Does University Worsen your Mental Health?

– The education system & wellbeing –

Introduction

Throughout the early stage of our lives we spend a lot of time, if not the majority, at school. From primary, secondary and all the way to university. 9am – 4pm, 5 days a week, 40+ weeks a year. It’s routine and it’s the way we are conditioned to go about our lives. As we get older, some people whilst still young, will go through a variety of experiences that shape who we become later on in life.

A lot of us don’t ever actually try to deal with the issues we encounter throughout life, partially because we haven’t been taught how to and also, because some of it, we believe is a normal part of our lives. Even if it is deemed as normal, a lot of these experiences are hard to comprehend or to face head on, especially if still in our early teens or early adult years.

As an example, seeing your parents struggle financially, surviving paycheck to paycheck and not being able to support them will of course be detrimental to your well-being. More than a million 10-15-year olds are worried about their parents not having enough money. This continues throughout your teenage years and unless you have been selling lucozades, cookies etc. or have secured a part time job from 16 onwards, what other ways are there to obtain money so young? From 15-17 a lot of us feel like a burden when asking for pocket money like we used to so unless
you’ve secured a source of income times can become even more difficult. Then, in a social media driven generation, where a lot of people seek acceptance online, it’s even harder for the current secondary school kids. Lack of financial support and not wanting to try to get money from parents results in searching for other ways to obtain societal goods. And, without any type of intervention, the cycle continues and the mental state of alot of teens worsens.

School

Throughout our educational journey we are just expected to bounce back from any obstacles we encounter with limited guidance and support most of the time. Lack of funding in secondary schools is 71% of the issue within mainstream schools in terms of barriers when it comes to mental wellbeing policies. Over half of schools have no policy around promoting mental well-being and health. Personally, I find these statements shocking. I understand that children are vulnerable to misunderstanding certain information such as the variety of mental illnesses but I was once a secondary school student and I have younger siblings who I have seen go through the current education system. I really feel with the correct approach implementing policies around mental wellbeing into secondary schools could work.

Imagine how many inner-city London state schools and other state schools around England would benefit from promoting methods of dealing with life challenges, encouraging safe spaces for students to talk and educating students on different mental illnesses and mental health issues. When you consider 50% of mental health issues are established by 14 and 75% of mental health issues are developed between 16-24 it would surely make a lot of sense. Students in secondary schools have to juggle their academics, alongside hobbies, social life and family life. All of the
following have obstacles and if at the right age, in a correct manner, policies around mental wellbeing and health were introduced I feel the stigma around it would be removed at an even faster pace.

If you see friends being groomed by gangs, being attacked violently, or people within your area dying or being attacked these types of incidents will damage your well-being. PTSD can occur as a result of “violent personal attacks” e.g. sexual assault, mugging or robbery. On top of this, within your estate there may be a lot of homelessness, drug addicts, drug dealers and just in general a lot of negative energy. A lot of these things are or can be associated with negativity, which is why I feel promoting good mental health in schools could counteract all the negativity
that occurs within these students’ lives. I am very conscious of the risks associated but I really feel between year 10 and sixth form a lot of students would benefit from support around well-being and mindfulness.

University

University is a challenging but very rewarding experience. I feel like everyone’s experience differs but there are many similarities: being out of our comfort zone and away from family, that SFE text feeling like we won the lottery for a few weeks unless our rent isn’t covered by it and generally, becoming more independent. But, it can also be a weird stage in our lives that at times, or during periods, results in a worse mental well-being for stages of it. Juggling your studies, part time work, social life and the range of other commitments students are involved in is difficult. I
feel like at most given times at university students suffer from one of the following: being behind in their studies, financial issues or social life suffering. At times, it’s probably a combination of all to be honest.

A thread of questions I did not too long ago on my twitter informed me that from 50 responses, 100% of people believe 1 in 2 people suffer a bad stage of mental health whilst at university. So, the question I asked myself is why doesn’t this receive even more attention? Resources at university are being stretched to their limits and I really feel not enough is being done by UK universities and governing bodies. Examples peers have told me about their experiences with student life centres and lack of support around their mental health whilst at university makes me critical of how much universities truly care about their students.

