As university students begin to graduate, we want to advocate the discussion around post-graduation mental health. We know that a lot of anxiety and unanswered questions come with graduation. After all, your academic life has been mapped out since you were four or five years old. Suddenly, you feel like you are on your own. Hopefully this article can assure you that feeling this way is perfectly normal.
In April 2018, I was done with all the essays. I had read and re-read and edited my ten-thousand-word dissertation on the fin-de-siecle so much, that I could recite the books word for word. Then July came along and I was with my friends again for graduation. But then it dawned on me that I probably wouldn’t see most – if any – of them ever again, as we were dotted around the country.
Fast forward to April 2019 and I was at breaking point. I couldn’t get a job despite my BA English degree and a fast-track NCTJ course. Most entry level jobs demanded five years experience. I had a few freelance jobs to keep me preoccupied, but most were unpaid. My best friend (next door neighbour from day one in university halls) doesn’t live too far away, but her health had deteriorated further (even more so now, unfortunately). We could not (and still can’t) see each other often.
I grew apart from all my school and college friends. I started crying most days and if I didn’t cry then I still hated myself. I felt directionless. Worthless. A burden on my parents and boyfriend. I suffered serious FOMO although I had to keep telling myself that people only share their best selves on social media.
My boyfriend and parents were worried. My history with severe depression made them feel on edge as they recognised the signs, especially my mum. She told me that she is so proud of me, that I have overcome so much. Everyone tried to make me smile… but I felt empty inside and it scared me. I did not want round two in that horrific dark void so I did something about it.
It is March 2020 as I write this. I am doing my PGCE with QTS for Primary School education and I have never felt so energised and content (just ignore the fact that my final placement has been put on hold due to this wretched C-word going on). I have found my calling! I love being busy. I love being sociable. I love learning and stretching my mind.
If you feel like this, then you are not alone.
I felt alone in my post-graduation depression, but this is actually fairly common. For three or so years, your life has been centred around routine (lectures and assignments), meeting new people and learning to live (and cope…) with other people. Since you were four or five, your academic life has been mapped out for you, with a clear sequence of progression. Then after graduation… it’s anti-climatic. You are thrown into the real world of jobs and bills and not being able to walk over to your friend’s room whenever you want. Suddenly, there are less people around you.
It is no surprise then that so many people feel lost. You are experiencing a huge change in your lifestyle and the university environment is quite surreal and unique. But please have no fear! This feeling will fade. You will find your calling. Here are my top tips:
Don’t feel ashamed to speak out.
It is not healthy to keep all your worries and sadness bottled up. Like a shaken bottle of cola, you’ll just explode when you can’t contain your feelings anymore. Speak to a friend, a parent, or even a therapist. You will feel so much better.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
Whilst your friends and course mates might seem as though they have perfect lives, you don’t know what they are going through. Some might have access to excess wealth and great contacts, but you can carve your own path!
Reflect on your skills and interests.
What did you gain from university? Could these academic and social skills work their way into your CV and prepare you for future job interviews? Take advantage of your free time to pursue new hobbies and learn new skills. Or maybe re-visit hobbies that you used to enjoy!
Accept that life isn’t a smooth path and it’s okay if you don’t follow your original plans.
I believe everything happens for a reason. All the horrific things and happy things in my life have made me who I am today. My life hasn’t been smooth, but I know people that had a shock when they were told ‘no’ in the real world (aka outside of university). They were so used to getting their own way. Remember that it is okay not to follow your original plans for after graduation.
So please, please understand that you are not alone in feeling like this!
You will find your calling at the right time.