Starting university is a new, exciting adventure for students. But it can also be quite stressful and overwhelming. Many struggle in finding their own place and do not really know how to cope with the social and academic aspects of university life.
Many students suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. According to Manoj Kerai, Activities and Events Coordinator at City Students’ Union, a lot of the stress comes from the lack of employment opportunities. Additionally, the spike in tuition fees puts more pressure on students, who often feel like they have to perform better.
“One thing that a lot of students have in common is that coming to university can be a very daunting experience because they don’t know anyone and it’s [a] completely new [environment],” said Nazia Bharde, Vice President of Activities and Development at City Students’ Union.
“I think that particularly for City one of the issues that we have here is that we’re not a campus-based university so it’s difficult to meet new people.”
Indeed, loneliness is one of the factors which undermines students’ mental health. For this reason the City Students’ Union hosts a series of events throughout the academic year to raise awareness and support students during their studies.
Their most recent project was on January 21 or so-called ‘Blue Monday’, dubbed the most depressing day of the year. The student union organised a series of activities for the students on campus. They offered free tea and coffee, and with the help of the Psychology Society, held a stand with games. The purpose of the event was to relax and unwind, and to also provide information on the mental health support team at City and give students the chance to make new friends by signing up to different societies.
According to Manoj, since the feedback from students on ‘Blue Monday’ was so positive, the student union is planning to organise similar events more frequently. The idea is to have different activities set for each day, such as arts and crafts, music and meditation.
The student union is also hoping to launch the university’s subscription to Nightline next year. This service will allow students who might be struggling in the middle of the night to seek help outside of the usual working hours. This way, students can receive immediate help, instead of waiting until the next day to book an appointment with the Student Counselling and Mental Health Service.
The student union is hosting other events on mental health in the coming months. Disney Week starts on February 4, with the featured activity ‘Not So Under The Sea’ aiming to raise money for charity. ‘Not So Under The Sea’ will start at 2pm on Monday and will discuss about coping strategies for students struggling with their mental health.
A digital detox campaign for the University Mental Health Day on March 7 is also being planned. The campaign will promote other alternatives to engaging with electronic devices, like swapping Netflix for a book. Nazia, who is in charge of the event, would like to encourage people to stay away from social media, which often lower users’ self-esteem, so that people would interact with each other more in person.
“There’s a huge link between digital addiction and people’s mental health becoming deteriorated,” said Nazia.
One of their biggest and most successful campaigns, which happens around assessments season, is Study Well. The student union hosts different kind of activities to help students look after their health, including exercise and mindfulness sessions and spaces where students can study if the library is too crowded.
“The whole purpose of the campaign is making sure that students are staying healthy both mentally and physically while they’re studying, so that they don’t have to think about 101 other things.”
However, the student union is still trying to reach out to more students by marketing these events better.
“I think that one of the things that we, as a union, can start working on is creating a larger community, a larger support network for people and I think that this was the idea behind Blue Monday”, said Manoj.
“It was small and intimate but it worked.”