The Student Struggle

The other day I was reading an article featured in the New York Times about the suicide rates of university students. I remember when I was in university, you would hear stories of students ending their lives due to the stress and struggles they were experiencing as students. It is time for us to talk about this. It’s a serious issue and I don’t understand why there isn’t enough coverage on this, particularly on campus. When new students arrive during orientation week they are greeted with all the fun that university life has to offer. The school year kicks-off with a big celebration which is great. This is another chapter in your life and you have successfully made the right of passage through high school to make it here; so be proud and celebrate.

Once, the party is done. The first month, anyone will tell you, as a new student is probably the best month. It’s before you will be slammed with large amounts of school work. You are now in charge of your own schedule and it is up to you to stay on top of things. Where things go, at this point, is in your hands to a certain extent. Every grade counts and there are no excuses; now you’ve really got to work for it. One of the things that is never discussed are the challenges students face. The stress that comes with this transition. Some of you are there on a scholarship and the added pressure of keeping your grades up will keep you up at night with worry. I remember hearing stories of people on scholarships who feared a bad grade and I don’t blame them. A bitter teaching assistant told my class that she lost her scholarship during undergrad because one class dipped her GPA by a few points. From that point onward she had to work and find other ways to fund her education. I don’t blame her for feeling resentful. I can only imagine the stress she felt trying to get through undergrad with the constant worry of finances.

Then there are other stories, of the star athlete, who appears to have their life all together. They are there on an athletic scholarship that also comes with conditions. They are required to perform well both in sport and academics. They not only represent themselves but they represent a school image. On the outside, it looks like they have it together. They have it all and are admired by many. On the inside, they are fraught with fear and doubts that leave them feeling lonely and isolated. How can someone who appears to have it all to those around them talk to anyone about this? It seems, no one talks about the internal struggles of a student. I guess you could say more so than ever no really talks on a deeper level anymore. Therefore, in the mind of many students, they feel something might be wrong with them. The daily challenge of how someone feels in relation to their new student life can leave them feeling depressed, isolated and alone.

On January 17, 2014 Madison Holleran, University of Pennsylvania freshman committed suicide. Holleran, a popular student and star athlete, who appeared to have it all on the outside was going through her own internal struggle. I wonder if she felt she had no one to talk to? I wonder if she felt shame having to admit how she was feeling? Unfortunately, there’s a lot of stigma associated with mental illness. There’s a lot of stigma associated with being classified as someone who seeks therapy to work through their internal struggles. Believe it or not it takes a lot of courage just to admit you need a little help. I can’t remember ever seeing anything on campus or reading anything in a newsletter from my school about resources for students who need someone to talk to. I think at some point, every student feels isolated or in over their heads. In addition, the transition into adulthood is not just coupled with desires for success but also how one sees themselves; an individuals identity comes into question even stronger. More awareness and support groups, even message forums where students can share their feelings openly (even anonymously) should be at every university. With the amount of tuition that’s spent every year, I don’t think that this is too much to ask for. Because, every student that fills up those classes and keeps these institutions thriving deserves it. They need to know that although they have left home, their safety net, they have a place to go and someone to talk to.

We don’t live in a perfect world, so it’s important for us to understand the lens in which we have been fed perfection doesn’t exist. Only you can manifest the‘’perfect life” for you. Every ripple, flaw and blemish is perfection. You may enter university with hopes of being a doctor. You may fail your chemistry class and have to take it again. But get up and try again. Don’t let it break your spirit and don’t be afraid to talk to someone about it. The most important thing you will ever do in your life is fight for your emotional will to live. Your emotional will to make it through the best and worst moments in your life. Just remember it won’t always be perfect and neither do you. Knowing that Holleran was one of six students at her school to commit suicide in a 13 month stretch saddens me. I can imagine they all felt they had no where to go and this is not okay. Thankfully, Penn State increased their outreach force and set up a phone line so students can access resources more easily.

My hope, is that every campus has the same resources available. Anxiety and depression can impact anyone. Both men and women will struggle with either one or both at some point in their lives. For some people it will be short lived and others it will be something they will have to learn how to manage their whole lives. Students, need to know that ending their lives isn’t their way out. There is a way out that involves living. More importantly, getting a bad grade, isn’t the end of the world. Being different from everyone else isn’t the end of the world. “Penn Face” (acting like your happy even though that’s not that case and your life is spinning out of control) shouldn’t be the motto at any school. I think being real is what freshman’s should learn during orientation week. I didn’t go to Penn State and I did skip orientation week at my university. Too many cotton candy promises just wasn’t my thing and I couldn’t feed into the “everything is awesome” ideal being sold. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time as a student, I did. I just didn’t need to put on a ‘face’. I felt life the way it should be felt and worked through all the ups and downs as one should. My friends and I weren’t afraid to not look perfect nor did we have the desire to all the time. Remember, these institutions need you just as much as you need them. You’re there to learn and not to fit the facade they have written in some bogus manual. Put your face on; the real you. If the real you isn’t having a good time, don’t fake it. If the real you needs someone to talk to, then talk. Don’t ever let anyone make you think that what you are going through is insignificant. Your success through life will be dependent on how you treat yourself and also how you treat others. Be kind and be gentle; it’s already a rough (and also tender) world out there.


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Hanifa Sekandi

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