Being a university student isn’t just drinking to oblivion and recollecting none of the night’s events but a lanky scrap of doner meat between your fingers, hovering just not close enough to your mouth. University can be the best experience of your life where you make lifelong friends, understanding petty tasks like how to live off pasta for a month or encounter fundamental learning such as how to use your degree to progress into your dream career.
Yet, it can also be the worst. Not only can the assignments and exams be so stressful, but you aren’t necessarily going to make friends. Just because you’ve been randomly allocated into a flat of a few other people doesn’t mean you’ll keep in contact until death do you part. Although, many a time coincidence rebuts this. For me, my solid friend group are the ones back in my hometown. Not only this, but the maintenance loan offered by student finance doesn’t even cover rent costs a lot of the time. I could write a mini-dissertation about my dissatisfaction with the presumptive loan system and it not catering for all backgrounds. But maybe I’ll save that for another time. Even so, these stressors add up.
As a result, you might find yourself not sleeping at night, or oversleeping completely. Having no or little motivation to pick a pen up let alone walking to your seminar.
What I want to highlight is the vast number of students who experience mental health problems, which stands at around 25% along with the rest of the population. That might be fifty people in your lecture theatre. Two of your housemates. It might be you.
I forget how lucky I am sometimes that when I do feel at my lowest, I can just catch a two hour train home. Be immersed in the scent of my own house surrounded by family, comforting food that isn’t canned or frozen. See my friends, feel like the real me. I couldn’t even fathom being homesick for a home that is a twelve hour flight away.
I’m in my final year now, so I have undoubtedly calmed down my party habits to probably once or twice a month if that. Yet, as a fresher, it seemed that I would have FOMO every time I said no to a night out. That refusal soon enough turned into a ‘go on then’ at 11pm as I started applying my makeup while still in my pyjamas and swigging own-brand vodka and orange squash. It was more than the fear of missing out on a good time though. It was as though I was trying to prove myself and model myself into having a false persona that I was outgoing, fun, wild, likeable. A façade.
You could even say that I had an irrational fear that I no longer would be accepted and approved of by other students if I missed a night out. A night out where nothing new ever happens, where there’s vomit, another piece of clothing for the laundry pile, a bigger hole in the overdraft, and a fuzzy head disabling any motivation to do any intellectual or productive task the following day.
Right now, it’s a Friday night, and other than writing this post I’m listening to Alt-J with apple and cinnamon flavoured green tea in my dressing gown in my room. Would I have done this in first year? Absolutely no chance.
I was so, so, so naïve for thinking the way I did those few years ago. I had no concept of how to relax, wind down, or even enjoy my own company.
Whether you’re a student, whatever the year, or otherwise, never underestimate the importance of relaxing. If your career involves your persona to be constantly energetic, positive and on the ball, then relaxation is even more paramount. I may have reverted back to my usual introverted self, but I can still take the time to relax even after a day of being alone writing an essay or reading.
I am fully aware that when you land a new job, it seems obligatory to jump at every available task and be the first one in the office and the last one to leave. This is bullshit. If your employer is allowing you to do this, then you shouldn’t be working for them. A company who does not respect health and wellbeing is not the place for anybody. Of course, some people are workaholics, utilise work to distract themselves from other issues, or are just genuinely keen or want a promotion.
Even still, we should not be afraid to give a firm ‘no’ when our body and mind requires it.
At universities, student unions are particularly adept in offering mental health services, such as counselling. Though, feeling stressed or low is not necessarily an indicator of a wider problem most of the time. It is a mere part of being human. It doesn’t help that media and social networks may romanticise the ideal of being ‘broken’ and mentally ‘vulnerable’, which I call bullsh*t on. While on one hand there’s nothing beautiful about depression, there is nothing ugly about it either. To stigmatise mental illness and make sufferers feel ashamed for feeling any fraction of it on a spectrum is what dehumanises them.
Time to Talk Day 2017 was just last week, but its object promotes conversations around mental health in order to establish better relationships with others and overcome what can be the worst part of suffering from a mental illness. University Mental Health Day also took place last week too. Yet, just like with my views on International Women Day, a designated day does not mean this is the only time of year to talk. If mental health can be a problem at any time of year, there can be a solution to it at any time of year too. Surely, we can create conversation 365 days a year.
For more information on mental health, visit the UK’s leading charity, Mind.