Monday 7 September 2020

We Have Achieved So Much and We Are Not Alone

Jasmine, an estranged student, speaks about the importance of a support network that's healthy and functional for every student and her personal final semester experience.

- Jasmine

A small number of graduates this year, myself included, are not only adrift in the in-between after graduation and before adult life, but adrift from family or a healthy support network. This post is for you, whatever label you come under, to reassure you that you’re not alone and you do matter. Yes, the future is scary for all us grads, but especially so for estranged or vulnerable graduates. 

The time we had to complete our studies in an isolated environment was productive and, necessarily, heavily self-absorbed. But no longer do we have the privilege of an all-important and consuming project. Nonetheless, I have been self-absorbed in another sense of the word: self-reflection has never been more beneficial for my mental health and outlook on my life than it has after my degree ended. I hope that other graduates like me, who have stumbled upon this widely-varied blog, can consider self-evaluation and appreciation of the past years of hard work as bolstering as I do.

There are no easily available help guides for graduate mental health. You won’t be able to find what you’re looking for in the first page of a Google search. Hearing directly from students is definitely therapeutic but I have yet to hear of or see a UK-specific resource for us, whose only ties to the welfare teams at our universities may well be an email chain from a counsellor we have lost touch with or are now unable to make appointments with. In my experience, there is sometimes no offer of follow-ups or talk about the next steps for our mental health after our appointments end, not even in-depth talks about the options for other, more permanent or specialist assistance. Bearing in mind the COVID crisis between my last in-person appointments and my graduation, I am not sure it’s wrong of me to expect some form of communication from my own counsellor. This is only one experience of an esteemed university’s system, but because it did not lead me to getting put in touch with any further resources, it alone is my evidence for the limited care shown by university mental health services. 

The past months of speaking to my friends from different universities is self-evident of the need for at least one form of outreach, even just a regular mental health newsletter. Both of my friends are graduating this year; one used one-on-one Zoom sessions to keep motivated and mentioned the semester’s lack of peer or tutor support as factors in the struggle to prepare for meeting deadlines early. My other friend seems to have fared better with the support of living with all of her housemates in quarantine throughout the final deadline period. I myself was working in an empty five-bedroom house with only one goal keeping me going, battling my worst depressive episodes and mood swings, and using my department’s daily live Google Doc workspace as encouragement. With friends that attend other universities but with similar be-all and end-all deadlines, it didn’t cross my mind to ask for video calls that might have given me much-needed comfort and camaraderie. These deadlines have a way of bringing out our worst self-doubts and our deepest insecurities which, even with slight departmental support, are much too dangerous to be dismissed with the university’s silence. My personal supervisor was the only person who made me feel like I could complete my dissertation in the dwindled time I had after so much low productivity. Her weekly call and confidence-building were simple but made me feel strong against the markers of this year’s dissertations and protected me from the idea of working months in the future, an even more terrifying time for being unknown, to submit for August. 

If I could tell myself back then something today, I would say that she did well, but it should not have had to be like that. And it’s okay to struggle when less and less is bolstering us, academically or mentally. For the vulnerable students I began this post speaking to, I want to say that you deserve the best support, whoever you choose to let into your life that supports who you are as a person and recognises the potential you still have, even when all you seem to read about are less jobs, those more experienced than us losing theirs, and that you have no experience. I am betting on my transferable skills and so should you.

For support for students during the pandemic, see Student Space

I'm Jasmine, I graduated with a BA in English Literature this month and I just discovered this charity's blog at the perfect time. We need to learn to be honest about mental health in safe spaces in order that the stigmas we break become fully socially accepted and that psychological health will be respected as much as physical.

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