For many, starting university can be an exciting time, but for others the notion only brings feelings of dread. With increasing numbers of young people moving away from home to attend university, it unsurprisingly comes hand in hand with an increase in student stress and anxiety levels.
According to research conducted by The Institute for Public Policy Research, a growing number of undergraduates are reporting mental health problems, and the number of student suicides is rising to a record high. But what has caused this stress, and what can we do to avoid it?
Gemma Doherty, current Head of Wellbeing, Confidence and Connections at the University of Sunderland, stated: “A lot of students visit us worrying about people not liking them or their course being too difficult for them.”
“Whilst a high number of Sunderland’s students live at home, we also have a high proportion of international students, and for them the move from home to university is all the more terrifying.
“For a lot of international students, England is very different to their home country and, especially in Sunderland, can take a lot of getting used to. It seems that no matter how fluent you are in English, Sunderland, and the North East in general, has a dialect which many struggle to understand.”
Gemma also expressed her concern for a new problem compared to those only a few years ago: “A huge proportion of our students are from working-class backgrounds, many being the first of their family to attend university.”
“Some students may be worried about changing courses, or dropping out and having to still pay for a course they no longer wish to do. This wasn’t an issue a few years ago when tuition fees were a lot lower. Now they are rising and students are becoming increasingly anxious and feel pressured to continue a course they don’t like and are plagued with the debt afterwards.”
Many students also take on extra responsibilities, such as work or having to balance childcare, along with their studies which, of course, adds extra stress.
If you are a student who has moved away from home to go to university, there are problems you’ll face when settling in.
Jonathon Ward, a 21-year-old Computer Science student at the University of Sunderland said: “I didn’t feel anxious moving away really. The people I moved in with were nice, so I was able to distract myself by making new friends with them.
“By the time I had time to actually think about stuff like moving away, I had already been living [here] for a month.”
Gemma expressed this was often the case and, although many students who move away are initially distracted, eventually these distractions make room for homesickness to set in.
For Jonathon, homesickness wasn’t an issue, but there is still a large proportion of students who do struggle to settle into their new life.
Luckily, the Students’ Union now has many schemes in place to help students who may be struggling. While there are representatives at the union who can help, they have also found that speaking to a stranger can be intimidating for some.
To help with this, the University of Sunderland has now introduced a peer support system called Look After Your Mate, which guides students with information on how to support their friends during a rough time. The Union can help students discuss any problems they may have, as well as trying to come up with solutions and also developing emotional resilience to help deal with the problems students now face.
Gemma said: “If you are having trouble, you’re not alone, and there are people here who can help you.”
If you, or anyone you know, is a student at the University of Sunderland and going through a tough time, the Students’ Union has a team of friendly faces located on the first floor of the Edinburgh Building on City Campus.
There are also some wellbeing guides posted on the website (https://www.sunderlandsu.co.uk/helpyourself ) if you wish to give it a quick look.