Bipolar disorder no barrier for tenacious sole parent scholarship winner

11 October 2017

Scholarship winner Laura O'Flaherty.

Scholarship winner Laura O'Flaherty.

Laura O’Flaherty has learnt taking a risk on education can be the route to a new path in life.  She is not only studying but the Papamoa mum-of-two was recently awarded the Waikato Student Union Sole Parent/Caregiver Scholarship for 2017.

In her final year of a Bachelor of Social Science majoring in psychology and human development at the University of Waikato’s Tauranga campus, Laura says the $1000 scholarship felt amazing to receive. She is now weighing up the options of doing an honours year or jumping straight into her Masters with a view to a PhD.

Five years ago, after struggling with her mental health for as long as she can remember, Laura was diagnosed with cyclothymia, which is related to bipolar disorder. With periods of mild depression swinging to hypomania, Laura says there were days when her anxiety was so severe she did not want to leave the house.

Looking back Laura feels some of the spontaneous decisions she made in her youth may have been influenced by the seesaw nature of cyclothymia. She left school two weeks into her sixth form year to “follow her art”. Two years later she became a single mum.

Her youngest son starting school was the catalyst for Laura to consider where her life was going. After a discussion with her mental health nurse, Laura says she was inspired to give university a try.

“I honestly thought returning to study was out of the picture but sometimes, due to my disorder, I take risks. This was a risk that worked out well.”

With the finish line nearly in sight for her undergraduate degree, Laura is excited to channel her scholarship funds into the next stage of study.

“I’ve just tended to put my head down and work hard and things seem to have come up. I will keep on making the most of every opportunity I get and, hopefully, prove that mental illness does not have to hold you back. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I hadn’t travelled this path.”