Guest blog: Ben Hunt, King’s College London Students’ Union President
Mental health and money - a student perspective
I’m writing this with a strong coffee, as I stayed up much of last night busy reading over work details and doing campaign planning. In my time at King’s College London Students’ Union there have been large changes. I’ve led on ensuring that University campuses are accessible for disabled students, worked to increase the pay of postgraduates, and had a successful campaign around opening up the libraries.
One of the things that I have also sought to do this year since October is to kick off an institution-wide mental health strategy for King’s to affirm a commitment to the mental health of its staff and students.
This role is as diverse as it is busy.
In my time here I’ve been described as ‘tenacious’, ‘hardworking’, and ‘meticulous’ by students and staff alike. But appearances can be deceptive.
I’m motivated to focus on improving mental health at King’s because I know what it is to have mental health problems.
My personal struggles
I was elected three times, twice into full time roles, whilst undertaking therapy, and I considered many times dropping out of these roles because of my health and the stress I was under.
Sometimes all I’ve wanted to do is to stay in bed and not to eat anything or brush my teeth, never mind going into work, to Parliament or a protest to try and empower others to lead change when I haven’t felt empowered myself.
My health issues range from depression and anxiety to some physical disabilities as well, I’ve also taken medication for the past year. I’ve sometimes veered, in the height of my anxiety, into thoughts that nobody will support me or be there, not even friends or my close family. I didn’t open up in the past, especially a few years ago, because I thought I was being a burden.
I’ve worked hard to attempt to become independent, as many students do. When I first came to University in my first and second year, keeping up with rent payments was difficult whilst also studying. Due to learning difficulties, studying has always had to be a sole focus of mine; it takes me much longer to process information than those who don’t have dyspraxia or dyslexia. This meant I didn’t have time to do paid work, and struggled with finances as a result.
A balancing act
It is a struggle that so many students have: if they have barriers to learning and must prioritise this over paid work to remain academically up to date, they get into debt. If they don’t prioritise academic work they can slip, and have to drop out. A large proportion of students drop out in their first term, mainly in the November, due to the transition away from home and the isolation that this can cause. It has been reported that up to 80% of students suffer from mental health problems at some point in their courses, and demand for counselling access in the last year has risen more than 100%. Management of personal finances may well play a role within this as well.
There isn’t yet clear cut evidence about the link between the threat of debt and mental health problems amongst students. From my own experience, however, the balancing act between avoiding huge amounts of debt whilst maintaining both academic work and unstable casual work is a cause for anxiety amongst young people.
I hope that more light can be shed on the effect that student debt can have on the mental health of young people, both tuition fees and the living costs associated with more students needing to work and moving away from home . Struggles with financial management are a huge cause of mental health issues in the population, and students suffer disproportionately from these issues.