On Completing University Part-time

At the beginning of my degree, if I’d been asked if I would ever go part-time with my course, I would have certainly said ‘no’. Yet, that’s not how things occurred and after my first year, I did drop a subject (still considered full-time) and then later took a leave of absence for a year. Unsurprisingly, my views about going part-time have changed.

University can be full on and I found myself drowning in coursework and exams, and for a while forgot who I was as a person. It’s important to have a balance between studying, work, and things that you find enjoyable. My problem was that I was too focused on grades and living up to my peers, and therefore wasn’t enjoying it.

The best thing I ever did was take time off. The notion of completing an undergrad in three years is changing and I’ve come across a lot of people who are choosing to do it over four or even five! You are not weak or abnormal for choosing to take that little bit longer during your studies and you may actually be better off. Spending more time on fewer subjects means you will have a better chance at getting those HDs and be able to enjoy university life more.

If you need to take longer than usual to finish your studies, that is okay. It is perfectly normal. You are not worth less than your peers. You are not doing anything wrong. You are not expected to complete them in a set time. I wish someone had told me when I first started because I may have been able to have had a better quality of life during the beginning of my studies.


How I Write My Notes Now

  1. I used to organise my notes on the computer as seen here, but found that it was difficult for me to remember them and I am the type of learner who needs to physically write my notes out.Screen Shot 2018-02-24 at 12.59.38 pm.png
  2. The method that works best for me now involves printing off the lecture slides, writing on them during lectures and then organising them in folders. I tend to have one folder for two subjects so two folders per semester. This has changed a lot to how I previously took my notes, which you’ll see was primarily computer-based. I also take a plastic document folder to all my classes for loose pieces of paper which go into my folder when at home. Then during SWOTVAC, I rewrite my notes into a spiral notebook and/or cue cards and mindmaps.img_22851.jpg

It’s taken me a long time and a lot of trial and error to work out what works for me but now I have and it’s become almost automatic. You need to find a method that works for you and for the subject you are studying because everyone learns differently.

A History of Psychiatry in 5 Objects

  1. 400-500 BC: Humorism


Figure 1: Humorism

Humorism was an early theory for the mechanisms of the body. Hippocrates (400-500BC) stated that illness was caused by an imbalance of four humours; blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile (Stelmack and Stalikas 1991, 257), an idea that reigned until the 17th Century (Bos 2009, 29). Galen (Hague 1991) later linked blood to a sanguine disposition (hopeful); yellow bile to a choleric one (easily angered), phlegm to a phlegmatic one (calm, neutral); and black bile to melancholia (sadness). It was understood that imbalances could be adjusted with physical treatments, such as bloodletting and emetics that would remove a humour that was in excess (Androutsos et al 2008, 32), and bleeding and vomiting were evidence that the imbalance was rectified.

Humorism provided a holistic view of wellness that acknowledged the importance of both physical and environmental factors, such as diet and exercise (Telles-Correia and Marques 2015). It was predominately a departure from supernatural ideology and the role of the gods, in favour of the concept that physical and mental health were intrinsically linked (Bos 2009, 31). Bos (2009, 29) believes the decline is linked to a parting from a focus on character in favour of alternative theories. Nevertheless, the idea of balance remains prevalent.

2. From the 17th C: The Asylum


Figure 2: Bethlehem Hospital 1714

The concept of locking up the insane began in the late 17th Century (Porter 2002, 51-52). The Asylum was an institution based on moral therapy; the premise that psychology and compassion could be used to treat severe mental illness (Rosenblatt 1984). Prior to this, individuals were largely kept in the community (Porter 2002). One of the earliest hospitals was Tuke’s York Retreat (1796) (Rosenblatt 1984, 246), which echoed the theory of Pinel breaking patient chains (Porter 2002, 58). Both advocated for routines, pleasant surrounds and to abolish restraint.

The asylums were self-contained yet isolated, with architecture that was part of the treatment (Porter 2002, 62). Early on, conditions varied greatly and following outrage at abuse of patients like William Norris at the Bethlehem Hospital (1814), a move was made towards regulation through the Mad House Act of 1828 (Wiles 2016). However, due to overpopulation, patient care declined and by the 1890s more were leaving dead than cured, influencing consequent deinstitutionalisation (Wiles 2016, Porter 2002, 64).

Originating as a place of refuge, asylums were a sign and place of progress (Porter 2002, 65). While it is argued that moving the focus from the body to the mind merely meant switching repression type (Foucault, 1988, 266), this does not warrant overlooking the introduction of compassion, hope and a person-central approach (Shorter, 1997, 4).

