19-year-old Nathan Barnes from Golborne is one of 19 students at Winstanley College to receive an offer this month for Oxbridge, beginning in September 2018.
An impressive achievement for anybody, but what makes Nathan’s offer even more special is his battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which completely changed the path he was planning to take.
During his final year at Penketh High School, Nathan suffered a serious illness which meant a lot of time off and a major operation just weeks before his GCSEs. Nathan said: ‘I turned up to my GCSE exams in a lot of discomfort.’ Amazingly, Nathan still achieved 9 A*s and took up his place for A-levels at Winstanley College, in his words ‘believing things were on the up’ and that he was on his way to a dream career as a medic in the Navy.
Soon after joining college Nathan realised that due to health reasons he was not going to be able to pursue a career in the Navy but having enjoyed a work experience placement at a hospital Pharmacy, he was happy to focus on a new goal of a place on a Pharmaceutical degree after A-levels.
In his second year of college, Nathan received an unconditional offer from the University of Nottingham for Pharmacy and things were back on track. Nathan says: ‘I was so happy to receive the unconditional offer and thought everything was fine. Then, within the space of two weeks, it was like something crashed inside my head and I went into severe depression, unable to focus clearly on anything.’
Having never suffered from mental health problems before, Nathan explains ‘I didn’t know what was happening or how to deal with it and I felt too embarrassed to tell anyone. My mum knew something wasn’t right but I couldn’t put into words how I was feeling.’ Things got so bad that Nathan was taken into a mental health hospital to be assessed.
Diagnosed as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Nathan started a course of intensive psychological therapy, becoming a residential patient at the unit for 3 weeks. He explains ‘it was a shock mostly for my family when I went into hospital. My mental health was so bad I didn’t really take it in, but it was definitely what I needed. It was a relief to get the diagnosis of PTSD as it helped me to understand why this was happening and it meant I could get the right treatment.’
Nathan and his psychologist worked out that the PTSD stemmed from the trauma of his serious illness and treatment during high school. Nathan believes: ‘I was so busy and focused on my GCSEs I didn’t have time to stop and think about the seriousness or the impact of what had happened to me. The shock and upset of everything had been delayed and presented itself as PTSD.’
After the three weeks’ intensive treatment, Nathan went home, but was too ill to return to college, missing the rest of his second year and his A-level exams. ‘I needed to focus on getting well and I knew that I could go back to college for a third year when I had recovered.’
It was a long road but by September 2017, Nathan was well enough to return to college. ‘My offer from Nottingham had been withdrawn and I was feeling disappointed and worried about my future. I spoke to the college’s Academic Challenge co-ordinator Daniel Crabtree who suggested that I would be a strong candidate for Oxbridge because of my GCSE and AS level grades and passion for science. I thought about it and decided something like that to focus on was just what I needed, so I enrolled on the college’s Oxbridge preparation programme.’
It was January this year when Nathan got the email to say that his application to Cambridge, which included an extensive aptitude test and interview, had been successful and he had an offer for a Natural Sciences degree for September 2018.
This incredible achievement is what’s inspired Nathan to speak out about his experience. He hopes it will inspire other young people with mental health problems to get the help they need and realise that it is an illness from which you can get better.
‘There is still so much stigma around mental health’, says Nathan. ‘When people hear of someone being taken into a mental health hospital, I think they believe that that person is crazy, but it’s not like that at all. It’s a formal admission simply because you cannot get the right treatment in the community. The patients I met in hospital were all ordinary people from a variety of backgrounds that were simply unwell and needing the right treatment.’
‘My advice to people that may be suffering with mental health problems would be not to suffer in silence. Seek help as soon as you notice that something is not right. Make an appointment with your GP, speak to someone in college or open up to friends or family you trust. Always stick with treatment: it really does work and you will get better but you have to be patient and listen to the advice you are given.’
‘If one of your friends or family members has a mental health problem, offer your support and try not to judge them. If you notice something isn’t right, reach out to them and take action to ensure they get the help they need as soon as possible. And be patient with them, it is not an illness that goes away in a couple of days; it will take time to get better.
‘My mum always says things happen for a reason and I think it’s true. If I hadn’t had the illness I wouldn’t be planning for my future at one of the most prestigious universities in the country. I hope to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry after university and might even end up researching medication that could help people who are suffering like I did.’
‘I am feeling fantastic at the moment but I know if I ever do start to suffer again I won’t be afraid to seek help.’
‘I also want to take this opportunity to thank Daniel all the staff at Winstanley College that have supported me and helped me to get to where I am today.’