I remember being a student (just about). Everyone who wasn't one seemed to be of the opinion that it was easy and that students have a lazy, layabout life. That they get up at noon and would drink anything and everything they could get their hands on. Of course some of that is true, but it also misses out a huge chunk of what life is really like for a person in higher education. The responsibilities and demands of that period can be stressful for many reasons:
Too little of it usually. Student loans might cover course fees and some day-to-day bills such as rent, but generally not the more mundane cost of living like food or travel (unless the student in question is a master budgeter, and I didn't meet many of those in my time at university). So the individual - who might be away from their parents' home for the first time - needs to earn money. They might look for a part-time job but find that the only ones available are menial and poorly remunerated due to the limited hours that they can commit to. Or worse, zero hours contracts with no secure income. The balancing act of work, study, social life and good mental health is a tricky one. If this affects you, you can find tips on the NUS website here.
Speaking of social life - this is where we are told it's at its peak. That we will never have times like these again and that we are lucky for how few responsibilities we have. We meet a diverse range of people and our minds are opened to the different personalities and circumstances which we come across. But now there is social media, and we see our friends at different, far away universities - it looks like they have a great group of friends who are all much cooler and more fun than we are. They're better looking, take better selfies and have newer clothes. What are we doing home alone on a Saturday night? Are we missing out?
Let's not forget the reason most people go into higher education - to learn. To study and grow - to grow up and to fill their heads with information and wisdom that will serve them in their life as an adult. Information and experience that will help them to build great careers. Essays, dissertations, projects, lectures and seminars take up time, energy, planning and brainpower. The ability to not only hear, but listen and digest information when there are so many distractions and things to do, people to meet, gigs to go to. It can be hard to balance them all.
Family & Friends
We are away from our families - sometimes for the first time. We might move in with people who begin as strangers, but soon become the people that we rely on to meet our needs. We might form romantic relationships quickly and with the wrong type of person. We might fall out with housemates or coursemates, or dislike our lecturers because they remind us of someone who once hurt us. We are learning how to relate to other people outside of the safety of our homes and the people whom we grew up near. And learning often requires failure to truly absorb teachings of the lesson. Unfortunately, sometimes that might take the form of building up rent arrears and being evicted from the place that we live because we haven't been taught how to run a home beyond cleaning our own bedroom.
Fears for the future
These are uncertain times economically. The cost to study at university is now bigger than ever - but job opportunities don't seem to have expanded at the same rate and how do we write a CV anyway? 50% of young people fear the number of job opportunities for their generation will decline in the next three years, a survey by the Princes Trust suggests.
And these are just a few of the issues that students face. That doesn't sound lazy and layabout to me. It sounds complex and demanding. Nuanced and pressurised. No wonder university counselling services are so oversubscribed. That individuals with so many things to consider along with the pressure of achieving a good degree result might need to talk to someone about their anxieties and fears.
This is a place where counselling can make a huge difference, where talking therapy early on in a person's life when they are working out how to deal with responsibilities and worries can set them up for maintaining good mental health and resilience which they then carry into their workplace and families. My student clients might talk about how they want to manage their stress going forward, what techniques they might use to manage their time or procrastination - or work on issues that so often arise in youth like disordered eating, obsessive thoughts or dealing with that fist devastating heartbreak.
If talking to someone about any of these issues might help you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or book in via my online booking system for a free 10-minute phone consultation at www.harleycounselling.com/bookonline.
Laura is an online talking therapist and writer specialising in working with millennials and the LGBTQI+ community.