Managing your mental health after graduation

It can be difficult to transition from being a university student to a graduate and universities could do more to support this transition

December 23 2019
Managing your mental health after graduation

Graduation day is a day of celebration and reflection on your time at university. But what happens after the degree has been conferred, the mortarboards have been thrown and you've packed up and left the place you called home? Most students don’t realise the impact this will have on them. I certainly didn’t.

Having recently graduated, I was proud to have completed what I’d set out to achieve. I graduated feeling well prepared in many aspects of life, such as working to deadlines, and collaborating and communicating clearly with others. My student years had also provided some invaluable life experience, such as learning to cook, renting accommodation, and maintaining a healthy work/life balance.

However, one area that I felt less prepared in was managing my mental health post-graduation, as many universities fall behind on offering support that can be implemented beyond university life.

Research published in the British Journal of Counselling and Guidance has identified that the peak onset for mental health problems is before the age of 24. Although it is well documented that high numbers of students face mental health difficulties during their time at university, with most leaving university in their early 20s, it is possible to suggest that the mental health of graduates is just as vulnerable as students; simply gaining a qualification does not immunise them from the stressors placed on them throughout their transition from “studenthood” to “adulthood”.

Until graduation, students face a fairly well laid out path of progression, using the education system as a guide and looking ahead to the next step. However, many people feel that they are underprepared for the jump from education to “adult life”.

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For me, since leaving university everything has felt temporary, something which has contributed significantly to the feelings of isolation and helplessness that I know I’m not alone in experiencing.

My university was good at offering career support to students and continues to provide an online service for graduates. However, for those graduates, like myself, who are yet to choose a career path, in terms of practical and emotional support there is little to no provision.

While some areas of graduate life possess a strong sense of transition and moving forward, others can feel like a regression of sorts. For me, it was the expectation to carry on as I had done before that I found the hardest.

Having lived in a city away from home for the past three years, I found the move back to a small village very isolating. I felt as though I had lost my sense of independence and consequently withdrew myself even further from those who reached out to help in the early days of returning home.

Not only did moving home significantly impact my social life, it also affected my confidence applying for jobs as I struggled to find something in line with the mentally stimulating environment university had provided me with. When I left university I was still unclear on which industry I wanted to work in so I decided to undertake short-term employment while figuring out my career goals.

I felt that I was not in a position to apply for any corporate roles because I could not provide employers with enough knowledge or enthusiasm for their industry to perform to their expected standards. However, this lack of confidence confined me to applying for unrewarding local jobs that I didn’t feel reflected what I had learnt during my academic studies, subsequently further diminishing my self-esteem and the sense of achievement I associated with getting my degree.

As a result of my own struggle to find my feet in the graduate world, I believe that universities should do more to acknowledge that many of their graduates do struggle and should subsequently offer more support to students to better prepare them for the “real world”.

With tools such as online access to university mental health resources, similar to the graduate careers portal, or through practical information given alongside their course of study, on things such as banking or housing markets, graduates could be better prepared for “adult life”, enabling them to feel more informed and confident when the time comes to make important decisions.

University wasn’t easy and nor is the life of a graduate, but I hope as we get a little more comfortable in our newfound “adulthood”, it will become less daunting and a little more exciting.

Read more: What do student mental health services look like around the world?


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