A student perspective – mental health and the positive impact of residential colleges

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Going to a university in another state was pretty intimidating for me. It would mark the first time I was leaving home and I didn’t know what to expect. But I had to go, the promise of university was too enticing to not go, so I packed my bags and looked ahead. College and university are places of endless possibilities and new opportunities, a time to find new career paths, hobbies and yourself. A time to make friends and enjoy good food, late night dancing, beach days and so much more in the city of Adelaide.

But for some people, between the days of freedom and independence, dark clouds can gather. 

Mental health problems across Australian universities are soaring. The annual National Union of Students (NUS) survey has reported that the mental health of Australia’s tertiary students, aged 17 to 25, is in a terrible state. Unfortunately, 83.2% of students report feeling stressed, 59.2% reported feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, and a devastating 35.4% thought of self-harm or suicide. These numbers demand action by universities and colleges. 

The CEO of Headspace, a mental health foundation stated that people who have finished year 12 and are beginning the next stage of their life are a highly vulnerable age group for a number of reasons. 

“They might have moved out of home for the first time, they might have greater responsibilities financially, and domestically. Some young people might engage in risky behaviors such as drug use. They may have less parental contact leaving them vulnerable and changes in their mental health going unnoticed.” he said. “They are a group that can fall through the cracks.”

Having started uni last year I experienced this transition first hand. There’s no denying it is a big step, but living in a residential college helped reduce the impact of the common challenges such as workload, exam pressure, financial difficulties, drug and alcohol use and international student adjustment. Lincoln puts enormous value on student wellbeing and provides a community to live in that is safe, inclusive and supportive. 

The first thing that surprised me about uni was the academic workload. While you only have four courses in a semester, it is entirely up to you to dedicate time and attention to your assessment. To help students find the balance between work and play, Lincoln holds a range of social activities to get you away from your desk time to time. Events such as Assassins, International Night, Music Night, group fitness sessions with a personal trainer, and meditation sessions all provide a healthy and effective break from study. Equally important is the protection against loneliness – moving to a new city without knowing anyone was daunting, but the opportunity to easily find friends at College was great. Living at Lincoln allowed me to hang out with friends any time of the day or night, and this made everything so much easier. 

Along with workloads are the dreaded deadlines that can seem hard to reach with a clock ticking, counting down the days. This is when the Academic team can jump in and help create a study plan or run extra tutorials to help complement your learning. Lincoln also offers multiple quiet study spaces where work can be completed without distraction, and there are group study rooms to book out that are great for exchanging ideas, notes and studying together. 

While I only had to travel inter-state, international students can experience other hurdles like culture shock, an unfamiliar study setting and language difficulties. Maria, our current International Representative in the student-run College Club, looks after the international students and checks up on them throughout the year. She also plans activities in O-week to help them make new friends and become familiar with Australian culture. The wider community of international residents are also friendly and supportive and Lincoln can provide access to further resources and services. 

University opens up a lot of career paths but while you’re studying it can be hard to find a reliable job. Between university, college events and personal circumstance it can be stressful for students when they don’t have a job to support themselves with. Throughout the year, Lincoln holds tutorials on key life skills, like how to create a realistic budget, preparing a stand-out resume and cover letter, and interview preparation. Lincoln’s Academic Team also organise professional networking sessions with prominent professionals and alumni in key disciplines. This year’s Humanities panel sessions saw a music teacher, university lecturer, political advisor and marketing manager speak about their studies and careers to the Arts and Humanities cohort, and similar sessions were run for residents in other degrees. Lincoln also offers scholarship and bursaries to residents to apply for, to reduce the financial stress associated with studying and working. 

There are many obstacles and challenges in moving away from home for university, but all of them can be alleviated by living somewhere like Lincoln. A place where you have a comfortable room to yourself, plenty to eat, Residential Advisors to go to for help and plenty of events to keep you busy. A place like Lincoln enables you to focus on your academic success, make new friends and build professional skills and networks that will see you into your future career. 

Written by Meredith Dowling
Lincoln resident 2017