3. 1939: Electro-Convulsive Therapy

2Figure 3: Australian ECT Machine (Melbourne Museum 2017)

Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) is arguably the greatest discovery of psychiatry, and the most effective and empirical treatment (Shorter and Healy 2007, 2).

Replacing chemical alternatives such as metrazol and insulin, both dangerous and less successful, it is a form of shock therapy (1935; Shorter and Healy 2007, 6) which was based on Meduna’s idea that schizophrenia was an antagonist of epilepsy. The concept was to treat symptoms by disrupting brain activity through seizures, coma or loss of consciousness (Piotrowski and Guerra 2016). The development of the Bini-Cerletti ECT machine was motivated by the desire to find a safer treatment.

4. 1951: The First Antipsychotic (Chlorpromazine)

Laborit’s and Rhone-Poulence’s discovery of Chlorpromazine (1951), the first antipsychotic, was a precursor to the rapid development of the psychopharmacology industry (Ban 2007).


It was initially used with general anaesthesia to sedate and prevent shock(Carpenter and Davis 2012, 1168) and when trialled on patient Jacques Lh. undergoing ECT, an improvement of psychiatric symptoms was observed (Ban 2007). This was replicated by Deniker and Delay, who announced in Luxemburg that Chlorpromazine reduced psychosis symptoms(Carpenter and Davis 2012). Following this, Chlorpromazine saw the wards of asylums grow calm as noisy schizophrenic patients became quieter and more docile (Elkes and Elkes, 1954, 560), thus reducing violence and the number of hospitalised patients. Hence, despite some side effects like tardive dyskinesia, it became regarded as a miracle drug (Ban 2007, Carpenter and Davis 2012)


Following moral therapy’s failure, antipsychotics offered the possibility of a scientific and medical approach that shifted the location of clinical care(Carpenter and Davis 2012, 1168). It wasn’t long before advertisements began marketing Chlorpromazine at not only schizophrenia, but also emotional instability, hiccups and cancer (APA 1956, 2; APA 1958), highlighting the lack of understanding of the mechanisms of the drug. Over time the uses became more specific and psychopharmacology grew rapidly and chlorpromazine prompted the development of the dopamine hypothesis (Carpenter and Davis 2012, 1170).

5. 980- The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-III

5Figure 6: DSM-III

The third edition (1980) of the APA’s DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), was revolutionary for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness (Decker 2013, xvii).

The DSM-III influenced psychiatry’s shift from an aetiological and psychoanalytic focus, towards descriptive classification (Decker 2003, xvi). Neo-Kraepelinian in nature, (Tsou 2016), it emphasised symptoms and course and aimed to provide clear and valid definitions (APA 2017). This was influenced by the 5-axis system implemented by Spitzer, who advocated for biological ideas (Decker 2013, 315-317). The manual was larger than it’s predecessors and involved the caveats that the criteria were not completely discrete, and should only be used by psychiatrists (APA 1980), for whom it became convenient shorthand.

The DSM-IIIs flaws can be seen through attempts of subsequent editions to rectify mistakes, such as homosexuality’s removal in 1973 (Cooper 2004, 6) and some argue that it has not managed to progress beyond description (Tsou 2016). The criteria were not as clear or evidence based as intended, and symptom thresholds excluded many people from diagnosis (Cooper 2004, 5-22). Nevertheless, the DSM-III was a milestone document due to its descriptive diagnostic categories and the support for which it gave to the disease model (Decker 2013). It was the first DSM to become widely used by professionals and provide a uniform method of diagnosis (Tsou 2016).

The results of electrically induced seizures in a patient called Enrico X, were presented at the 3rd International Neurological Congress (1939), with a reported significant reduction of symptoms (Shorter and Healey 2007, 43), from which ECT rose to popularity in the 1940s. Early on, seizures would result in physical harm and this led to the development of muscle relaxants and use of anaesthetics (Piotrowski and Guerra 2016).

Despite initial popularity, in the 1980s antipsychiatry and politics resulted in rapid decline in the use and reputation of ECT, damage that is still being reversed today (Shorter and Healey 2007, 145). ECT’s development is significant as it is an empirical treatment that can produce rapid responses to acute symptoms of psychosis and depression (Shorter 1997, 3).


Going into my final year of study

This year will be my fourth year completing my undergraduate degree. I started it straight out of high school and have now completed two full years of study. It’s difficult knowing that many of my classmates have graduated and sometimes that makes me feel left behind, but other times it doesn’t bother me too much. I may have taken longer but I needed to due to my health and I believe that my grades have been much higher than what they would otherwise be. So in some ways, my peers have surpassed me but in other ways, they have not. Slow and steady wins the race as they say but this is my personal experience and what works for me might not work for others.

