Collaboration, not competition, will help students struggling with their mental health

Like many students, Jessica Davies is having a tough time during Covid-19. And universities fostering competition among students really isn’t helping

Jessica Davies is a third year law student at the University of Reading.

Before coming to university, the majority of people I spoke to only had positive things to say. It was all about the experiences you had and the friends you made.

I think people default to saying, “it’ll be the best time of your life!” without putting any consideration into how much it can have a negative effect on an individual’s mental health.

I remember one of my first ever Contract Law lectures. I was terrified, I was in a huge room full of people who were essentially strangers and I specifically remember being told for the first time that the people I was sitting next to, and socialising with, were the same people who I would be competing with for jobs. I remember being stunned and thinking “will it be like this the whole way through?” – it was and still is.

It is so easy to get lost in the notion that life is one big competition, especially in university where this mindset is extremely common. The idea that you will be competing with your peers for jobs in the future is true but that does not make it any less detrimental to students, especially in the current climate where jobs are scarcer than ever.

Something a good friend said to me recently really stuck with me – “All that matters right now is that you get through to the other side.” This hyper-capitalist notion of constantly one-upping those around you is one that needs to die out – we’re all in the same boat in a global pandemic and now is the time to be supportive toward your peers and help others any way you can.

Covid-19 is undoubtedly exacerbating already existing struggles with mental health and the longer this goes on the more it feels as though university students have been forgotten about. In the initial lockdown there were many things available to students who were struggling: safety nets, no detriment policies, extenuating circumstances just for Covid-19 related situations and hardship funding. Now it feels as if we’re just expected to get on with it.

Strung out

In the first lockdown I was coming to the end of my degree and I was doing all of my assessments from the same tiny room in my student house. I remember feeling exhausted and strung out every day. I deliberated a lot before deciding to go ahead and start with my masters in September.

I went back and forth between deferring a year, moving home to my parents’ house, staying near my university and working full time. You name it, if it was available to me, I debated doing it. I had studied for three whole years expecting to graduate with these all of these opportunities and instead I graduated into a recession, a global pandemic and my mental health was at the worst it has ever been.

I suppose I was just really hopeful that I had hit rock bottom and things had to look up from there. I was wrong. Things have got so much worse. I think a lot of people who have never had to battle their own brain just to get out of bed in the mornings are starting to understand how it feels like to struggle to do the simplest of tasks. I know people I have interacted with have told me this – which is heart-breaking in itself. I have wrestled mental illness for as long as I can remember. I have an extensive list of coping mechanisms I use, alongside a brilliant support network which is completely understanding and caring toward these struggles. People who are having their first introduction to mental illness in the middle of a global pandemic are drowning. We are all drowning in some way, I think.

It is imperative that students have the ability to foster connections with other students and staff. This is something that students are definitely struggling with right now – especially those who started their degree in this academic year where they have had no prior introduction to their university. Universities need to find more creative ways to ensure that their students are being assimilated into university effectively, with the proper support network available.

Students are already facing a horrendous employment market. Combine that with feeling that you are constantly in competition with fellow students and that is a recipe for anxiety, undue stress and loneliness.

Feeling constantly as though you are not good enough is heartbreaking and a vicious cycle that we, as a society, must put a stop to. We are good enough.

One response to “Collaboration, not competition, will help students struggling with their mental health

  1. I am sitting here reading a previous blog and happened to see this. So well written and it felt very pertinent as I am also sitting here writing around compassion and how this is viewed and enacted in the university. Keep going – my impression on reading your blog is that you are resilient, talented and your hard work will pay off. Of course there are ups and downs – keep sharing and keep talking. What can universities do to help? What can we do as lecturers to ensure you are supported? You are most certainly good enough.

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