Falling Forwards

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Words: Maia Pachalski (she/her)

Content Warning: mental health

As a Gen Z’er I’d say it’s quite hard to be young at the minute. Let’s not forget the state of the world we are living in. Older generations who have been there and done that may argue that it has always been hard to be young; it is subjective to personal experience. And yeah, in some ways we have very cushy lives, the privilege of studying at university being one of them. So, if the struggles of spreading your wings are common knowledge, why don’t the places that teach us in those times actually teach us how to cope? 

As I sit here in my third year, I look back, disheartened by the glittering naivety a younger me had towards the uni life I saw for myself. Personally, I was ecstatic at the prospect of university when I was 16. The inspiration I had about what I would learn, who I would be, and what I would experience was endless. I never thought that the very same independence could paralyse me. Regardless of what your aspirations might have been (mastering the bender or becoming an academic weapon) I think a lot of us have been struck by a certain sense of loss or emptiness during our time as students. As emotional beings this comes naturally, but experiencing this reality for the first time without the support of your cocoon can be devastating. While this can teach us to build new support systems, it can lead others down dark, dark alleys. As the importance of mental health is increasingly brought to light, we need to reconsider the cultural and systematic support and care that we have available. 

To prosper at university can mean many different things: go to all your lectures, get a first, discover a new area of research, skip all your 9ams’, have the most friends, black out every weekend, have a balanced schedule, go to the most parties, get up at 6 am, go to the gym, pay your rent on time, join that society, lead that society, make your mark, go unnoticed, graduate… 

Managing expectations and what is realistically achievable is essential to avoid this kind of spiralling, and this applies both to individuals and society. The culture surrounding what it means to be a student needs to accommodate the weight that sorting your shit out and becoming independent has on your mental health and wellbeing. Otherwise, we are at a place where the only support we know is to let loose with a cheeky pint of Tennents.

The university has many mental health support systems that you can find on many web pages (see links below). Personally, I have tried the counselling system and was rather disillusioned when I didn’t hear back after the first session. While I am grateful that the option is there, I think the next step is to focus on the causes of the stressors for students. Investigate the roots and encourage healthy growth from the get-go. Because if universities really want to proudly cultivate ‘world changing individuals’ (Glasgow University’s goal for 2025) then it should encompass our whole lives, not only the academic side. If schools have a duty of care for their pupils, why does it feel like universities leave us out in the cold to figure it all out just because we have been flung into the category of ‘adult’. Are we really becoming world changing individuals by dragging ourselves through 4 years of stress, hangxiety, and loneliness, under fluorescent 9th floor library lights reading paper after paper on chilling cold nights? What are we getting at the end of it aside from trauma-bonded friendships and the ability to write 10,000 words? Universities have the opportunity to create well-rounded individuals that know how to make an impact on their communities. But when we can barely pay rent and witness the university ignoring issues we care about, it is hard to put our trust in their hands. 

It’s upsetting that a university with such influence on the city’s cultural, economic, and social life isn’t demonstrating its full support for its community and surrounding area. One example being the housing crisis in the West End. As the supposed hub for UofG students, it feels like the uni is completely failing us and refuses to take action at its doorstep. If the council and councillors know and agree on issues such as rent, community spaces, and even rubbish collection, why does it feel like the grand-old building at the top of the hill is an estranged grandparent? The uni is the reason why most of us are here, as we carry their legacy and take on their work, but they refuse to answer our calls for help.  

The UK’s approach to independence is harsh in my opinion. With leaving home at 18 or younger being the norm, we are forced to quickly grow up. We are expected to know how to handle our issues on our own. We must thrive without displaying signs of weakness, instinctively answering ‘I’m fine’ when we might not be. Humans are social beings that have always relied on community to progress. I worry that through the enforced individualisation of the ‘university experience’, we are losing the larger sense of community. With services such as Peer Wellbeing Support arising, it is clear that the type of support that students need has to be more community based; we need a solid net of support rather than loosely connected webs. Through increased connectivity to their students and their role as an active authority in our lives, universities could become spaces that don’t feel isolating but are caring, supportive and inspiring. But this cannot be accomplished without foundations based on real student experiences.


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