This year I am completing two full-time semesters and one winter subject that I need to make up. I am majoring in psychology and this means that I have two core subjects plus some elective psych subjects to do. I am excited because this means that I finally get to go more in-depth in clinical psych and neuroscience, areas which I deeply enjoy. However, I am also scared about what this means because at the end of this year my degree will be finished. Then I have to choose where I want to go from there. Will I continue with honours? Will I complete my masters? And in what and where? I’m anxious even thinking about it. I am just as uncertain about my future as I was when I had just finished high school.

I hope that this year I can do well with my grades and get into something that makes me happy and that I’m passionate about. I want to do well but I also want to stay mentally and physically well. I think I am finally learning to balance and manage my illnesses with other commitments. It’s taken me a long time but I’m heading in the right direction and that gives me hope.

Navigating University With a Mental Health Condition

Being independent is difficult and even more so, when you are balancing a mental health condition. If the media is correct, then going off to university is meant to be the peak of a young person’s life; it’s the border between being a teenager and becoming an adult. Yet, for many young people it can be the source of disappointment or uncertainty. Below are some tips for how to make the most of university and the resources available.

Register for the disability service

Most unis have a service dedicated to supporting students with an illness, including mental illness. They can provide important information about special consideration, help with applying for extensions, offer alternative assessment rearrangements and check in to see how you’re doing.

Utilise course planning services and student advisors

You can often feel like your identity has been reduced to just one number among many so making appointments with advisors can help you to engage with university staff and feel like you are being listened to. There is staff dedicated to helping you plan your degree, sort out accommodation and financial aid and navigate other services.

Get Organised

Diaries are an extremely important and simple way to keep track of assignments and dates and getting stationary together before classes start can help you to feel on top of things. You can also carry around your class timetable in case you ever need to check it.

Download the Lost on Campus app

The lost on campus app provides a map and direction system that can be used to find classrooms and lecture theatres. If you ever get lost then all you need to do is open the app up on your phone and put in where you want to go and it will direct you.

Seek outside support

Whether this is through a GP or psychologist (most unis have a service too but you won’t want to have an outside one), or through Centrelink having extra support can be crucial to reaching your potential.

Talk to staff

Your tutors are there to help you so talk to them if any issues come up and you’re not sure what to do. There also there to help you learn so make sure to ask questions about the content and assessments and are not a stranger to the teaching staff. The best way to learn is by asking questions.

Look after yourself

Self-care is an essential part of staying well. Find other things that you enjoy and that aren’t related to study, to give yourself a break. This could be through university clubs, learning an instrument or language, work, volunteering, art groups or reading. Whatever it is, make sure you have something that breaks up the study so that your life is enriched and you don’t burn out. Grades are important but there is also more to life than studying.

My undergrad degree was worth it

Going into my degree, a 3-year bachelor of science, I knew that it wouldn’t result in an instant qualification or easy transition into a high-paying job. Some days I regret that, but most days I don’t. Yes, I could have done a health care undergrad and enjoyed it, but as a 17 year old I was confused and just wanted to learn. I had an idea of what I wanted to do but I wasn’t ready to commit.

Now, coming towards the end of my degree the irony is I’m still tossing up between the same options; nursing, OT and psych, but I’ve also added research.

Was it worth it? Yes. Yes, it was.

I was given the chance to choose electives from history and philosophy, creative writing and linguistics. I studied plant science, Australian flora and fauna, chemistry and biology. All of this, enriched my psychology major and I’m grateful for the diversity of the knowledge I’ve been able to develop.

Psychology is one of those areas that can benefit from studies of history, biology, and philosophy. In the APA major, only limited time is given to each of these and my elected subjects have provided me which a much broader understanding that I wouldn’t have otherwise gained.

Biology has helped me to understand how the brain works in relation to the body. Philosophy has taught me about mind-body dualism and the philosophy of the mind and mental illness. History has taught me about how health was once conceived by Galen as a balance of four bodily fluids, that mental illness was once thought to be caused by witchcraft, that the asylums were not all doom and gloom and moral therapy provided a more humane understanding. I learned that psychiatric medications and the DSM were all formed on unstable and even experimental foundations, that even today ECT is the treatment with the most evidence behind it. I wouldn’t have understood any of this from just my major.

