


I realised during secondary school that education was a way out of poverty and an opportunity to give myself a better life than the ones my parents had, and the one I’d had growing up, which made me work even harder to get into university. I was the highest achiever in my year for GCSEs and IB, but throughout the Oxford application process I doubted my ability and thought I wouldn’t get in. I was fortunate to have teachers who helped me when I asked for it and did practice interviews with me, which definitely helped me prepare, but the UNIQ summer school which is run by Oxford university was by far the biggest help when it came to giving me confidence to apply and preparation for the long admissions process.


As well as using school to prepare for my future, I also used it to escape my home-life, which had always been difficult. My mother suffered severely from a mental illness which affected my relationship with her and took a big toll on the mental health of me and the rest of my family. It was hard being at home when she was unwell, and a lot of my childhood/teenage years involved visiting her at a psychiatric unit of a hospital. I took refuge in my work, and stayed after school doing homework or at various after school clubs to avoid having to go home. The severity of her illness reached its peak during sixth form whilst I was applying to Oxford, and she sadly committed suicide just after I’d finished my IB exams.


By this point I’d already received my offer for Oxford, and was only a few months away from starting university. I had a long summer to grieve, but I doubted whether I would be fit to start university at such a difficult time in my life. I’ve always been someone who pushes through difficult times, and thought the changes university would bring might do me good, especially not living at home, so went through with starting that same year. The first term was difficult, as it tends to be for everyone. I overthought every little thing until I convinced myself I didn’t fit in and didn’t deserve to be there, that people could tell I was different from them. There were so many times I wanted to call my mum for a chat and reassurance like other students did, and starting a new chapter of my life without her in it was difficult to process.


However, by the end of the first term Oxford felt like my new home. There were still moments of self-doubt, but I was happy to be there, and relieved that after everything, I’d managed to get a place at the university I’d dreamt about as a child. Life at university, especially Oxford, is so fast-paced and has so much going on that it was a really good way for me to start afresh and leave the negative events of the past behind me. Being here makes me hopeful for my future, and makes me feel like I can achieve anything I put my mind to.


Every situation is unique, but if anyone reading this can relate to any of the things I’ve been through, I hope you know there will be people like you at university who have similar experiences, and if you have your sights set on Oxford, you can do it. I’ve learned that even if you haven’t been given many opportunities in life, you can make opportunities for yourself by remaining ambitious and working hard. You might have to work harder than others, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get to the same place in the end.