Mental Health: Dealing with the ups and downs of university life

By Charlotte Wilkinson

Being a student is tough. The narrative around university life makes it seem like it’s all about nights outs, skiving off lectures, and ready meals. Although for
some this might by true, for many circumstances are more difficult. The student lifestyle doesn’t exactly lend itself to prioritising mental health. Hangxiety after a Wiff Waff Monday is tough enough, but if you’re already feeling low, lack of sleep and the depressive effects of excessive alcohol can compound issues. On top of this, the seemingly endless deadlines and the pressure to perform can quickly get too much.

Although some days it might seem like the University is making life as tough as possible, there is a wide-range of support available to students, through colleges, subject faculties and University-wide services. Welfare drop-ins and one-on-one appointments are a good place to start. Departments can offer extensions or further disability support when needed. On the face of it the University has plentiful resources in place for students who are struggling, but there seems to be a problem in ensuring that those who could most benefit from this provision are actually accessing it. People struggling with their mental health can feel a whole range of different emotions and often it’s hard, if not impossible to pinpoint the reason why. It often creeps up on you slowly as you go about your weekly routine.

Opening up about your mental health is hard

Feeling low or struggling with your mental health can begin to manifest through everyday practices until it becomes allconsuming and feels impossible to break the cycle and get help. Despite the fact we’re repeatedly told that everyone has bad days, and that there’s no weakness in showing emotion, opening up about your mental health is hard. People struggling tend to isolate themselves and try to deal with it alone; often talking themselves out of getting help, not quite realising that this only makes it harder in the long-term. When it feels like everyone else is having fun, the overwhelming fear of judgement and the idea that no one else will quite understand what you’re going through can become incredibly isolating. As summative season reaches its peak, student mental health is under addtional strain. There is often be a competitive environment surrounding work that can quickly become toxic. Who can stay the longest at the library? Who has put themselves under the most stress? Who has got it the worst?

The culture of working yourself into the ground has meant that taking time off and prioritising one’s mental health is often seen as slacking and lazy. This is neither healthy nor productive and although no student consciously wants to perpetuate a part of this culture, it becomes almost impossible not to internalise negative perceptions around academic work.

Endless deadlines and the pressure to perform can quickly get too much

The transition to university is difficult for many. After being under the watchful eye of teachers for most of our adolescence, university can feel like a faceless institution. Managing a big workload alone can be a challenge even for the most driven students.Universities needs to promote healthier everyday practices for all students to incorporate into their daily lives, not just those struggling with their mental health. This includes maintaining a healthy work-life balance, getting involved in the interests outside of academia and actually just enjoying being a student. Disability support and one-on one sessions can be helpful for those who have managed to identify that they need mental health] support. Yet, this misses a cohort of students who are still struggling day-to-day but don’t feel their issues
have become acute enough to access specific mental health resources.

The University needs to be aware of the impacts that this time of year can have on students. Student mental health has become increasingly topical over the course of the pandemic. Nevertheless, as we move back into ‘normal’ life, this priority shouldn’t change. Student mental health is important regardless of whether there’s a pandemic, its summative season or just the day after a big night out.

Illustration: Anna Kuptsova

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