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Sophie Dickson York College

Mental Health Awareness Week: Breaking Through - A Journey of Recovery by Sophie Dickson

There was a time when York College Uniformed Protective Services student Sophie Dickson thought about suicide on a daily basis and woke up every day hoping it would be her last.

Now, however, having accessed the support of a number of groups including our Well-Being Team, Sophie is healing and recovering and feels able to “perceive her dream” of helping others by becoming a paramedic.

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Sophie has bravely stepped into the spotlight to illuminate her journey through the shadows of mental health challenges and substance abuse.

Through the lens of her own experiences, Sophie endeavours to spark a beacon of hope for those who may be navigating similar challenges.

Let us honour the courage it takes to confront one's struggles and the profound strength found in the York College community.

May her words resonate with those who need them most, reminding us all that amidst the darkness, there is always the promise of a brighter tomorrow.

Thank you Sophie for sharing your story of hope.

Sophie Dickson and Izzy Stubbs York College
Sophie Dickson with classmate, Izzy Stubbs
Sophie's story

I wanted to do this blog because, as someone who has struggled with suicidal thoughts, self-harm, substance abuse, and disordered eating, I wanted to share a few messages about mental health and remind people to be kind and to look after themselves despite the struggles they may face in day-to-day life.

Last year, I hit rock bottom and I’ll say, before last year, there were many occasions where I really thought, “Wow, this is rock bottom”, but I didn’t realise until last year, when I REALLY hit rock bottom, that all the other times weren’t rock bottom at all.

I hit a wall and I saw no way out. My only escape was using substances to escape reality and to numb everything I was feeling because it felt so heavy. I was thinking about suicide every single day, I went to bed hoping I didn’t wake up and waking up hoping maybe today is my last day.

Every day was the same cycle and I couldn’t, for the love of God, get out of that cycle. I was offered so much help and I accepted it, but I didn’t engage with it. I’d sit in therapy sessions just zoning out, not really taking in what was being said to me. I’d take the advice, but go away and do the opposite and carry on with my bad coping mechanisms despite being told if I carried on, I’d die. I really didn’t care.

Moving on a few weeks, a couple months, I saw a quote that someone had put online that read “a life in hospital is not a life and a life doing nothing about your bad ways isn’t living it is surviving”. This was the moment I decided enough was enough.

I have dreams for a life full of happiness and excitement and I knew I had to do something about it. I then decided to engage with support properly and things started to get better. And now, things are great, I’m healing, and I am recovering. I’m doing things I never dreamed I’d be doing and I’m succeeding in ways I never imagined before deciding to recover and heal.

On the bad days, I remind myself how far I have come. I take the steps to ground myself and I talk to someone if I need to. I remind myself tomorrow will be better and, if tomorrow isn’t better, the next day will be. I constantly tell myself, “Just for today” and that means just for today I’m going to try not to engage in self-destructive behaviours.

Tomorrow is tomorrow, focus on the present. It doesn’t matter about tomorrow until tomorrow comes.

If I find myself wanting to engage in self-destructive behaviours, I wait five minutes and distract myself and, in five minutes’ time, I’ll assess how I feel and, if I feel the same, I’ll continue distracting myself and sitting with those feelings and emotions. If I feel better, great.

I’m now well enough to perceive my dreams and my dreams are to become a paramedic. I think my experience with my struggles with my mental health will help me in my dream career as I can use what I went through, what helped me and what I needed when I was struggling to help those I may come across that may also be in a mental health crisis.

I think, if I hadn’t decided enough was enough and that I needed to recover and get better, I would not be in a position to perceive my dream career because I would not be in the head space to help others, when I couldn’t even help myself. So that is another BIG reason why I decided to take the steps to get better and a reason that anybody feeling the same should do, too.

My point is, for anyone struggling with similar issues or other mental health issues, I want you to know it will get better. I know we hear that all the time and, when you’re in such a dark mindset, you don’t believe there’s a chance it will get better, because I felt the same. But, take this from someone who’s been through it and has come out the other end, believe me when I say it can get better.

With that being said, here’s some tough love right now - it will NOT get better if you don’t engage like I did and don’t do anything about the way you’re feeling. I get it, it’s hard to bring yourself out of that depression, low mood, chaotic lifestyle but you HAVE got to start somewhere. It must come from YOU, nobody is going to do it for you and, if you live your life expecting people to pick you up when you’re falling, you’re never really going to heal or recover.

