Dyslexia creates an environment of poor mental health
Saturday 10 October 2020
Warning: some readers may find this article distressing
Ollie is an extremely bright budding young journalist. Along with many others across the UK, Ollie’s dyslexia has had an impact on her mental health. That’s why, on World Mental Health Day, we wanted to take the opportunity to share her story. Some readers may find this distressing, however, it is a reality that many people with dyslexia face.
I knew that other students did not lose multiple nights of sleep in a row, or find themselves in a hospital bed, trying to achieve the grades they needed to move onto higher education. However, struggling with dyslexia and my mental health whilst studying for A-Levels in three essay subjects all whilst applying to the University of Oxford meant this was not the case for me.
In the summer of 2019, I was working towards getting the straight A predicted grades I needed to apply to my dream university for my best-loved subject - the University of Oxford for Classics. Being a subject that combines the wonderful study of the ancient world, it’s literature, archaeology and the notoriously hard languages of Latin and Ancient Greek, applying for this course was both exciting and, even for an individual without dyslexia, extremely ambitious. Unfortunately, during these exams and beyond the lack of support I had with dyslexia caused my mental health to suffer a lot more than my grades did.
The exams were a train wreck. That is really the only way I can describe them, especially when for some of the papers I barely made it two-thirds of the way through. At that point, I had not had a diagnostic assessment for dyslexia, only a test to see whether or not I needed the 25% extra time my school had suggested. I didn’t need 25% extra time, the diagnostic assessment I had later on that year explained that I needed up to 50%, but all this information really came too late.
After the exams, I knew I had done terribly even before I had received my results, so impulsively decided to take my own life after an inconclusive conversation I had with the learning support team. They didn’t know how to help me because, at that point, I was so frustrated by the issues dyslexia was causing me that I thought there was no way to be helped. Due to my actions, I ended up being admitted to hospital and treated on an IV drip. I learnt then that I needed to work with my learning disability, not against it, or my mental health would just continue to worsen.
In the end, I got an A*AA prediction, despite the slightly worse grades in the exams, because I had been achieving the grades continuously in essays, not under time conditions.
Now I had the grades to apply to Oxford and my specific learning difficulty was diagnosed correctly, I hoped against hope that my struggles with dyslexia and mental health were over, but this was not the case. Studying for Oxford’s Classics Language Aptitude Test was a fun challenge, but the interviews were a different story. I had five interviews at three separate colleges, all of which gave me extra preparation time before the interviews for dyslexia, but when I asked afterwards what had happened to my extra time for reading in the interviews, they stated that they were sorry they didn’t inform me I had it. If you’re not told about having extra time how are you meant to use it?
I was absolutely devastated upon finding out I was rejected. All that work, time, late nights, illness, hospitalisation… all seemingly for nothing. The only thing that could have made it worse is if every reason I was rejected could have been put down to dyslexia. All of them were, really. Namingly my slower response time to questions than other shortlisted candidates. I was back to square one, yet again dyslexia had become the unworthy master of my mental health.
With the support of friends and family, I picked myself back up though, and, decided to reject the five other Russel Group universities I was offered places at to reapply to Oxford for Classical Archaeology and Ancient History. My passion for the subject being reignited despite the set-backs after a trip to the archaeological sites in Crete, and the writing on them that took place thereafter.
I am only one of many who has had dyslexia impact their mental health. Curriculum Manager for Health and Social Care, Dr Susie Nyman, kindly collected thoughts on this topic from sixth-form college study support teachers. In response to the question ‘Do you think dyslexia makes those who suffer from it more vulnerable to mental health problems?’ the dyslexia specialist at the college said:
“Yes. With self-questioning, feelings of inadequacy or low self-efficacy can spiral… anxiety sets in. Long-term anxiety affects low mood. Anxiety and depression are fairly common in dyslexic learners. However, this is more the case where students have not sought additional learning support and have not received help at school to develop learning strategies, which will boost self-confidence.”
Hearing that my experiences are shared widely with other dyslexic students was very concerning. With 88 percent of parents saying their child has poor self-esteem because of their dyslexia (according to the British Dyslexia Association,) I believe that more educational (and other) institutions need to be made more aware of the additional issues people with the specific learning difficulty face. It is far more than just poor spelling, in fact, that isn’t even an issue for some people with dyslexia.
If you would like more information on this topic then feel free to contact me or look through the British Dyslexia Association’s advice page:
BDA advice page: https://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/advice
My email: email@example.com
My Instagram: @oliwxlls (https://www.instagram.com/oliwxlls/)
For anyone who has been affected by the themes explored in this article, Mind has a number of great resources. Visit their website to find out what information and support might be right for you.