Student uses sport to transform mental health



Annie Robinson

A student has told how her university netball club saved her life after a traumatic event left her with crippling anxiety and depression.

Annie Robinson came to Heriot-Watt University as a student in October 2014 to study Chemistry having never suffered from any mental health issues.

Away from her home in County Down, Northern Ireland and after a distressing event, which she did not report to the University in her first few weeks, she became withdrawn.

Annie recalls the difficulties of just getting out of bed and fitting in with University life being a daily struggle.

To realise that someone cared about me when I was at my lowest point, gave me such a boost.

Annie Robinson

The student, who is now in her third year doing combined studies and also secretary of the Netball Club and coordinator of the Basketball Club, spoke as the Sports Union are running their mental health campaign this week.

She said: “I was in denial that the event happened and tried my best to get on with life.  I managed to pass some exams but it was a blur.  I then started failing my subjects and managed to get temporary suspension on my studies.

“I remember lying in bed thinking what was the point? Telling myself that I was utterly worthless and the world would honestly be better without me in it.  But then I missed netball practice and I had messages from my team mates asking if I was ok and that they missed me at training.

“To realise that someone cared about me when I was at my lowest point, gave me such a boost..Just knowing that someone cared and wanted to know how I was doing, made the world of difference.  I loved going to practice and put all the energy I had into it – I have to say that sport saved me.”

The 23-year-old eventually sought support from the University counselling service over a year later.

But she also had the support from her sports friends and her tutors who allowed her to keep up her studies in any way possible.

She said: “I knew I was suicidal and barely functioning but I had no idea how to deal with it. It took me over a year to seek help.I went to the counselling service at the university and they were absolutely fantastic. However, I soon dropped away thinking I could handle this on my own again. It has actually taken me just short of five years to actively seek out the help I need and realise the only way out of pain; is to work through it. The quicker you discover that time does not heal wounds; self-work heals them, the better off you'll be. You cannot sit in your trauma and expect for healing to reveal itself, you have to put in the work.”

Annie encourages others to seek help if they are struggling.

She said: “If you notice that one of your friends or team mates hasn't been to class or practice – call them and ask them how they are. That caring gesture could make the difference and completely change everything. 

If you are struggling yourself please get help.  You are not alone and there is nothing to be ashamed of. 

The services at University are there and I would absolutely recommend them if you need them.”

Ross Campbell, Oriam's Executive Director said: “Annie's story is a very powerful one that illustrates the importance of what a flourishing community really is. The work that my colleagues at the Sports Union and Oriam do really does make such a positive impact on people's lives. My encouragement from this story is twofold; the first being about the value that sport can offer in a student's life and, secondly, how supportive we are with individuals who want that extra support when going through a difficult period.”

More information on sports at Heriot-Watt visit here

If you have been affected by Annie's story and want to access support services, the Samaritans can be contacted any time, day or night on 116 123. Alternatively, you can visit their website here.

Students who need support can visit the Student Wellbeing Centre or attend a Drop-In session at the Edinburgh campus between 2-3pm any weekday. A wealth of online support is also available here.

Susan Kerr

Communications Officer

T: 0131 451 3242