Five times as many students as 10 years ago have disclosed a mental health issue to their university. Also, student suicides have increased by 79% from 75 in 2007 to 134 in 2015. We all ask ourselves what can be done to counteract such statistics. I feel like reform within the education system is needed, society has changed rapidly over the last few decades but little change has occurred with the structure of the education system.

There’s a range of things that can contribute towards bad mental health at uni:

  • Being away from family/home and having to cope with that
  • Financial issues – learning to budget and high rent cost
  • Alcohol and drugs – is it a lifestyle or is it an antidepressant to get away from reality?
  • Forcing yourself to fit in with people you know you aren’t like – social conformity
  • The workload – change in work style/self-motivation
  • Trying to find your purpose or what you want to do in life
  • Type of accommodation and people you stay with
  • Sleeping pattern being non-existent

(these are just some of the many examples)

Can we come up with solutions?

I know that no one has all the answers but cohesively suggesting options, educating ourselves and our people around well being and how to look after your mental health is essential for progression. It doesn’t matter what your social status, ethnicity, sexuality is, anyone can suffer from bad spells of mental health.

An idea I’ve been thinking of recently is in terms of university imagine we only had 3 modules a term for some courses as a trial. Then, students had to do something illustrating a passion, side hustle or something to better society? As an example, a student who owns a business could show their work, progress and possibly do a presentation or essay on that. A YouTuber could analyse their channel, see strengths and weaknesses, and write a blog on why YouTube is an effective way of illustrating their personality. Or, students could write a critical essay on why Gentrification is ruining inner-city communities. Allowing students, who are under immense
pressure constantly, to express themselves is one of the many possible conversations we could have around ways to better student’s well being at university. I questioned the effectiveness of this solution but then remembered all social change starts with going against the status quo.

Another example is from year 10 onwards, schools investing more in life coaches, therapists and mentors. Students at 14-15 having someone they check in with weekly and can turn to is so essential. Especially, when you think how many of us grow up in council estates and are forced to face many social issues before our mind has properly developed. And, when you consider how many of us lack positive role models or a strong support system in our lives.

As stated, these are just ideas that could have some type of long term positive effect. Not solutions to such a serious epidemic. Having discussions about our experience, what we could have or could still benefit from is the first point for change. Then, pressuring those in positions of power and also, taking control into our own hands i.e. mentoring at old secondary school or in our community is the next step. Then from there, who knows what we can achieve or start to
work towards achieving.

Summary

The Ex-prime minister, Theresa May, stated that mental health is one of the “greatest social challenges of our time”.

In 2016, almost a quarter of a million children and young people in England were in contact with mental health care services. The right approach needs to be taken
to provide solutions to this epidemic and the flaws within the education system that cause a lack of support around the mental well-being of students within the UK. The lack of policies and funding leaves me not surprised at the fact UK teenagers suffer from some of the worst self harming, obesity and mental issue rates within the Western world. Personally, I don’t think ‘the elite’ and those in positions of power care to the extent they should because: they can afford private therapy, poverty doesn’t affect their well-being and their children are likely to attend private schools. Due to such reasoning I believe it’s our duty and well within our power to apply
pressure to educational institutions to support tackling this growing social issue.

Early intervention programmes and policies would of course be the most effective but can we really afford to neglect the current generation? There’s a range of contributing factors that contribute to someone’s mental health state so not one fixed strategy can be used to tackle such an issue. Conversations with substance, offering solutions and working in unity is what I believe is a great starting point. Followed by investment, respective bodies working together and actual mental well being policies being implemented. Then, we can slowly but surely see some very much needed change occurring.


Marley Ahmed is a talented guest blogger to The RealTalk Blog platform. Also the author of his own page, Let’s Talk Society, Marley digs into some of the societal trends and topics he feels more awareness and conversation should be had. We are happy to have Marley joining the RTB scene, hoping you enjoy his posts as much as we do!

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