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University is a stressful time for any student. Oxbridge knows their students are under too much pressure – why don’t we?

trigger warning: mentions of eating disorders which some readers may find distressing

Stellar grades. Work experience. Networking. Cool. Sociable. Witty. Organised.

Let’s be honest: truthfully these are the hefty expectations that all young people are faced with. That’s not just a problem for Oxbridge students. 1 in 4 of us have a mental illness. I’d say more than the one in four, we all have dodgy days. Especially for students who have a terrifying, murky, sea of uncertainty ahead of them; mental health illnesses or even just a blip where you aren’t 100% functioning can be extremely difficult to manage.

Recently it was reported that £48 a month gets spent per head on mental health at Oxford University and are set to raise it even higher despite already being the highest in the country. Bristol spends around £15 less per student than that.

Is it ok to be mentally ill if you got A*s and said something clever at an interview, but not if you got As and went through a bog standard UCAS, thus receiving less mental health care?

That is a terrifying message, that rich universities deserve more care. There are so many reasons for mental health issues occurring, sometimes it’s not the amount of pressure – it is just how we manage it.

Nowadays the average age for the onset of mental health problems is 14. That’s certainly what I saw around me, and see around me now. Teenagers and young adults overwhelmed with a terrifyingly deep sense of inadequacy in the face of extreme pressure from social media, parents, the job market, teachers and lecturers.

If student counselling can just say to students ‘you are not just a number on a piece of paper, you are not just a dress size and rather, in the grand scheme of things, it does not matter if you are not on top of your work, gym routine, and even laundry’, this would help greatly.

every time we log into social media, we are shrouded with images of models, actresses, novelists, and politicians who give off this air of effortless performance

At 16 and 17 I was obsessed that because I was short I should be less a size 8. That is because I saw in magazines that the models where size 8 and 5’10, the same height as me.

It took a close friend becoming seriously anorexic, and some frank discussions with my mum, my GP and a couple of appointments with a psychologist, for me to realise that for goodness sake I wasn’t fat. This was dangerous.

The University of Bristol needs to recognise the mental stress that students are under and the disorders they may be suffering if they are to have the best possible experience here.

It was also related to my school life, I wanted something I could control as I didn’t feel like I was in control of my work, in comparison to my peers at a highly academic grammar school, and then highly well-regarded and academic state sixth form where I was doing my A-levels.  Everyone just seemed to know what the mark scheme wanted.

The following year was so much better. Firstly physically, secondly, academically.

I expected less of myself and now I only expect myself to do my best and I don’t expect myself not to ever appear chaotic. I know I work hard – I do my best. Sometimes I need to set more reminders on my phone but I am not short for effort and that is enough.

As a student, I frequently check my patterns of thought because I know they can be negative, especially when I am under pressure. I’ve had dodgy moments. I haven’t needed it yet but if I ever need support at university, I’ll take it. This is not about mollycoddling.

Every time we write an essay or do an exam we are categorised and graded. No account is taken of the amount of effort put into an exam – the lecturer doesn’t know that you spent 10 hours the other day, and that you’ve been focusing solidly for a good four weeks.

Every time we log into social media, we are shrouded with images of models, actresses, novelists, and politicians who give off this air of effortless performance. Constantly bombarded, it is easy for young people to expect themselves to pull off this cleanly edited image of a perfect life.

Society’s expectations are dangerous. Our own expectations of ourselves can be dangerous. It’s not just Oxbridge students under pressure – it is all young people.

I’m not an expert but I’m sure that’s part of the reason why student mental health services are stretched more than ever before. Spending more money at all Russell Group universities on students should be a top, top priority. Every university should spend as much, if not more, than Oxbridge on mental health provision.

It would also be good if employer’s expectations weren’t so tough, if there wasn’t so much pressure to get that 2:1, to get that first, and if magazines didn’t give this idealised photo-shopped skinny, cool, music-savvy, fashion-savvy ideal to live up to.

But, for now, this is how it is and, without mental health provision for students, we aren’t getting the best out of our generation.


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