Back in 2018, I discovered that someone I used to associate with had chosen to end their life. I didn’t know them very well, but I knew them well enough for the news to come as a shock. Seeing articles online about how a certain university had let this individual down was surreal. Obviously, when these things happen, you question your own position in what occurred; ‘Should I have made more of an effort to be in contact?’, ‘Is there anything I could have done if I’d have known about it?’ etc… The truth is that, obviously, there is nothing that I could have done differently, but those questions are hard to navigate.
Having a personal connection to this tragedy makes hearing about other university students in a similar situation hard to digest. I have seen news articles speak of how a university has let a student down time and time again. Are universities blind to the student mental health pandemic? Do they know but just not care? It's a worrying thing for anyone, let alone a mother or father of a child turning 18, about to embark on the next part of their life. But why is student mental health such an issue?
From my experience, there are alot of pressures at university. The idea is that university is meant to be the absolute time of your life is a major one. Supposedly, if you’re not going out every night, making loads of friends and having loads of one night stands, then you’re doing wrong. On top of this, you’re meant to study, support yourself as an individual for the first time, get good grades and be ready for the world of work when you finish. It’s no wonder that, especially after the pandemic, students are struggling more than ever.
I gave up on the whole ‘Uni-is-the-time-of-your-life’ facade when I realised that 4 months in; I hadn’t met anyone I had really connected with massively, I didn’t necessarily enjoy spending time with the people in my flat, and I wasn’t enjoying my course. I remember spending hours in my room going hungry because I could hear my flatmates - that were essentially strangers to me - in the shared kitchen. It was hard coming home for Christmas that first time and seeing family. They ask you, with a big smile on their face, ‘How is university?’ - expecting you to give an excited reply - ‘It's the best!’.
University can absolutely be fun, but it can also be absolutely miserable. I can only imagine what it must be like for someone who had it worse than I did. Help wasn’t obvious. I knew that there was a student support building, but I didn’t know where it was. Even if I did, what was I to say? - ‘I don’t like my flatmates and I thought this was meant to be fun’? I did eventually find people that I am very grateful for and that I have truly a deep connection with, but this didn’t come easily. For some people it might not come at all.
I want it to be known that it is OK not to like uni. It is OK that you haven’t met anyone that you connect with. It is OK that you feel like you need to hide away in your room. All I will say is, be honest and speak to your family and friends back home about it. You wouldn’t be going to University if you didn’t have people around you that support you, so let them support you!
Universities need to to clean up the mental health mess that they’re in, but in order to let them do that, they need to know that you’re struggling. I encourage you to, if you haven’t already, reach out and use the services available. If you already have, then you’re on the right path. If your university isn’t a source of support then reach out to other places.
The NHS has a guide of where to go if you’re a uni student struggling with your mental health. But most of all, be kind to yourself. University can be incredibly tough, but the fact that you’re even having a go at it shows you that you are a strong and willing person.