By Susanna Cirulli
CN: Alcohol, drugs,
Before writing this article, I spoke to various friends to get their thoughts on their first year of university. From struggling with mental health issues that they had never experienced before moving, to homesickness and loneliness, I was surprised at how many agreed that they were not totally prepared for what uni life would entail. So why is it that many students find themselves struggling with their mental health at some point during their degree?
From a psychological point of view, the period of transition into adulthood from the age of 16-25 is a critical time in a young person’s life. Challenging events such as moving away from home and the stress caused by intense studying and exams can trigger problems for those who are already vulnerable. Some young people find it hard to leave home and be able to function independently: something that happens almost overnight when you move to university. The brain doesn’t stop developing until the age of 25 and as this happens we often experience emotional turmoil. Experimentation with alcohol and drugs, combined with a lack of sleep and inadequate nutrition can affect a young person’s mental health.
The prospect of independence was an aspect of the student lifestyle that I was really looking forward to. I was excited to focus my studies solely on subjects that I am passionate about and have full control over every aspect of my life. I thought that having nobody telling me what to do would be amazing, but it wasn’t until I got to uni that I realised how far you are thrown into the deep end.
“You suddenly have many aspects of your life that you need to organise and that takes a lot of getting used to.”
University can actually be a highly isolating environment as you are distanced from the support you once had at home and school. Although some people thrive independently, many struggle with the challenge. You suddenly have many aspects of your life that you need to organise and that takes a lot of getting used to.
Leaving the comfort and warmth of home to move to a new place is as daunting as it is exciting. There is a constant pressure to impress people and make friends. Living with people who don’t know you like your family do and feeling like you constantly have to show the best side of yourself can be mentally draining.
There is this idea that when you go to university you can walk out of the door during freshers week or go to lectures and make friends instantly. The reality isn’t quite like that. It is unlikely you will speak to many of the people you met during freshers and so you have to put yourself out there in order to build new friendships. Although in your first year you are just finding your feet, in an ever-changing environment, the pressure to make friends doesn’t necessarily go away. New stresses such as finding people to live with and managing rent and bills put further strain on those who are already struggling to cope with the student lifestyle.
As well as this, in a time where social media has a huge influence on how we perceive things, all we see are happy Instagram posts, Facebook albums and snapchat stories of people having the time of their life. The loneliness and disillusionment that students experience is something that is glossed over online and avoided in conversation.
It is said that your years at university are the best years of your life. Although this is true for some, with the greater pressure placed on students today, many can find it difficult to cope. Universities need to improve their understanding of mental health and provide a stronger support system, as student counselling services are often limited with long waiting lists. It is so important that students feel supported and that there is always somewhere to turn to through the transition of moving to university.
If you’re affected by the issues raised in this article, and need to reach out to someone, please call the Mind Infoline at 0300-123- 3393 or visit https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helplines/