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Starting again

From BBC - January 3, 2018

After dropping out of university, for weeks Ben could not tell his dad the truth. He made a failed suicide attempt and barely left his bedroom for five months. But finally, as he describes here, he managed to start again.

I had always felt under pressure to go to university. I was quite fixed on the idea that I was going to become a lawyer, but when I started doing the course I quickly realised it was really difficult and not something that I wanted to do.

I was a bit of a solitary child anyway - rather quiet and moody - but going to university made things many times worse.

I struggled to fit in because I came from a working-class background and I did not have any support from my parents.

I remember arriving at university for the first day by bus, while other people were being dropped off by their parents in cars full of luggage. I did not understand how to choose modules and organise your own timetable - it was a big shift from college, and I struggled to adapt. There was not enough structure or support, and I felt that other students had bigger networks of friends and family to ask for help.

My dad had joined the army when after he left school, so he did not know how things worked. My parents had split up when I was 16 and I was living with him. We did not get along at all. He was having problems with alcohol, so he was quite aggressive at home.

I had fled to university to get away, but I did not feel welcome there either. I was really isolated. Living away from home for the first time you eat really badly and your sleeping pattern is wrong, and you are surrounded by alcohol and drugs all the time.

Everything started going wrong about six months in. I had my first relationship at university and I was not ready for it. We had lots of arguments and when we broke up, I got into a fight with her new boyfriend. After that, I started drinking alcohol quite a lot and missing some lectures and seminars.

My drinking was picked up by the university, so they assigned me a counsellor but every time they asked me, "How is everything?" I would just say, "I am fine." I was quite defensive. So I actually rejected the bit of help that was offered.

When Zoe's son left home and went to university his behaviour changed - he became uncommunicative and dropped out after his first year. Here Zoe talks about what happened and the conversation she wishes she'd had with him.

I wish I'd told my son he could start again after dropping out

Around eight months in, I felt completely hopeless. I felt I could not do what I was there to do, and I did not want to. But I did not want to go back home either, because that was a very bad environment. I was stuck.

I did not pass any of my exams that summer, but when I went home I was too scared to tell my dad. For the next two months I just avoided telling him that I was not going back.

It was a depressing time. He was drinking and I hid away inside my room. It was at the end of that summer when I made a suicide attempt.

I took what I thought was a lethal dose of medicine that was in the house.

Half an hour later I thought: "What am I doing?" So I got on the bus to the accident and emergency department.

I lingered around outside the hospital for a while, too afraid to go in and tell them what I had done. My main fear was about being sectioned, I felt that I was too sick for any lesser intervention and that there was going to be a very heavy-handed response.

My head was a mess and I did not really know what to do. My dad was out at work so I just got on the bus back home and went to sleep. Thankfully I woke up. I was unwell for 24 hours, but I did not tell anyone about it - I was very secretive about what I was feeling.

It's something that is quite private and I have not shared it before.

When you are feeling suicidal you do not think rationally - it is just a hugely powerful feeling which swallows you up. I was searching for any way out really - I had thoughts of joining the army or even committing a crime in order to go to prison.

Where to get help

At the end of the summer I got a letter from the university saying that because I had failed my exams I would not be invited back, so I had to tell my dad. He was a very difficult man to have these kinds of conversations with. He did not say much, he just told me I had to get a job.

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