With 49% of students surveyed admitting their mental wellbeing declined after leaving university (via the City Mental Health Alliance), post-university mental health issues are more commonplace than you might think. So why is no one talking about them?
“For me, leaving university was a bittersweet experience”, Mollie Davies, who graduated this summer, explains. “It very quickly went from being celebrated and recognised [for my achievements], to being thrown into a large pot of pressures. I traded the student union, lectures, and a big circle of friends in for something far more daunting: adulthood and the unknown.”
But often before graduates can even get to ‘adulthood’, a place of limbo ensues. The last eighteen years of any students’ life have been about education – a structured routine of security, friendships, and learning. University is so often the goal for young people, which is why it can feel so daunting when it’s over. When the familiar timetable of university seminars, lectures and events come to an end, they’re faced with the overpowering question, ‘What do you want to do with your life?’
“It’s a massive anti-climax”, Counsellor Beverley Hills, who is a member of Counselling Directory, explains. “After years of structure, a feeling of ‘what now?’ descends. Consider this: you’ve been working all your life towards this single defining moment – ‘The Degree’ – but now the gates have clanged shut and you’re on your own, no wonder you feel lost.”
It’s easy to see how leaving the comfort and familiarity of university can have a negative impact on your mental health. “I have no routine and I feel lonelier than ever”, Mollie continues. “I’ve been waking up at midday and going to bed earlier, because the truth is, nobody wants to leave behind something that has been the best time of their life.
“I’m scared, because for some people they can’t land their dream job, but for me, I don’t even know what that is”, Mollie adds – and she’s not alone, either. Rachel Boyd from mental health charity MIND added that “people may feel societal expectations and pressures to take on the role and responsibilities of being an adult, as for the first time you may have to support yourself financially, and so you might be worrying about debt.”
“I’ve dwindled in a downward spiral since graduating”, Mollie continues. “I spent the last three years focusing on the end result, and now it’s here, I don’t know what to do with it. I’ve come out of my education tens of thousands of pounds in debt, and have worked my bloody socks off, so why should I settle for something that doesn’t make me happy?”
It’s not just the impending duties that are intimidating, either: the average student has £50,000 worth of debt over their head when they leave university, which, paired with not knowing what job they want to do, can put a strain on their personal and physical health.
The City Mental Health Alliance, who spoke to over 300 recent graduates, say 49% of those surveyed said their mental wellbeing declined after leaving university, while 44% felt their friends were doing better than them and 40% felt socially isolated.
On top of this, in a social media age where comparing yourself to anyone and everyone on your timeline is normal, it’s hard not to feel like you’re the one being left behind. Which is why Dr Andy Pope, author of Happiness: Your Route-Map to Inner Joy, recommends graduates stay away from ‘anti-social media’: “the platforms that showcase all your friends and those you follow with a career that you so desperately desire that gives them a flashy lifestyle. Those people may not be happy either, and even if they are, you’re not them.”