Great Britain

Escaping the hedonism of student life was a godsend when I was at uni. This year’s freshers need support

Students eh? Just because they were told it was alright to go to university, the selfish hedonists did so and now look. They’ve gone and spread Covid-19 all over the shop with their selfish pub-going, living in shared houses and touching door handles.  

Chlamydia was the most fearful thing students used to spread. Now it seems like a sweet old friend compared to murderous coronavirus. I feel sorry for students who have been robbed of what should be a most exciting time.  

The smash 1980s sitcom The Young Ones was my main inspiration to stay in education and go to university. Created with Ben Elton, Lise Mayer and Alexei Sayle, characters Rik, Neil, Mike and Vyvyan gave a hilariously monstrous view of decadent student life. Residing in filth and squalor, the antics of these heroes shaped not just my comedy tastes but also made me long for that hedonism.

For students starting this term, there will be no such thing – and my heart goes out to them. My years as a student were glorious on the whole. No stress of paying fees and the luxury of cocooning yourself with your peers, rampaging together without the competitive hierarchy of a work environment. It should be a golden time when you flutter out into the world and make friends with people from parts of the country you’ve never heard of. In my first year, I met a guy who said he’s from the West Country. The West Country! That sounded very exotic to my very green, west London ears.  

I had been one of those chomping at the bit to leave my loving, thoroughly restrictive parental home. I had been a shy, quiet teen and at university, with the help of booze, I got to reinvent myself. It was tough too, clashing with other students, feeling insecure and anxious sometimes; fleeing home from time to time for some TLC was a godsend.

This year’s students, it seems, will forfeit this essential survival tool of yo-yoing back home.  

The government guidelines for students' movements are fairly severe. Nevermind lamenting the student social life, what about the cost to their state of mind? I remember a girl at my uni sobbing her heart out to her dad in the first term, howling that “everybody is making friends except for me”.  

Back in the 90’s, phone calls were on the payphone in the hallway with no privacy to speak of. We all heard her. None of us knew how to adequately comfort her. Her dad drove down that very day and picked her up and took her home. Imagine if she’d been forced to stay?

This wasn’t just a young woman feeling a little lonely, something a cheery “Hey! Come to the pub with us! We’ll be your gang!” would have sorted out. This was a girl that was deeply emotionally dependent on her parents and wasn’t ready to be in a big house with total strangers who, outwardly at least, seemed totally socially confident.  

She needed to be at home that weekend and so she went. I’m still friends with her and she still talks about how traumatising she found that first term. Her experience isn’t uncommon. At 18 or 19, we are still adolescents, still developing. If the government deemed it safe for students to go back to university, then it should now be committed to ensuring they are getting the emotional support they need in the potentially suffocating situation they find themselves in. It’s a huge deal to be a student in a new town with new people and to be stuck in your room.  

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All sorts of fragile mental states arrive at uni and struggle. On campus, you roam and find your tribe and it’s very rarely the bunch of people you find yourself housed with in your first years. What if you’re a first year confined in a house bubble with a Vyvyan-type? What happens when you’re stuck in the house with other young people who haven’t yet mastered the art of sharing, so do inconsiderate things that you don’t yet have the life-skills to address without causing enormous friction? You don’t have to be a psychotherapist to see the potential of being overcome by anxiety and depression.

Obviously, the huge rise in coronavirus outbreaks amongst students is worrying. Staying alive is our shared goal. But there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to mental health and a close eye needs to be kept on our young people who are somehow being blamed for this surge in positive cases, instead of a government that mixes messages more than students mix drinks.

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