You must want to recover for yourself. Ask yourself this question - “do I really want to continue living my life in this misery? This cycle of constantly feeling rubbish? Or do I want to take the steps to get better?”

Now I want to live a life where I am excited to wake up and start a new day.

Life is so interesting when you start putting in the effort and taking the steps to get better, I can reassure you that. Not every day is going to be easy, but life isn’t meant to be easy or fun all the time. It’s about pushing through those days where it feels harder because, at the end of the day, there is always going to be better days.

You are going to get painful emotions, but you have got to sit with these rather than trying to suppress them. You can’t recover or heal if you’re constantly suppressing those emotions. You must feel every single one of them. It will be uncomfortable at first but, through time and patience, it will get easier and easier.

So, start taking the steps towards your recovery journey. Start today. What’s stopping you?

There will never be “a right time” so you must start as soon as possible. On the days that feel harder, talk to someone and that someone can be family or friends. If you feel like you can’t talk to them, talk to a pet and I know that sounds silly but sometimes just ranting it out with no response gives you that weight off your shoulders.

Alternatively, you could keep a diary or notes on your phone. Rant everything out there.

Other things that can help, on the days that feel harder, include going on a walk. Getting in touch with nature can really help regulate the nervous system and give you some relief.

Taking a step back from social media is a big one as there is so much negativity on there.

Another BIG thing is breathing work meditation. I know a lot of people have probably been told “do breathing exercises” and thought, “How is that going to help?” But hear me out. When you engage in breathing exercises, it calms the nervous system. It decreases your heart rate and reduces blood pressure. In turn, this can decrease the adrenaline response, and this can calm “fight or flight” responses. Try it. I promise it works.

Another thing - reach out and contact professionals and ask for support. I get that it’s scary and you may feel like they will judge you. I felt like this and the amount of appointments I made and cancelled was absurd.

But just try it, push yourself out of your comfort zone and try because it helps. Professionals would much more appreciate you reaching out and saying “Hey I’m struggling” than going about it in other ways.

I get sometimes it’s easier to show you’re struggling through self-destructive behaviour, but it’s OK to just simply ask for help without engaging in those behaviours.

There are many, many services that can help you if you are struggling. The service I accessed was CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) Crisis and generic CAMHS and you can be referred to this via your GP.

Another service I found helpful was York Mind and, again, you can be referred to this via your GP. I also accessed a service called Changing Lives. This is predominantly for drug and alcohol abuse, or those impacted from a parent or guardian’s drug and alcohol abuse.

The service I found the most helpful and beneficial was the York College Well-being Team.

I first accessed support from them in November 2022 and have continued with support from them up until now. I was initially referred to them in 2021 by my Progress Coach at the time. However, for personal circumstances, I had to leave College, therefore the referral to the Well-being Team never went ahead and that’s why I accessed other services.

I came back to College and self-referred myself to the Well-being Team as I didn’t find the other services as helpful as I’d wished.

I was given an initial appointment and made a plan going forward. The Well-being Team are the best support system I have received in my mental health journey. They’re very supportive people. They listen and give you a quiet, comfortable space to talk about what is bothering you.

They make you feel safe and listened to and never make you feel judged, which is crucial and so important when you are talking about stuff going on in your life or the way you are feeling.

I felt my experience with the York College Well-being Team was amazing, and they have been a big part of my journey to getting well and recovering. I don’t think I could have got to where I am currently, without the support from them.

While on with this, I share my massive thank yous and appreciation to the Well-being Team for the support they have given me and helping me right the way through. They still help me today.

To end this, I want to spread this last message and that is to always be kind, no matter what.

Smile at people you see in the corridor, in the shop or on your walks. A smile can really make someone’s day. We live in a world of so much nastiness and negativity so the more kindness we spread, the better.

Kindness is beautiful, handsome and pretty and we should spread it wherever we can.

Thank you for reading this far, you’ve got this, and I believe in you!!!!

York College University Centre Wellbeing Team
York College & University Centre Well-being Team
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For more information on how the York College Well-being Team can support our students, click here.

If you are facing mental health challenges, you can access the York College Well-being Team via the Welcome Desk or by emailing