From the high grades Durham awards annually, their ambitious UCAS requirements, and the successful careers students so often accomplish post-university, one can conclude that Durham is composed predominantly of hardworking high achievers. At any time of day (or night), hundreds of said students can be found in the Bill Bryson, a hub of hard work and essay-grinding, deadline-meeting focus. Initially, one might consider this a solely positive concept, but with a societal increase in mental health awareness, questions must be raised around the darker side of studying, including a growing pressure to work twenty-four seven.
This dedication pays off, with 95% of Durham graduates achieving a 2:1 or above. But at what cost? Whilst being driven and dedicated are admirable qualities, when examined closely, underlying issues concerning obsessive perfectionism and a lack of work-life balance are worrying. Current students confirmed that there is an established work-related pressure at Durham, with one telling me, “I have work on my mind every day” and another explaining that expectations are set so high they can “sometimes seem impossible to meet”.
For others, that’s what university is about: “I chose the University because I wanted to be somewhere where people were interested in their course and wanted to be working hard as well as having a good time.” But the pressure to work hard isn’t a Durham-exclusive issue and stems more from the hustle culture-heavy society we now live in.
This collective attitude can lead to a state of overworking to the point where it becomes a lifestyle, leaving no time for personal life and relaxation. The worry here is that, in theory, university should set young adults up for their working life and if this toxic behaviour is encouraged now, it will likely infiltrate into the lives of graduates. So, it is clear there’s a problem here, but how can we address it? With deadlines looming, students might currently be struggling to find an equilibrium between hard work and healthy relaxation.
Don’t feel pressured to always go out or feel boring if you say no. It can be good to prioritise an evening in the library, just try not to do it all the time to maintain that vital social aspect of university. Checking in on friends and speaking to others is also key. Going for coffee with students from your course can also help you feel less alone. Durham can feel claustrophobic so try to reach beyond the Durham bubble by staying in contact with loved ones at home who can support you.
Finally, Durham is well equipped in terms of support systems, but some students are entirely unaware of their existence. Take time to learn who can offer support within your college and academic department. Mental illness rates at university are troubling and, with UCAS estimating that over 70,000 students may enter higher education every year with a mental health condition, the way we handle pressures at university is not something to be overlooked.
Illustration: Mollie Dunne