The stereotype based around the ‘college dream’ is one that has been spoken about and challenged by students for many years in Ireland. Now that I have you thinking, I want you to ask yourself; What is the college dream? As a young adult in the last two years of your secondary school education, you are told that the time you spend in college will be the best years of your life. You leave secondary school thinking you will find yourself and excel in all your classes while partying every night, socialising and sleeping in until 3pm the following day, right? This is the stereotype that I was under when I left school and began my studies, however, it didn’t take long for the penny to drop and wipe that vision of the college dream from my memory.
Loneliness, demanding and depression. Those are three words that you don’t expect to read in this article from the title. Those three words sum up the first few months of college life for me. What you are not told in school is how challenging it is moving away from home and living in student accommodation with people who are as similar to the strangers on the street you pass every day. You are not told by your parents or family how to balance your college work with your social life and how to fit in; How to tell your new friends that you can’t go out with them as you have a paper due at 9am. From my experience, the days got longer and more frustrating, I wasn’t just losing sleep, I was losing my appetite and the fun energy that once surrounded me. The words “I’m fine’ came out of my mouth more often than intended and soon I was lying to both myself and the people who cared for me. This is loneliness; the feeling of being just fine. This is demanding; the excess feeling of pressure from college work. This is depression; the long drole days and knowing you are alive but feeling almost dead.
If you feel this way, you are not alone. On average, 85.6% of the student population suffer with their mental health as a result of the change and the challenge of attending university. This can be through anxiety, depression, eating disorder, and suicidal thoughts. After months of denial I accepted that I was suffering and that I needed help; This is ok. Asking for help is the first and most vital part of recovery. UCC is a tremendous college and if there is one thing I learnt in my first year of studies it is that you are never alone. The college offers student counselling and development services free of charge, a social anxiety programme and several different societies and clubs that you can join and avail of. I am now a second year student and I have both good and bad days. During this global pandemic it is extremely difficult as all classes are online and I, as well as everyone, am missing the social aspect of meeting lecturers, tutors, and friends around campus. What I would suggest for your wellness is to take a break when you feel overwhelmed, do something you enjoy be it reading a book, listening to some music, or sitting down and enjoying your favourite movie. Exercise is your new best friend; statistics have shown that people who exercise report having 1.5 fewer days of poor mental health a month, compared to people who do not exercise.
If you are a first year student struggling with the new change, or a returning student beginning to feel overwhelmed then this is the time to ask for help and admit you are not ok. It’s ok not to be ok, and the sooner that we normalise this topic of mental health the better it is for everyone. There are many helplines that you can contact free of charge, I will leave some options for you subsequent to this article, there is also the UCC counselling services and groups discussed previously. The ‘college dream’ I went to college under the illusion of
didn’t make me happy, but the college dream in which I am living now is weightless and full of opportunity.