Despite surveys such as the DLHE boasting high employment levels of graduates each year, we must remember that these numbers only tell half the story. What they often neglect to inform us of is the emotional state of the graduates who make up these figures.
The period of transition from university to the outside world can have profound effects on mental health. Many graduates experience feelings of uncertainty and pressure as they’re catapulted out of the university bubble. Despite this, very little research has been conducted in relation to graduate mental health. Particularly in recent years, the media’s attention has focused predominantly on the mental health of current students.
At this point, it is worth acknowledging how far we’ve come in opening up the conversation about mental health. Nevertheless, there is always space for more progress. It seems that the topic of graduate mental health is a good starting point. In August 2018, a seemingly rare study conducted by Student Minds, and in conjunction with the City Mental Health Alliance, reported that 49% of students admitted their mental wellbeing had declined since finishing university.
Why is this?
Well, one explanation, as the report showed, was that those graduates who had been lucky enough to secure jobs then felt ill-equipped to cope with the day to day life inside a workplace. Many of those studied felt that universities had largely focused their attention towards the job seeking and recruitment stage. By contrast it seems they had been less successful in preparing students for work life itself. Students believed this had then contributed to feelings of stress and insecurity.
How do we tackle this?
On the one hand, this could involve a practical approach. For example, creating the facility for students to use and become acquainted with the different forms of technology and IT programmes they may be using in a workplace. Not only could this help to boost confidence levels, but it could prove particularly useful for those students who have been unable to acquire the hands on experience that internships may provide.
A holistic approach?
However, it might require a more holistic approach. For example, emotional resilience is essential in the sometimes cut-throat job world. Dealing with job rejections, challenging projects at work, or even being fired from a ‘trial period’ can be disheartening. It takes strength of character to cope with this adversity. Therefore, it may be a university-wide responsibility to ensure these topics do not become a taboo. University magazines are a great place to begin an open and honest dialogue whilst students are still at university. Including features from graduate writers and alumni can be a great starting point!
Misrepresentation- a symptom of 21st Century Society?
Talking of honesty, we can look to Melanie Stefan’s idea of ‘CV’s of Failure’. This, she believes, is the key to developing the resilience that both job seekers, employees and employers are searching for. In Stefan’s enlightening article, she stresses the importance of people publicly sharing the entirety of their academic efforts; not just the successful ones. She hopes that by people being honest about their failures, the sometimes-harmful narrative of success that dominates 21st-Century Society can be replaced by a more honest and realistic one. It seems likely that this could help to avoid the onset of stress-related problems which can result from feelings of perceived failure.
With regard to this, universities may also be guilty of ignoring or avoiding the challenges graduates face. With the rise in tuition fees, it seems that universities are under more pressure to justify these expenses. Universities have a tendency to promise ‘career’ jobs, but for those students who are lacking in work experience, attaining this can be a challenge. Therefore, it may be up to lecturers, personal tutors and Career Service staff, to ensure an honest approach. Avoiding ‘cushioning’ students from the difficulties that come with post-university life is vital.
Career Services and Alumni Relations…What about them?
Career Services exist in all universities, but they are not always perceived positively. In fact, in the Student Mind’s report, many students were found to have low expectations of Career Services, viewing them as outdated and worthless. I won’t deny, I was guilty of holding these beliefs too. But if we are to help ourselves, we may need to adopt a more open-minded outlook. Many career services have come a long way in recent years and are now offering expert advice as well as workshops in relation to resilience and stress management.
Nevertheless, the support of universities to invest in, and promote these services, will also be required. In order for career services to become entrenched in university life, adequate funding will be vital. This will ensure that they can continue to develop the way they promote material and deliver support. This open-mindedness goes for alumni communities too. Many universities offer incredibly useful alumni mentoring schemes, but in order to reap the benefits, we must seek them out in the first place
A final word…
Although there has been progress, there is clearly more that university institutions can do to help students prepare for the outside-world. However, it is still just as important to talk to those around us, whether it’s friends, family, or other work colleagues. If that’s not for you, then consider making use of the online world. ‘Student Mind’s’ have a brilliant blog, with a section dedicated entirely to graduate-life. It’s a space where graduates have shared the up’s and down’s of leaving university, and it can be particularly comforting to know that you’re not alone in your experiences.