Student Support Groups: Students helping students through the stress of university
Sophie Austin sat down with members of the Newcastle University Psychology Society to talk about Student Support Groups and ask just how stressed university students are.
CONTENT WARNING: This article mentions mental health issues such as suicide, self-harm, depression and anxiety. Please read with care.
Newsflash, university students are stressed. We have bills to pay, rent to cover, textbooks to buy, assessments to start, lectures to catch up on and we still need to fit in a good eight hours of sleep to function properly.
Sometimes, this stress is good. Certain amounts of stress can be motivating and prepare us for a world beyond UON’s mozzie-swarmed campuses.
More likely than not, however, stress can be like stepping stones toward mental health issues and mental illnesses.
According to research done by leading mental health organisation Headspace, and the National Union of Students, one in three higher-education students have thought about suicide or self-harm in the last twelve months.
83.2 per cent of students are feeling stressed, 79 per cent are feeling anxious and 52.7 per cent are having trouble sleeping.
What university students are feeling now, within this short, yet important, sector of their lives, has the opportunity to arise beyond their graduation caps and degree transcripts in the form of serious life-threatening mental illnesses.
UON is already well aware of this, and students are encouraged to reach out to counselling services and Stress Less Week activities. But not every student has the time to talk to a professional or pet rescue puppies. Many of these options may also be daunting to students who are already under a lot of stress to juggle everything that university throws our way.
At a much needed time, the Newcastle University Psychology Society (NUPS) has facilitated a new face of their ‘Anxiety Support Groups’, now known as ‘Student Support Groups’, which hold weekly student-run, student-organised meetings across campus to give students a safe space to speak about anything that may be weighing them down.
NUPS Secretary Chelsea underlines the demand not only for addressing anxiety at a higher-education level, but also stress and mental well being as a whole.
“It used to be just an anxiety support group but we just wanted to broaden the horizon, to welcome students who are experiencing stress in any circumstance,” Chelsea said. “You don’t have to be diagnosed that you have an anxiety disorder to come along.
“It’s just for students who are struggling at uni, like most of us do. The stats are heartbreaking.”
Previous co-facilitator, Nina, also said that the “need is there”. “There’s a bit of a mental health crises going on in our world, and at the university level, quite an accelerated environment, it is the same,” she said.
“That is the idea and why we changed it.”
The groups, which originated in 2016, now run multiple meetings at multiple locations and are pioneered by UON’s Bachelor of Psychology students. They are a product of WayAhead’s NSW community project that trains facilitators of these support groups state-wide. NUPS have also been working closely with UON’s counselling services as well.
“There’s obviously a great need and we are helping out that service by letting people come and just talk,” Nina said. “To just come and talk and to have that conversation is such a great option.
“We’re working not against them, but with them.”
There is a myriad of support options here at UON, including counselling, Student Advisors and mentors, which students may or may not already be aware of. However, it can often be overlooked that the first person that students usually turn to in times of stress are their peers. These students know the stress of an assessment deadline, have sat in three-hour exams and have felt the pressure of meeting participation marks in tutorials.
NUPS has taken this idea and brought it to light. As Chelsea says, “the student support groups are run by students, for students. It’s a little bit less pressure. A student who has to book an appointment with a psychologist or a counsellor — it’s very serious, there is a lot of stigmatisation [around mental health].
“Here you can just come along and have a tea, have a chat about everything. It still has the connotation of mental health, but I feel like it’s a little bit less intense than going and having a session with a psychologist.
“Some facilitators have had experiences with depression and anxiety, so they’re there to give you guidance, experience, and education.”
“We’re students, you’re students,” Nina said.
It is also understandable that for many students, the first step is the hardest, but NUPS encourages everyone that these support groups are non-committal and can be as casual or serious as students want them to be.
“The biggest step is reaching out, not just about mental health but when you’re a little stressed or struggles,” Chelsea said. “It’s okay to come a little bit late, or leave a little bit early, or leave halfway through if it’s not you. No one is going to judge you.”
“We’re students, we’re not staff, we only use first names, we don’t have to know anything about you,” Nina also said.
“Come along, if not, even if it’s just for a little bit, bring a friend. If you have questions or concerns, send us an email or a message on Facebook. We’re just there to help.”
If you would like to know more about the Student Support Groups, head over to Facebook and send the Newcastle University Psychology Society a message.
Feature image by Reid McManus