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Feeling the Pressure - Looking at Student Mental Health

When people talk about education, the focus is often on exam results, career destinations and how schools, colleges and universities perform. With the end of the academic year fast approaching, it is the students who are experiencing the highs and lows of studying, and yet often only get discussed as statistics.


Being a student is commonly portrayed as a fun-filled party lifestyle where you make new friends, have amazing experiences and find your independence, all while filling your head with intellectually stimulating information that will set you up for your chosen career.


Many students arrive at college or university with this expectation, and while they will undoubtedly experience some of it at one point or another, the everyday reality can be a bit different. Students who move away from home face a myriad of issues that they may never have dealt with before, including managing finances alone, learning how to feed themselves, social isolation, the stress and pressure of balancing workloads, anxiety about being away from family and friends, and often the added commitment of having to work alongside studying simply to afford to live.


If expectations are not realistic, this can lead to a real crisis of confidence. Students can be left feeling unsatisfied, that they are not getting the ‘full experience’ of student life, or that they are doing something wrong. This uncertainty, combined with all the other stresses of moving away from home, can exacerbate any underlying mental health issues, or trigger new ones to emerge. This can negatively affect concentration and attendance, which can impact on a student’s ability to effectively complete their course. It can also push some students towards unhelpful coping mechanisms like drink or drugs, junk food or even self-harm. A 2022 study stated that 57% of students reported a mental health issue, with 30% saying that their mental health had deteriorated since starting university.[1]


There can also be internal pressures that students put on themselves that add to the mental load. Higher education is expensive, and so there is a lot of pressure to do well, to make it worthwhile and get the most of it. Our most recent podcast features Harrison Brown, a student at Napier University in Edinburgh, who talked to us about his experience of student life and how it impacts his mental health. He discusses how previous setbacks have left him feeling like he isn’t good enough, which results in a huge amount of self-imposed pressure. This makes him feel anxious and he tends to take on too much in an attempt to maintain control, but has also made him more resilient and able to steer himself in the right direction.


There are some helpful ways to combat some of the possible anxieties that students might face:


  • Have clear and realistic ideas about what to expect from student life to try to avoid disappointment

  • Develop coping mechanisms to help if and when issues occur

  • Set realistic and achievable goals – this can make the whole experience more manageable, keep you motivated and create a sense of achievement

  • Have a support network - it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that, because you’re on the road to independence, you must do it all alone, but everyone needs help sometimes

  • Prioritise self-care – make time to look after yourself, both physically (diet, sleep, physical activity) and mentally. Bear in mind that there’s nothing wrong with taking time out for breathing space if you need it


Much like life outside of education, if you can find a balance between studying and the things that you enjoy to do, things will seem more manageable. And if things are still overwhelming, don’t try and struggle through - reach out for help. One of the most important things you can do is keep perspective – you are right at the beginning of your journey and no matter what happens, the future is full of possibilities.



Photo by Tony Tran on Unsplash

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