In addition to this, I’ve leaned things that have made me a better person. I gained an understanding of the major schools of philosophy; Buddhism, Descartes, Aristotle, Spinoza, and Kant. Through physiology, I understand many of the processes happening in my body. I know that fat and carbs aren’t bad. That the news can and often does lie. I learn how to think critically and evaluate studies that are often portrayed as true when they are not.

I have developed opinions and the ability to think for myself and not just agree with other people. Through university, I have found my own unique voice and have become a person that I am proud of.

The Melbourne Model worked for me. Yes, it’s taken me longer to get on a path towards my career but it’s also given me so much that is invaluable and will be for the rest of my life. My degree supported my intellectual transition into adulthood and provided me with the foundations to become a critical thinker and a hard-working and compassionate human being. For that, I will be eternally grateful.

The new antidepressant hypothesis

Being a science student and having studied antidepressants, I thought I knew how they worked or at least why people thought so but after a lecture on the history of their development, now I’m not so sure.

Originally, in the 1950s-60s the thesis was that too many Monoaxamine Oxidase neurotransmitters (MAOs) such as serotonin and norepinephrine, were being oxidised by the brain. This led to a deficiency of them and thus depression. Drugs were developed to maximise the amount of MAOs in the brain, by preventing them from being oxidised. The idea is that high levels= better communication= stronger mood regulating circuit. The results were good! They appeared to work, yet serious side effects were often seen.

In order to reduce side effects, a new hypothesis was developed. The serotonin hypothesis. The idea was too much serotonin was being taken up by presynaptic neurons in the brain leading to a deficiency and ultimately depression. People, therefore, speculated that altering the level of serotonin would alleviate the symptoms of depression. This is where SSRIs were developed. They act by stopping the reuptake of serotonin and increasing the levels of it in the brain. Again, they appear to work. SNRIs do the same thing but for serotonin and norepinephrine.

The basis of these theories was PURELY SPECULATIVE. No one has been able to prove them. Though it could be argued that new research does exactly that, but this would depend on who you talk to.

Irving Kirsch showed that for people who’ve been on SSRIs before and experienced the side effects, if they’re then given a placebo drug with the same side effects, it appears to work. In his study, there was no significant difference between an active placebo (with side effects) and SSRIs. Yet, many people have criticised his work.

Studies have suggested that; changing serotonin levels in a healthy individual doesn’t cause depression, attacking symptoms of depression with SSRIs is no better than with an active placebo, and the placebo effect is critical in treating depression. Furthermore, one popular antidepressant bupropion appears to reduce depression in some people but it has not impact on serotonin at all, but dopamine and norepinephrine.

Obviously, though, I couldn’t just accept all of this to be true because I have seen antidepressants work, hell I’ve even FELT them work at times. In my day to day life I have yet to come across a pill that makes me feel ‘not depressed’ but I know that when I’m at my worst, medication is the only thing that can pull me out of it. So I turned to doctor google.

Apparently, there is this other theory that antidepressants cause neurogenesis (birth of new brain cells). This could explain why ADs take a while to work in the brain (whereas if it were just the amount of neurotransmitters you would expect them to work right away) because they are altering the pathways in the brain. I was drawn to how lots of these studies list physiological and psychological stress as a causal factor because it reflects the idea of early mad doctors, that neuroses were caused by stress. However,  it’s not a foolproof theory because some AD studies show neurogenesis and some don’t + it could be unrelated to what ADs actually do. Yet, it’s still really interesting.

I refuse to believe that antidepressants don’t work, but maybe they don’t work the way we think they do. Or maybe they do and we just happened to stumble upon the MAO idea by accident without having a clear reason for why this is the case.

What is your personal opinion and/or experience on antidepressants?



Identity and career confusion

I have a confession to make. For so long I’ve been determined to complete my science degree and pursue psychology as a a career. I was certain that this was what I wanted and was going to do. Now… I’m not so sure.

I was forced to take a leave of absence at the end of last year and have tried to go back twice since then but haven’t managed to. I’ve been off for a year and still have a year and a half of a three year degree to go. I want to finish it, I do. I just don’t know if I can handle the pressure or if it’s the right course for me. If I could go back and tell my 17 year old self anything it would be to decide what I wanted to do then. because at least if I didn’t like it I’d know by now.

I chose science because I was indecisive and it left options open but what I didn’t consider was whether a high pressure environment was the right choice for me. It wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love my university but I wonder whether the pressure contributed to my declining mental health.

Right now I’m still not sure what I want to do. I guess that’s a common thing. It’s hard to plan out the rest of your life when there is so much uncertainty and I think it’s unfair that there is this expectation of young people coming straight out of school to know what they want to do.

