A student who has overcome significant mental health challenges marked her 30th birthday by collecting a First Class Honours degree from Edge Hill University.

Grace Sutcliffe, from Southport, gained a BA (Hons) in Health and Social Wellbeing, a significant achievement having struggled since the age of 15, hindering a high school and college education.

“It was a difficult time and I required inpatient treatment in a mental health unit. I remember feeling like it was the end of the world, that I would never achieve anything. I was then diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder and struggled with severe bouts of depression and self-harmed daily. I was rock bottom and didn’t think I had much of a future. It felt like no matter how hard I tried to progress in my education, my ill health was holding me back.”

At 18, Grace had inpatient treatment over a seven-month period, which she feels proved a turning point – and two years later, she went to University for the first time.

“I managed well to begin with, although I did not receive much support at the institution I attended. And by my second year of study, I began to struggle again. Again, I had to have further inpatient admissions to the mental health unit as my mental health deteriorated.”

This period did provide some solace. Intensive treatment for her mental disorder led to a form of recovery and reignited her ambition to return to higher education. And then there was meeting somebody who has helped transform her life.

“When I was 22 I met my husband, Andrew, who swept me of my feet, we fell deeply in love and married in less than a year. He brought great support and stability to my life. He is an amazing man.”

A return to college to study an Access to Health course reignited her career ambitions, although there were occasions when mental health issues would occur. But in 2015, her higher education dream was realised at Edge Hill, aided by extensive support from the University’s Inclusion Team which included Learning Facilitator, Vicky Laidlaw.

“I had early input from the Team prior to starting my degree. They guided me through the process of preparing for higher education and helped me identify what support and reasonable adjustments I would require enabling me to succeed.

“Vicky has provided mentoring support to help me plan and manage assignments. A huge help is that she would accompany me round the library when I needed course books because I felt anxious going in on my own.

“The biggest challenge I have faced is that my illness is very unpredictable. I don’t know when I am going to become very unwell. Numerous times I struggled to attend a lecture, keep up to date with reading and work on assignments because suddenly I would become crippled by depression and anxiety and be unable to function.”

This led to an issue early in her third year, which eventually meant, in collaboration with her course leader and the Inclusion Team, that she deferred until 2018/19 to complete her studies.

“I became severely unwell with psychosis. I was admitted to the mental health unit. Once again it felt like my hopes and dreams were crushed as I was too unwell for university. I had to stay in hospital for two months.

“I was so unwell that it was unclear how I would manage returning to complete my final year. But I knew I had to find all my strength and determination to achieve my aspiration.”

Grace has been grateful for the continued support she has received on a course where she learnt to much.

“My Learning Facilitator accompanied me to most of my lectures to offer support and assistance. And all my lecturers have been wonderful, I know they have all been there should I need anything. I am forever thankful to the University.

“I have gained knowledge which I can apply to future employment. The lecturers were great and clearly committed to their role. I feel my course has equipped me for various career prospects.”

A passion for research – aided by her Research Studies and Dissertation modules – sees Grace embark on postgraduate study at Edge Hill, pursuing a Masters in Research with the ultimate aim of completing a PhD.

And what advice would she offer to current students?

“If you are struggling or have additional needs, ensure that you speak to the University, so that you can be supported – they want you to achieve just as much as you do!”

Find out more about studying Health and Social Wellbeing at Edge Hill University by visiting the course page.