How Student Poverty Is Crushing Mental Health

It's not exactly a favourable time to be a student in Britain. Not only is this generation of university-goers more alienated than ever, but they're also handing over more cash for a degree than any generation before.

This week the stark state of being a student came to a head: the government announced plans to overhaul university funding which will allow institutions the opportunity to raise fees about the current threshold of £9,000.

Though the move is to up the "quality of the university experience" – the better the uni the higher the cost – this is again another move to bash poorer students while the rich kids remain unscathed.

(Photo: BBC)

(Photo: BBC)

This wasn't the only bad education news this week. The NUS has warned the state of student mental health is free-falling into a crisis, with the number of uni-goers seeking help soaring in the last four years; funnily enough this aligns with the time higher tuition fees have been in place.

A research by Scotland's NUS branch unveils the true epidemic of the student psyche. Not only have mental health issues been on the up, but they're "continuing to rise", according to the report.

Four out of five UK universities reported a "noticeable increase" in "complex mental health crises". Many of these scenarios required academic staff to seek external help for students. Incidents included self-harm and suicide attempts.

A startling figure from the University of York reveals that half of all ambulance call-outs to the uni this year were in relation to self-harm cases or suicide attempts. From January 1 to February 8 2016, 12 of 24 emergency calls were for suicide attempts or self-harm. This isn't a stat to be taken lightly.

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There are extensive parallels between studying stress, mental health and financial pressures. Earlier this month an alarming poll found over a third of students' financial situations had affected their mental health. As well as having to work multiple jobs while attending classes, writing essays and completing projects, attempting to finish uni without a trust fund can seem impossible.

While it might seem hard to put yourself in the shoes of a student where things have got so bleak that finishing university with a sane mind seems implausible, it's a reality for many of Britain's potential graduates.

We heard from three different students around the country who have first-hand experience of struggling while juggling finance problems, studies and having a life. These are their testimonies.

Trigger warning: you might get fairly pissed off.

Joe, 22, University of the Arts London: "The smartest minds of a generation are talking about the ways they're saving money"

 

"I've never really been out of debt. Every time my student loan comes through I have to go straight back into my overdraft or know that next month I will be back in it.

"Honestly I think it's teaching some awful lessons about how to act around money – I view my overdraft as the norm and indebtedness as second nature. My parents don't understand how I keep any sort of composure when I've got to choose between my bus journey and dinner."

 

Noting how stress is a common trigger for mental illness, Joe tells us how studying for a degree "becomes less of how capable you are at studying and more about how you deal with pressure."

 

"Poverty's correlation with mental illness is something that I'm sure people other than I know a lot more about. The smartest minds of a generation are talking about the ways they're saving money."

 

Though his university offers an array of bursaries to the poorest 1,000 students, he's "unsure if that goes far enough." He adds how he's been a day or two without eating and points out how hard it is for students to afford living, eating and breathing in London. "The university halls are extortionate, no matter their quality," he says, "And people just accept this."

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Matthew, 27, Goldsmith's, University of London: “It’s already near-impossible for students from poorer backgrounds to even consider university"

After being refused a load for the last year of his bachelor's degree, Matt was forced to drop out of university half way through his final project. He's left without a certificate despite having completed three years of degree-level work. If there's anyone who's witnessed first-hand how fucked the British university system is, it's him.

 

"I had to find more than £1600 each month just to afford rent, bills, noodles and tuition fees, and resorted to eating food out of a bin at my local Tesco. I’d bin-dived before though, so this wasn’t a big deal.

"I spent entire days working a job and spent sleepless nights writing essays at home but due to a complete lack of time and energy I fell behind on a lot of assignments.

"I spent three years working my balls off and raised £7000 for an education but ultimately left with nothing – aside from a fair portfolio and a receding hairline.

"I honestly feel I lost a bit of my mind trying to keep on top of [it all]."

 

When I ask Matt about the prospect of tuition fees going above £9,000, he tells me:

 

"It’s already near-impossible for students from poorer backgrounds to even consider university. Raising the fees any more will no doubt prevent thousands more from going into higher education.

"There’s not enough support for poorer students but some of these great minds still need nurturing. Fees are rising  at an unreasonable rate and scholarships and grants are also struggling to keep up with the costs – most of these funding bodies are only able to offer £3000 to help cover tuition fees, which will soon be about £20,000 too short.

"University for much of Britain now means a lifetime of debt with no guarantee of a job or career."

 

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Laura, 21, University of Manchester: "Fuck the government! They can suck my dick and keep their loans"

Currently studying for a Masters in Psychology at the University of Manchester, 21-year-old Laura juggles her classes with working at a bar part-time. Although her parents give her money for food, she says she'd "be fucked" without their help. She tells us:

 

"During my undergrad I worked on the bars at the student union so they were pretty lenient around exam time. But regular pubs/cafes can't let you have off a few weeks for exams,or a couple weeks for your dissertation.

"[Working part-time] gets kinda stressful and can be pretty shit because you end up spending all your time working and feeling like there's still not enough time left."

 

Even though Laura says she "can't imagine what it's like" having the pressure of working more hours to pay for food, she reckons high tuition fees aren't the biggest problem for students. After all, nobody has to see the £9,000 leaving their bank account each year. Laura says:

 

"In terms of the money for tuition fees I'm not really arsed. I doubt I'll ever be able to pay it back. I'm sure I'm in the same boat as a lot of others.

"Fuck the government! They can suck my dick and keep their loans!"

 

Ditto.

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