Change inevitably brings uncertainty; whether you progress from primary school to high school, from high school to college, Technicon or university, and then on to the workplace. Besides insecurity and uncertainty, everything else that comes with change may also throw us a curve ball which, mentally speaking, may knock us down.

 

To avoid feelings of failure or depression, proper planning, preparation and prioritising can be very helpful to assist us to successfully manage these transitions, advises Megan Hosking, psychiatric intake clinician at Akeso Psychiatric Clinic Group.

 

“For example, speaking to older students doing your course to understand what you can expect, or talking to those at your new workplace to understand the new environment. It is most important to allow yourself time to adapt to the transition, and to not expect too much from yourself too soon. While realistic goals are important, finding your way in a new system, understanding it and your expectations are also important. When on a new campus, familiarising yourself with it (or your new work environment) can likewise assist with the transition,” Hosking explains

 

Balance is key

To help manage potential depression, balance is one of the keys that can assist, Hosking stresses, providing the following advice:

 

  • Join a club or society to meet new people and make new friends – in doing so, you will form a new support system.
  • Find something you enjoy doing and that helps you relax.
  • Balance between academic life and social life is vital, as too much emphasis on one can lead you to feel pressure and stress for the other.
  • Be aware of support systems, and actually access them; this is probably one of the most useful things – whether this is student support on campus, a leader in your residence, or a supervisor at work. Find out what services are available and access them sooner rather than later.
  • Work to develop personal skills.

 

Depression, anxiety

“Failing to do the above, there might be depression and anxiety symptoms, feeling of being overwhelmed, feelings of loneliness and homesickness, feelings of stress, and difficulty being motivated – 30% of first year students found it difficult to motivate themselves1,” she adds.

 

According to her, if not addressed and dealt with adequately, this can lead to unhealthy and even dangerous “coping” methods such as alcohol and drug use. “Suicide is the second most common cause of death amongst university students2, so sadly this is a possibility too if the feelings are unresolved and overwhelming.

 

“Young people between the ages of 19 and 24 are considered to be the most at-risk group for depression and suicide3. 20% of university students have suicidal thoughts at some point during their university career, and with student suicides, 90% are found to have a psychiatric diagnosis2. This does indicate that mental health issues are far more common than we realise, and it’s important to know that with intervention and through seeking help for appropriate treatment, there is always hope for recovery and feeling better.”

 

Positive experience

“On the upside, many people do find transitions to university and work very positive experiences, and see it as an opportunity to take on new challenges, as well as a chance for them to strengthen their personal identity,” says Hosking. “This proves to be positive for their mental health in many ways. Expectations are found to play a large role in attitudes towards study, as well as improving the overall quality of the transition experience, so having realistic expectations is important1.”

 

Coping mechanisms

“Positive coping mechanisms will assist with managing stress and emotions, as well as many of the other symptoms of anxiety and depression. One of the most important things to do is to try live a healthy lifestyle – that means healthy food, exercise, and enough sleep. This can be challenging (especially in university) but the benefits are numerous. Avoiding excessive caffeine and nicotine is also important. Taking time off to relax and do things that are enjoyable, as well as focusing on relationships with friends and family is another positive coping tool. Finally, making use of mindfulness techniques and breathing exercises can help, particularly if you are feeling overwhelmed and or stressed.

 

“Many universities have student support systems which can be accessed free of charge, including groups and counsellors. In conjunction sometimes with medication, various forms of therapy are beneficial as they assist with the behavioural and emotional aspects of the experience.”

 

In addition to the above day-to-day possible coping mechanisms, professional help is also recommended – particularly if little or no improvement is seen over time in stress levels, emotions, or feelings of being overwhelmed, Hosking advises. Akeso Clinics has a number of clinics around the country which can assist with private appointments with psychiatrists and psychologists and inpatient treatment – you can email info@akeso.co.za or call 0861 435 787 for more information.

 

Do not quit

“Instead of throwing in the towel, ask yourself if there are specific things making you feel like quitting, such as your workload, certain subjects, your living environment, relationships and so forth. If so, set a plan of action in place and where possible, seek student, tutor and lecturer support,” Hosking advises.

 

“Although between 30 and 60% of students fail at least one module during their first year4, there are a number of factors that play in each situation. But don’t just quit; try various options and seek advice from those who have knowledge in that area. Remember that the transition will take time, and there will be changes. Try to identify whether it is a general feeling, or perhaps isolation due to an upcoming assessment, test, deadline etc. If it is a more general feeling or you’re unable to identify possible causes yourself, seek support from a professional or someone you trust.

 

Assistance from parents, family vital

It is essential that parents and family are supportive, thus assisting children in overcoming obstacles when moving on to college, university or work, Hosking stresses.

“They should listen to the person about what they are experiencing, their concerns, their fears and their triumphs. Show interest in what they are doing at university or work. Motivate them where you can, but also avoid placing additional pressure on the person. Avoid comparisons between other friends and family and students, as each person is different. If you are concerned about someone (for example, you notice a change in their behaviour and emotions), encourage them to seek support from a professional or to open up to someone that they trust. With the necessary support from parents, family, peers and tutors, young people can overcome the stresses and strains associated with transition,” Hosking concludes.

 

References

  1. Krause, K., Hartley, R., James, R. & McInnis, C. 2005. The first year experience in Australian universities: findings from a decade of national studies. Available online: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/resources/australian_student_engagement_lit_syn_2.pdf
  2. South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). Are more suicides in universities to be expected this year?Available online: http://www.sadag.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=744:are-more-suicide-in-universities-to-be-expected-this-year&catid=92&Itemid=154
  3. University of Cape Town. Available online: https://www.uct.ac.za/usr/wellness/counselling/supportinfo/Suicide.pdf
  4. McKay, T.M. 2016. Do tutors matter? Assessing the impact of tutors on first-year academic performance at a South African universityJournal of Student Affairs in Africa4(1): 53-64.

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