It’s that time of year when young adults fly the nest and go off to university. For some, this is the first time they will be away from their parents and families for a long period of time and is a big milestone in people’s lives. It would be easy to believe that uni life is just one big party where you ‘find yourself’, make friends for life, and leave university three or four years later ready to face the big wide world, degree in hand, and mortar on the head.
Everything that depicts university life points to a universal positive fun experience shared by all. Beaming smiles shine out from every university prospectus, whether the student in question is in the lab, in the library or in halls, and university open days are populated by perma-smiling, chirpy informative student representatives.
However, the often harsh reality of freshers’ university life is that it can be an incredibly lonely experience, exacerbating existing mental health issues, and for some, creating completely new ones, in particular anxiety and depression. When that dorm door closes for the first time, more often than not, students are truly alone. In most cases, this is their first experience of such a feeling. Friends are at home, family are nowhere near, and they are thrust in to an unknown world, filled with huge pressures. Pressure to make friends, pressure to adapt to a previously unknown way of life, and pressure to live up to the norms expected whereby they have a fantastic, happy experience.
Social media also plays a big role in the feelings of isolation and not fitting in that are commonplace in freshers. Seeing pictures of friends and peers at others universities seemingly have a great time, surrounded by new friends, can often make students think the problem is with themselves. But as with all social media, you never see the story behind the pictures. For most freshers, they may be feeling these exact same feelings, but they go very much unspoken, and so it is a vicious cycle which all are complicit and involved in.
All these feelings are further compounded by the excessive drinking culture that accompanies freshers week activities. Alcohol is a depressant, so does no favours for people who are experiencing difficulties. All in all – university is not just one big party.
It is important that the message is spread that feelings of loneliness, isolation, anxiety, sadness and depression are completely natural for all students, and in particular freshers.
The onus is on universities and institutions to provide the support and resources that students need to get through this turbulent time in their lives, and direct them to the appropriate avenues.
University is a place where people can come out the other end better and stronger for the experience – and dealing with mental health issues can contribute positively to these changes – students just need to know how to deal with them.