Amid the blur of open days I visited over the eighteen months before arriving in Sheffield, one thing I was told by a marketing lecturer at the University of Sunderland stuck out. He told me that bigger universities simply can’t give every student the attention they deserve and that can cause serious problems in regards to mental health.
The government lifting the cap on student numbers in 2013 allowed for oversubscribed universities to expand. Institutions such as Surrey and Coventry grew by 50 and 53 per cent respectively, while Sheffield has gained 3,000 extra students over the last eight years.
Unfortunately, this only puts more pressure on both lecturers and pastoral workers – when so many people are in need of care the quality of support is reduced and relationships with students are strained. The days of going out for pints with your lecturers aren’t around anymore, and many students feel anonymous – another face in a crowded lecture theatre.
This is just one reason why the number of students seeking mental health support has more than doubled in the last five years.
Moving to a new city, even one as friendly and accommodating as Sheffield, comes with a host of new challenges. Throw in the social pressures of university life and the stress of academia, and anxiety might start to be a bigger distraction. Poor eating habits and an almost certain increase in alcohol intake don’t help either – a good home-cooked meal can work wonders both nutritionally and mentally.
Also, many students arriving at Russell Group universities are used to being top of the class – the big fish in a small pond. Losing the feeling of being the special student, instead feeling distinctly average, or worse, can have a deeply detrimental impact on mental health.
More seriously, stresses of university life and the anxiety they cause can have dire effects that universities should spend more time tackling. Almost 100 students committed suicide between July 2016 and 2017. Going back to the issue of overcrowding, two-thirds of the students who commit suicide are unknown to support services.
While there’s no reason to criticise the mental health support here at Sheffield, there is no doubt that the national issue of student wellbeing needs to be addressed, and I would urge those in charge to protect the minds that universities like this are expected to nurture.
If you are experiencing mental health difficulties, the following support services are available to help:
University Central Welfare and Guidance Team: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/ssid/cwag
Student Advice Centre (Level 3 of the SU): https://su.sheffield.ac.uk/student-advice-centre
Big White Wall: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/mental-wellbeing/bww
Image: The People Speak!