In recent weeks, it has been revealed that a shocking 82 per cent of university students suffer with anxiety and stress. With increased pressure mounting on students over a range of issues, not least the question of student finance, it is no wonder that the number of those reporting mental health problems is on the increase.
The Institute for Public Policy Research lately released a study which reflected that the number of students in first year disclosing mental health issues has increased by over five times in the past decade, with the number only seeming to grow. Yet, in theory, students arriving at university should be at their most care-free. They have secured a place at a university of their choice, have not yet begun to experience the looming anxiety of deadlines, and have a mountain of opportunities laid before them. All things considered, ‘Welcome Week’ should be the most stress-free week of one’s university career.
Nevertheless, this is not the case. For some students, ‘Welcome Week’ can be extremely tough. For many this will be their first time living away from home, their first time cooking for themselves, and their first time meeting the people with whom they will be spending the rest of their university lives. It is a week that can be surrounded by a multitude of worries and anxieties.
However, the overarching narrative of being a fresher, supplied primarily by social media, is one of drunken antics, awkward encounters and short-lived friendships. As every fresher is constantly reminded, the friends you make in ‘Welcome Week’ will not necessarily be your friends for the rest of university. It would seem that the amount of pressure and expectation put on one week would be enough to make anyone and everyone slightly apprehensive.
So, should such an intense and demanding introduction to university life be the way in which we welcome first year students? ‘Welcome Week’ will inevitably always be a daunting time for many, but should there be such an aura of expectation surrounding it?
‘Welcome Week’ should not be the be-all and end-all of one’s university experience, but rather an exciting time to make new friends, explore new places and try new things. There is so much going on at university, it’s okay just to take your time and find your feet before the real fun begins. There is plenty of time to go out and have a good time without having to cram it all into one week.
For those who feel anxious and worried about ‘Welcome Week’, we should be providing a better and less hectic image of the first week of what for some people are some of the best years of their lives. It is not mandatory to go out every night; if this is not your cup of tea there are plenty of alternative ways of getting out there and meeting people. If a pub crawl does not sound appealing, why not try a coffee crawl instead?
There are a multitude of events put on throughout the week which offer a calmer and more relaxed approach to finding your way around student life. The narrative of the crazy, one hundred miles per hour ‘Freshers’ Week’ shouldn’t be the only expectation that we impose upon young people about to embark on their life at university.
Universities should also publicise the option for a less pressured week, with support available for struggling students being both publicised and destigmatised.
Image: Terri Po