The jump from sixth form or college to university is a big one. It’s a time when sprightly young adults are waving goodbye to their parents and waving hello to life on campus, where they’re faced with grown-up decisions like "can I really get away with going out two nights on the trot?"
But while this new found freedom can be a joy and blessing to some, others may struggle with the challenge of living away from the supportive nest of family.
This week sees University Mental Health Awareness Week hit campuses. One in four people will suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives, and it would be naïve to think that this doesn’t apply to young people or students, as if they are somehow protected by the joyful exuberance of youth.
As a student in sixth form I had many - sometimes crippling - experiences with depression and anxiety, often buckling under the pressure of co-ordinating my A-levels with a healthy social life. When people think of students, images are immediately conjured up of fun fancy dress, jagerbombs and hungover snoozes over textbooks in the library - but trying to juggle moving to a new area, leaving behind old friends, a whole new academic course, the anxiety of trying to make new friends and keeping up a hefty social life is eventually going to take its toll.
It’s imperative that students who are struggling to cope aren’t left forgotten about to fall between the cracks. A recent study commissioned by the Priory Group showed that 43 per cent of first year students didn’t feel comfortable talking about any mental health problems with their friends – and if they can’t confide in their peers, then who are they talking to? It’s crucial that universities let their students know that there are support systems in place for them. By holding an awareness week you are doing just that and also showing students who may not be coping as well as they could be that they are not alone.
University Mental Health Awareness Week is also an incredibly important time for universities to work with not only their students suffering from mental illness, but also those who don’t and perhaps aren’t fully understanding of the subject. The stigma against mental health is still a huge issue, and can leave those suffering with a fear of talking about their illnesses and in turn, seeking help.
By raising awareness in universities and breaking preconceived ideas of what mentally ill people should and shouldn’t be we can make life moving forward for students and other young people a little less stressful. Check with your university to see when their awareness week is, and if you find that they aren’t holding one perhaps get in touch with your student union to see if there is one in the pipeline. Mental health issues can affect anyone, and you never know, a day might come when you yourself are in need of some extra help.