University is a wonderful time. There is the potential to make lasting friendships, study and qualify in a subject you are passionate about, be independent, move away from home and a chance to try new things and get a real sense of who you are. The sense of freedom can be amazing.
The other side of the coin is that there can be a variety of challenges ahead – socially, academically and economically.
Even before you start university, the pressures can seem huge – competition for university places, choosing the right course, can lead to exam related stress and general worries about the future.
Stepping into university life can be daunting for many – being suddenly away from home, family and friends. The normal routine is gone.
Moving to a big city or a strange town is exciting but can be overwhelming too.
Peer pressure can be immense and often this can start in Fresher’s week where there is pressure to make new friends, join clubs and have a great and full social life.
It can easily appear as if everyone is making friends and for those who aren’t quite as outgoing as others, feelings of loneliness and isolation can grow.
Academically, university is a new concept. Getting used to new ways of learning, taking ownership for progress, meeting deadlines, keeping up with course-work, the sheer volume of reading can be a challenge.
Economically there is more pressure than ever as families stretch to help put loved ones through university. Many more students are balancing academic life with jobs. This in itself can be difficult with the struggle to do well in studies and jobs. Many feel torn between the two and this can lead to feelings of anxiety.
As well as immediate financial worries, students now report worrying about future employability – will there be a job out there? Have I got the right skills?
Some students may have additional concerns, for example international students. Being in a new country, a different culture with different teaching methods, language barriers can all add to students feeling pressurised to do well and prove themselves.
More and more students with special needs are now going to university and settling in to university life can be more challenging or include different challenges. In my work with students with differing needs I have been overwhelmed by the determination to get on and do well despite the fact that they may have to work on obtaining extra things such as mobility assistance, support worker help, assistive equipment etc. This all takes time to put in place correctly and I see how organised students have to be.
Mature students may have different issues such as juggling family commitments, childcare issues, getting used to a reduced household income due to a reduction in working hours to fit in study etc.
Students can encounter a variety of issues – anxiety, alcohol/drug dependence, bullying, depression, a lack of confidence, anger management, time management, self harm, eating disorders, relationship issues.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists produced a report, “Mental Health of Students in Higher Education” in 2011. This was in recognition of the diverse and complex issues students can face due to the increased student population from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds and also the current economic climate and its associated affects. Many recommendations/observations have been put forward, one being the need to recognise how important it now is for higher education and N.H.S services to work in collaboration.
Universities are committed to student retention and completion and work hard to help students face challenges and nurture their health and wellbeing. Counselling sessions are offered in a confidential environment and courses and workshops are often available. Some also offer online self help for those unsure about counselling – all to enhance the student experience.
For those who do not want to access their university counselling service, many seek help and advice from their G.P or prefer to find a Counsellor privately to work through issues in a safe environment. All credible Counsellors are members of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy and work to the BACP ethical framework – Ethics for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
So – the great news is that there are many places to go to get support – so please don’t feel you are alone if you are experiencing or know anyone who is experiencing any of these issues. Taking the first step in asking for help is your bravest step and will immediately start your journey of recovery/getting back on track!