I have written about student mental health before and remain passionate and opinionated about the welfare of students – especially those living with mental health issues. Mental health continues to be a hot topic in the news and tweets about recent events (for example in America). As well as being the focus for campaigns such as “time to talk” and others.
Reading The Guardian I was intrigued to see that funding to key health services for students is being cut. Why am I surprised? And although I wish I could constructively answer the problems faced by these services, as inexperienced as I am, I can’t help but think that we need to take a step back here.
I believe that the average British undergrad is being mis-sold university. Or at least they don’t fully know what they are getting themselves into. I believe Schools push people into uni under the misapprehension that if you don’t go to uni you will fail at life. Getting A level/college kids into uni seems to be the measure of both the School’s reputation and the pupil’s worth. Which is wrong. And while I think university is great I have seen both of my siblings, so far, pass up the opportunity to go to uni – and I can’t blame them.
Putting aside the notion I could have put them off university, I absolutely admire anyone who has said no to uni and made something of themselves (omg it does happen!) I think that students go to uni with a pressure on their shoulders to succeed and make sure they get a decent job at the end of it all. But as other articles have highlighted it is important not to go in and work yourself into the ground to get a 1st class degree – it’s about the experience and about making uni what you want it to be…
The transition from School to uni is a big one. I think a lot of students consider themselves to be a small fish in a MASSIVE pond. I think many of them feel alone despite their best efforts at making friends and “fitting in”. Their priorities lie in making friends, being a sociable as possible and then OH NO they have a degree to do as well on top of that. This isn’t meant as a criticism but I would argue that uni is attended now not for the discipline or academia, but for the tick on a list people HAVE to complete in order to be a well rounded human being. Some people even see it as the only means of leaving home and the constraints of family life.
I am not a psychologist or doctor but I know that stress exacerbates things and underlying mental health problems can come to the surface during these times. Depression and eating disorders are just two examples I witnessed when I was a student (and beyond). I’m not saying if you have a mental health problem you shouldn’t go to uni but there is nothing worse than being far from home, away from comfort and confused. Existing services are hard to access and stretched enough!
I wish I had the answer to the struggles with funding that these important services (GP surgery, counselling, CBT etc) face. But I think that the pressure would be taken off of some of these services if people weren’t pushed into university and if young people were better educated about mental health generally and their own mental well-being. I also think more should be done to help students with the transition to university by the Schools and Colleges who wish to nudge them in that direction.
On a side note, struggling with many personal issues myself I too have had to access some of the services at the university I work at. I have been very grateful for them and consider myself very lucky to be able to have some free counselling amid some really hard times. HOWEVER I am reluctant to take advantage of these services while I feel I could be taking a space that could be filled by a student. If every member of staff who felt this way, did that and stopped seeking that help, I think the university as a whole would suffer as a consequence.