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The pressures of university: how parents can help

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University is a time of socialising, partying and studying. But, do we know how our students are really doing?

For some, the expectation of ‘university life’ may be shattered when their experiences don’t appear as fun as their peers’ Instagram or Snapchat posts. In fact, according to mental health charity Mind, one in five students are diagnosed with a mental health condition. Although universities have initiatives in place to help support these issues, it’s important that parents understand the pressures placed upon students and know how to support them too. 

Here, we discuss the main pressures – and potentially resulting health conditions – our students are susceptible to and highlight how parents can support them through the academic year.

Students under pressure 

There are a number of factors to consider if we’re to truly understand the likely pressures of student life. These include: 

  • Adapting to a new environment

  • Making and sustaining friendships 

  • Experiencing loneliness 

  • Keeping on top of work 

  • Finances and budgeting 

  • Missing home, parents and friends

  • Job prospects after university 

  • Lack of sleep and routine 

  • Keeping up appearances on social media 

In partnership with Cibyl, Accenture conducted a survey of 12,000 students across 140 UK universities in 2020. It found that more than a third (39%) believed their mental health had declined since beginning university. And of mental health challenges faced: 

  • 72% experienced anxiety 

  • 53% experienced depression 

  • 36% experienced a ‘burnout’ 

Concerningly, students worry more about achieving academic success than the state of their mental health. Accenture found that 73% of students frequently worried about not doing well enough, while 68% worried about deadlines and keeping on top of their work. In comparison, only 53% worried about their mental health. 

How has the pandemic affected this? 

It’s impossible to know the full psychological effects of the pandemic just yet. For the most part, the pandemic robbed students of an ‘authentic’ university experience. Nights out were swapped for zoom quizzes and lectures took place online, causing students to feel isolated and unmotivated. According to Accenture, one in four students experienced poor mental health due to the pandemic. Now, as we are adapting to live with the virus, many will be facing more challenges such as social anxiety, after a period of not socialising at all. 

While universities offer support, it’s not always utilised by students 

University support services are often in high demand and may be hard to access. Students may feel that these services won’t help them or they may be too embarrassed to open up to someone. In some cases, students might not even be aware these services exist. Accenture found that 57% students would rather speak to a friend than medical or university staff, while, worryingly, 17% don’t speak to anyone about their issues at all. 

How can parents help alleviate the pressures put on students? 

It’s not just the students that go through a big change when going to university – parents do too! Some parents may feel confused at how to support their child who may be living far away and developing more independence. In short, they still need you!  

To help students through the university experience, parents can: 

  • Learn, understand and be empathetic about the pressures placed upon students. Your child will be more open to speaking to you about their problems if they know you will listen. 

  • Schedule informal catch-ups that allow you to check up on your child’s wellbeing without being too invasive. 

  • Relinquish control. Allow your child to have fun without being judgmental, creating an open and trusting environment. 

  • Let them know you’re still here for them and that they can always come home or you can visit. 

  • Be aware of the support services available at university and know who you or your child can contact if needed. 

  • Know when exam season is so that you can support your child at the most stressful times.

  • Grades aren’t the end of the world. Avoid placing parental pressure upon students to achieve academically. 

  • Encourage them to get involved with their flatmates, societies and other groups. 

  • Help them to get into a routine. Provide helpful advice and tips on how they can manage their time and workload. 

Let’s help support the future workforce as they navigate their early adult lives. 


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