A student at a Southall school has overcome severe depression and anxiety to be awarded a prestigious spot at a top university.
Ayah Raya, an 18-year-old at Villiers High School , was unable to attend nearly a quarter of her classes due to a struggle with mental health but still achieved three A grades and a B at A level.
Despite missing so many lessons, she managed to get the impressive marks and will now be heading to the University of Warwick to study English literature and creative writing.
Ayah, from Worcester Park in Surrey, was born in England before she moved to Lebanon, but returned to England to complete her studies.
Four years ago, aged just 14, she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and had to take a month off while studying for her GCSEs.
"Exam time is a struggle for lots of students but having anxiety and depression makes it much tougher," said Ayah.
“But the support I have received from this school is just incredible, they have really helped to get me over the line with these amazing results.
“At Villiers they didn’t punish me, they kept thinking how can we make it better for you.
“They have built a very supportive environment and community for students with mental health issues and always given us a platform and a space to talk.”
The school has employed a part-time counsellor and celebrates mental health awareness week, as well as holding assemblies on dealing with exam pressure.
Offering advice to countless other teenagers in the same situation, Ayah said: “Above everything, prioritise your mental health. Treat it as your physical health.
“I couldn’t get any grade because I had been struggling. I kept putting pressure on myself and it was so toxic.”
Ayah plans to continue her studies beyond her degree, with a Masters and a PhD, after which she wants to become a lecturer.
Head of sixth form at Villiers, Patrick Cootes, said: “I find it really humbling to work with young people who have to go through tremendously challenging personal circumstances and hold it together despite enormous pressure and expectations.
“Not to crack under that pressure is a testament to her resilience and self-belief. I know she’s going to go on to be hugely successful in whatever walk of life she goes in to.”