“I’m sure anybody who’s had mental health issues in the past knows that you never know what each day is going to bring,” said Gareth Jones.

The 31-year-old from Barry is reflecting on how his decision to go to university transformed his life. However, this wasn’t always part of the plan, as Gareth never thought he would have a chance to pursue higher education.

“In high school, I was a high achiever,” Gareth continued. “I got good grades at GCSEs, but I came from a low-income family so I wasn’t able to go to sixth form. I had to put education on the back burner and managed to get a job as a catering assistant.

“Then, about four years ago, I started to suffer from some bad mental health episodes. It got to the point where I had to leave work, but I didn’t want to just stay at home and do nothing. I needed to find a purpose to my days.”

And that’s when he discovered The Open University (OU) in Wales. Gareth was attracted to the OU due to its flexible study, as students can study when they want, how they want and where they want. He explained: “Initially, I wanted to be on my own; I didn’t want to be around anybody, but I still wanted to do something that kept me occupied. Being able to work at my own pace really suited me. I have two young children, so studying at the OU enabled me to study and accommodate what I needed to do at home as well.

“For me, I’ve always been quite realistic with the time that I have to study, so I won’t try and overwhelm my day. I know for a fact that I couldn’t do four or five hours of solid studying as I have my daughters to look after once they come home from school. I always try to fit in short sessions around the school run – so I do some studying before and some after.”

Open to all

Gareth found that the OU’s community of students also helped his mental health

Gareth chose to study law at the OU, something he previously thought would be impossible as he didn’t have any A-Levels. However, the OU is accessible to all, with an array of courses available to everyone regardless of their educational background. Gareth also found that his tutors were always on hand to help and supported him every step of the way.

“The support the tutors provide has always been encouraging,” he said. “It’s never about just marking the work; they’ve always been available if I’ve had a question. They really keep you engaged. It’s been amazing.”

Gareth also found that the OU’s community of students helped his mental health and enabled his confidence to grow. He explained that before he left his job, he had been an outgoing person but then lost his spark when he faced mental health challenges. Fortunately, he was able to rebuild this confidence through his studies and by becoming a student representative.

He explained: “Last spring, I was elected to the student leadership team as the faculty association representative for business and law. It’s very much a conduit between the students, the Students Association and the faculty. The OU is always looking to improve the student journey wherever possible, so it’s really exciting to be a part of that.”

A new chapter

Gareth is looking forward to seeing what the future holds
Gareth is looking forward to seeing what the future holds

The sky is now the limit for Gareth as he looks ahead to graduating in the summer and he is even considering a Master’s degree with the OU.

There are currently thousands of students in Wales who are studying and working towards their academic goals via the OU. The university was established in 1969 and is one of the leading distance learning universities in the UK, with more than 175,000 students from Wales studying since it was founded. There is also financial support for students in Wales, with maintenance grants of up to £4,500 now available.

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Gareth added: “Studying at the OU really helped me rebuild my life, stabilise my mental health and regain my confidence.

“Without the OU, I wouldn’t want to guess what position I would be in right now. It’s really helped me overcome my mental health challenges and put me back on track. Now I’m looking forward to what the future holds!”

If you are considering studying at the Open University, then there is arange of support available to enable all students to reach their education goals. For more information, visit the website .

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