The biggest downfall of universities.

by - 4/27/2017 08:00:00 pm


One of the many things I've learnt this year is university is hard and I haven't even started it yet. This year I took a gap year hoping to steady my life and gather it together before university rather than after. Stuff like saving money and learning how to live in the working world. I have done neither of those things - the working world is different for every single person and every single job meaning there is no way to learn how to live in the working world.

There is no the working world.

University is possibly the scariest thing going. Everybody I spoke to pre-freshers said they were starting to stress out and starting to consider a gap year - I am after all one of these people and I pulled out two weeks before I was due to start. But I didn't pull out just because of the fear, I pulled out because I had to. My university told me they didn't think they could have me this year because they wouldn't be able to provide the care I needed. I do after all have a mental health condition. 

Thought I would just throw that in the air for you, and I understand why universities would not run the risk with someone in my situation because it is a pre-existing condition. But Universities do not have enough resources for those who develop conditions as a result of university life, we pay £9,000 for an education but they can't protect our mental health in the process. I have friends who have risen up from the pressures they put on but I also have friends who have crumbled down. Depression, anxiety, nervous breakdowns are not uncommon words to hear for students these days. The universities they go to can't support them - so they send them home. They, like me, get put on a waiting list for health services. Until they get out of the waiting list, their lives will be on the waiting list. It could be a few weeks, it could be a few months, for me it was a year. How long can your life be put on hold? 

If you have a mental health condition, you know that it can often get worse in the presence of extreme stress, which is why so many people suffer relapses at university where stress is in the name. You expect to be stressed, if you're naive enough to believe that the whole three or four years will be like freshers then you're in for a shock after all. University is a complete life changer and people respond in different ways.

We are all fragile, and university exposes this.

University is about independence, it's about taking your studies into your own hands and judging yourself what you need. There's two extreme ways this can go:

1. You can skip every lecture, miss every deadline by procrastinating, go way into your overdraft and gain 2 stone eating takeaways.
2. You can attend every lecture, stress weeks ahead of deadlines, be so worried about saving money that you refuse any recreation, stop eating properly and start exhausting yourself at the gym.

Most people find the balance, they strike between the middle maybe with characteristics of each or leaning a certain way. For people with mental health issues like myself, it's all too easy to fall into an extreme category as a coping mechanism and both are as deadly as the other. But you know what they both have in common? Perfectionism. And perfectionism is a key factor in a lot of mental illnesses - eating disorders, anxiety, OCD - and perfectionism itself has been referred to as a mental illness.

Now everyone is screaming at their laptops 'how is extreme option 1 perfectionism?!', let me explain. Perfectionism is a two sided coin. Either you constantly strive for perfectionism (Extreme Option 2) or you give up altogether because you know you'll never reach your definition of perfectionism (Extreme Option 1). Either way perfectionism is the death of university students - yet what do authority and society drill into students these days? Perfectionism.

Universities are sacrificing their own students in their search for perfection.

Maybe you see yourself in one of these extremes, maybe you relate to one. Maybe you've never thought of yourself as being a perfectionist before because you think you're so imperfect. I intend to write a post soon about how to recognise yourself as a perfectionist but also how to help yourself with it - watch this space (I've been waiting to say that!)

I wrote this post and then noticed that Josie had written a very similar one on 'How University harms Mental Health', clearly it's a topic on a lot of people's minds so here are a few helpful links if you're struggling at university (or at home).

  • Nightline is a student listening service run by trained students. It was formed to help students who experience distress at night when they feel like there is no one else to turn to. It is completely anonymous and you can find your service by searching your university.
  • Student Minds run groups at universities all across the country to help students with mental health issues. This may or may not be your cup of tea (I for one do not enjoy group therapy) but can be extremely helpful if you feel alone in your fight against mental illness. 
  • Samaritans is a free 24 hour helpline, it is optional whether to give your information. They are there to listen and offer advice and support.



