Not long ago, lying in bed in a hotel on the edge of the university district in Cork, I listened to sounds of revelry, from the nearby streets. The students were back.
They filled the streets with glamour and partied into the early hours. Even through the rain, I could hear shouts and laughter in the early hours of the morning. It was a welcome sound after the silence of lockdown – though if you had to get up for work early the next day, you might disagree.
That scene fits with the traditional picture of student life. Next morning, though, I began to wonder about students who hadn’t taken part in the public high jinks.
Maybe some were realising, with some nervousness, that they had just entered a phase of life in which there wasn’t a lot of guidance, which they didn’t know how to handle and which felt overwhelming.
Maybe others were introverts who wanted to be alone or felt too shy to join the crowds though they wanted to be part of it all. As an introvert, I know both of these attitudes.
Earlier walking back from the city centre we had passed houses with apartments, or rooms at any rate, in the basement, which students were settling into.
Was she savouring the era of freedom that she had entered?
In one of these rooms we spotted, as we went by, a young woman lying on a very narrow bed in a room crowded with suitcases and stuff of various kinds, staring across at the far wall. Was she savouring the era of freedom that she had entered? Only a couple of months previously, really, she would have been in secondary school, with its rules and regulations, but also with its familiar patterns.
Or was she wondering what she was meant to do now outside of the familiarities of school and family?
For most people, things will settle down into a pattern when they navigate the challenges of this new life in which they have less support than before and where the teachers may not know your name.
But we’ve heard a lot of talk about mental health in recent times and we mustn’t let our interest dwindle away.
Some students will take their own lives. Alongside these tragedies for themselves and their families are the experiences of many others who suffer depression, despair and anxiety.
Backing for mental health support given by the university welfare departments and the students’ unions was probably never more important than now. During the past couple of years, these students have gone through a time in which normality was put on hold. We all have, but it happened to these young students during a very formative period in their lives.
The young people’s website, spunout.ie, has a useful article called, Things to keep in mind on your first day of college, and it’s worth checking out even if it’s your 101st day in college.
The suggestions are practical, for instance striking up a conversation with people near you at lectures, getting to know your housemates and volunteering with the student union. Actions like these can transform people’s whole experience.
It’s not all just about settling in, though. September can be a hard month for young people starting college, from the point of view of mental health – but so can April and May, as exams loom. Indeed, May is a hard month for mental health, generally across the population for reasons that are not fully understood.
This makes the provision of robust, easily-accessible mental health services all the more important, not only for new students, but for older students as well. For some, university can be an emotionally lonely place.
An always-available mental health text service is available from the HSE-supported text50808.ie which is anonymous, free and through which you can talk (by text) with trained volunteers.
I am assuming, of course, that ‘onsite’ college is back or very nearly back. Like the rest of us, I don’t want to contemplate the possibility of a new Covid variant emptying the lecture halls and classrooms again.
– Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email ([email protected]).