This all has left me feeling disheartened and confused.

I’ve been considering doing a course in nursing or teaching, both which can be done as masters after my bachelors or I could choose to start a new bachelors degree. There’s also the option of completing a short course at tafe for 6 months and going back to university study at the beginning of next year.

The honest truth is I still don’t know what I’m going to do. Whatever decision I make, I feel like it’s not going to be the right one. I know I have to make one but at the moment it feels impossible.

My first day studying since being sick

What a day.

Today was my first day back at uni and I had less classes then I usually would, it being the first week, so I thought things would be okay but not so much. Something playing on my mind is that I can’t just choose 2 or 3 subjects I want to do ALL the subjects. Which is hard when you haven’t studied in a while.

My day started off well. I had my first neuroscience lecture with the lecturer who I have idolised ever since starting uni. He was the one who inspired me to consider neuroscience as a real option and he was the one that motivated me and stopped me from dropping out after that first lonely semester. This guy is just one of those people  that are so passionate about what they do and yet also so funny and real that you can’t help but like them. If I wasn’t interested in this subject I probably still would have chosen it just because his lectures are so much fun and so thought provoking.

Yeah so I was on a high when I went upstairs to my next lecture (research methods and stats). And here’s where things went downhill.

I tried to pay attention but when I looked up I realised I’d missed about 30 minutes without realising, couldn’t focus on what was being said and everything was just going over the top of my head. Not that the content was hard, just that I wasn’t mentally there. 

I sat in my seat panicking because I was at the end of the row and couldn’t leave, until it got to halfway where there was a break and I escaped out the back to go and break down in the bathroom. It was like all my dreams had been taken away at once.

I assumed going back would be the same difficulty as when I first started but today was so much harder. And what’s worse is that no one seems to understand when I tell them that. They think I’m being dramatic and should be fine but I’m not.

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

I guess it’s just going to take time.

In other news, it was hilarious to see that o-week has morphed into a two week festival of everything from water slides to overnight sleepovers and parties on campus. The change makes me feel so old even though it’s only been two years since my o-week. My memories are of painfully lining up in the heat to be told all the free food was gone and then getting lost on campus. How things change.

Anyway, I’m out. This was just a quick update to let you know how today went. Here’s hoping things only get better.

Small steps are sometimes the biggest

Tomorrow I start back at university. It will be the first time in over 7 months that I’ve sat in a classroom and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified. I’ve been hyperventilating and breaking out into tears all week because it just feels like to much and I’m worried I won’t be able to cope. I even considered deferring again or dropping out completely but studying is what makes me happy and hopefully this year is going to be different.

first time back on campus during o-week wishing this was butterbeer

I’m in the (lengthy) process of registering with the disability department and developing an adjustment plan that will be sent out to all my lecturers. This means that if I need extra time or support the way to get it will be much simpler. Despite uni being the place that first referred me to mental health services, I still have not disclosed to them that I suffer from mental illness. In part this was because I don’t feel like I deserve any extra help and also, because I feared that having my diagnoses listed on my record would have negative consequences for my future. But I’ve realised that this doesn’t mean I have to use the support just that it is there and to my relief I haven’t been asked any specifics about what I’m diagnosed with, just what will help me in my studies.

One thing I am struggling with, is that I’m going back to uni on Monday x kg heavier than I was a year ago. I am embarrassed and uncomfortable in this body but I know deep down that the increase is a good thing. With this weight comes better concentration and mental capacity and hopefully the strength to cope with studying again. Last year I though I was fine and while my bloods reflected that, I was exhausted and looked like death. Every day I had to get out of bed was hell because physically my body was weak and compromised. And while I hate admitting it, so was my cognition. No one really knows how I lasted that semester because I was running on empty and despite what I thought at the time, it did catch up to me just not in the way I would have expected (insert many hospital and crisis admissions).

Now I know I still have weight to gain. I know that things could easily go downhill and I know I still have far to go. But I’m willing to fight this time. I’m willing to look after my health so that I have a chance at making this work. I’m not ashamed of my body or my history. With health comes strength and nothing is taking my studies away from me again. I’m going to make uni work this time.

Aside from the above, some other changes in my life have occurred. My old case manager left which (excuse me being dramatic here) pretty much broke my heart and I don’t think I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never be able to talk to her again.  I was assigned to a new one and we seem to be getting along. I have also begun seeing my gp regularly again and am on the waiting list for an eating disorder program. Small things but with a big impact all the same.