There’s a well worn cliché about students being lazy, good-for-nothing, workshy spongers – but what many people don’t see is the depression, anxiety and pressures of the modern student that don’t match up to this tired stereotype. The National Union of Students (NUS) have carried out a survey and discovered that many students are struggling mentally with the expectations and demands of further education. This is worrying as one in ten had admitted to having “suicidal thoughts”. So why are there so many issues and why are universities and colleges not recognising and helping those affected?
There are several issues here and while I am fully open about my own battles with mental health, many do not have the support system around them that I do and therefore don’t seek help or speak to anyone about their feeling low and worse. For some the pressure will just be too much and sometimes you have to decide what is best for your health in this situation and is it worth jeopardising your health just for a piece of paper?
Firstly there has to be an honest look at the value of people going into further education. New Labour’s push to get thousands more into University was well meaning but flawed and is a culture that still exists in society today. Many are expected to go on and get a degree even if they don’t know what it is they wish to do with their lives beyond that – I think that this is a huge mistake because with the costs associated with a University education it’s not a cheap way to “try” something. The fact of the matter is that a degree does not guarantee a good job, yet everyone is told that it will and will bring a certain level of financial reward both of which are not true. If you do a vocational course or a course with a placement this is much more likely than sitting doing an arts degree with no specific aim. As an Arts Graduate I can testify to that! So there will be may people for whom Uni just isn’t the right place for them and they shouldn’t force themselves through the financial and mental pain just to get a degree.
For those who do need or want a full education then part of that is coping with the stress that this brings. If you don’t work, study and attend lectures then you won’t succeed – no point in crying at this point because it’s too late and self inflicted. Which leads us to those who this survey really focuses on – the quiet sufferers. There will be those for who they need to and are capable of achieving great things with their degrees and they do need the support if they are struggling. Universities need to ensure that counselling services and medical provisions are available for those who need it – and to ensure there is less stigma around the mental health issues there needs to be a more open and frank attitude within these institutions to those who suffer from depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, panic attacks, self-harming and drug & alcohol abuse.
It is ignorant to think that in a microcosm of society like a University or College that these things don’t happen. Simple measures such as drop in centres for those who just want information can get it – many kids have just come from school where they are fully supported and now here they are left to fend for themselves, many living away from home. Posters and campaigns to raise awareness should be visible and will help to break down the stigmas surrounding mental illnesses. I know from teaching in secondary schools that these problems already exist in teenagers so we need to ensure there is some kind of support system for them at University and College.