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21 comments

  1. I never thought of it in that way but for some reason I thing you're right :O "Maybe you see yourself in one of these extremes, maybe you relate to one. Maybe you've never thought of yourself as being a perfectionist before because you think you're so imperfect." SO TRUE

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  2. It is really sad that universities offer so little support, especially considering how much we pay. And it is sad that universities can have such a negative impact on a person's mental health, I've seen statistics that quite frankly shocked me. My uni has a mental health society which is really good, however, it is mostly a support group which is why I don't go that often. I am perfectionist as well and I found it really hard to cope with uni when I started - now I'm slowly starting to realise that it is impossible to only get firsts and that it's okay to fail sometimes xx

    113thingstosay.com

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    1. The statistics are totally crazy, it's bad enough that 1 in 4 people struggle with a mental health problem but the stats in uni are even higher. Glad things are getting better for you, thanks so much for reading and leaving such a genuine comment x

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  3. What an informative post for those who suffer with mental illness. I went to college but my program was a fast-track program that was only 2 years but would total 4 years if it wasn't fast-tracked. That means that the amount of work and knowledge you had to retain was absolutely stressful. Deadlines, assignments, group work..everything in 2 yrs. It was the hardest 2 years of my academic life. But I have had experience in the working world taking on deadlines and stress before hand. I was also a mom to a preschool and married. I didn't pursue post-secondary education until I was already 24. But the thing is I didn't have mental illness or at least wasn't diagnosed. After completing college, I worked in my field to gain better experience. That's when the stress really got to be too much. My workplace had a lot of politics and it made it hard to do my job. I also got pregnant again after working in the field for a year. I had only recently found out I suffer from Postpartum Depression & postpartum anxiety, including postpartum OCD. But this has been something I have been battling with a lot longer than I had acknowledged. I disregarded it as stress..but im certain I've had since starting in my field. Its a tough illness to cope with. It's even harder when you're on a routined stress-triggering lifestyle like being a student. I hope that when you start you find the resources you need to successfully complete you're studies. Good luck! xo
    --https://imommy.co

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting and sharing your story. It's totally not just students who struggle with the issues of stress in work and I think we need to start bringing it to the attention of not only headteachers/university staff but also to bosses and colleagues.

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  4. It is good to have advocates for more inclusive, diverse and real life universities. Thank you for sharing your story! Yeu Doi

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  5. You know, this is so true, my own uni experience was really bad, I had a much worse time of it than I ever had at school, the amount of money we pay for this education and then the way we are treated like we don't matter at all, it's pretty hard to take.

    Rosy | Sparkles of Light Blog
    My Instagram | Instagram

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    1. Thanks for reading Rosy, I'm so sorry for the bad experience you've had at university. I hope one day it'll be different.

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  6. You are so spot on. There is so much pressure put on an during university. I also think there's a problem with the way the content is delivered. My undergraduate focused on scores. But not everyone could pass so if there were too many high grades, some got knocked down to not throw off the curve. But in masters, the focus was on ensuring we had the skills to actually do our job. I much preferred the practical learning to the memorisation. How else are you going to know if you can actually handle the field if you've only ever read a text book?

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    1. Yes! There isn't enough focus on practicality at university except in medical courses - and those are the most intense. I think work experience is more important than sitting in lectures for ridiculous hours a week.

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  7. I wish I would have known about these help lines when I was in school. They would have definitely come in handy. I think it's really easy for teachers to forget that you're not only taking their class and you have a million other assignments to complete, as well as the ones for their class. And of course every teacher wants their assignment done perfectly, but with all the stress it's impossible to do that all the time. Thanks for sharing these help lines. I'm going back to school, and they might come in handy!

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    1. Thanks for reading. I hope they help you in your return to school.

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  8. It's so interesting to see the differences between schools in the US and UK and somehow a lot of the struggles are the same. It's ridiculous.

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  9. Stay true to yourself, focus on your goals and take time to devote the attention to yourself you need as well. Sending you positive vibes.

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  10. Your article is spot on ! The pressure is real - it's hard emotionally to get through all of those struggles .

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  11. I had no idea about the lack of support when it comes to mental health issues, that really is a downfall and one that should be (more loudly!) addressed by those in influential positions at universities. Sorry to hear you had to initially pull out before starting, that's such a shame. Very interesting and informative post! Have a lovely week ahead :)

    aglassofice.com
    x

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  12. Yes, university life is harder than high schools but once your started it, you'll learn that you have fun too. Just believe in yourself that you can!

    xx, Cinthy Kwok

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  13. I could talk about this topic all day but I'll spare your time. Universities are incredibly, and I mean super duper incredibly, good at harming a person's mental health. There are a lot of pressure, a lot of fast pace and expectations there. It's so easy to fall into one of the extremes. I am still managing bit by bit, and am trying to find the right balance but it's hard.

    - Leta | The Nerdy Me

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    1. Tell me about it haha could go on for days. I think you're doing pretty amazing - keeping up a blog on the side aswell. Thanks for reading Leta.

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  14. This is a great post Kate! I'm the type of person to always strive for perfection and the way i am driving myself crazy with my A-levels makes me very scared for Uni in some ways and how it will affect me!

    Darriyan xx
    www.darriyancateland.co.uk

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