We’ve all seen the amazing Humans of New York stories. Some sad, some happy. All inspiring. In fact, so inspiring that I decided to embark on a journey to do the same but with the students at the University of Hertfordshire. However, the creator of Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton, according to an interview he gave with CNN, did not originally set out to tell people’s stories:
“The approach to the concept started out purely as [a] photography blog. In the first year, I was just taking pictures without captions.”
However, he goes on to say that he, “started having interactions in streets” and that interaction were so meaningful that it got, “to the point where now I can’t call it a photography blog because the storytelling is so vital”.
It is Stanton’s storytelling and his focus on telling stories that were untold by mainstream media, but still mattered and needed to be heard that made his project so popular.
The concept of telling stories that are not being told was largely what inspired me to start ‘Students of UH’ because I think that student’s stories are largely untold, or if told, discussed for a bit, and then dismissed. We’ve all seen countless articles about how students are suffering under the current system. Students have to juggle university, having a social life, often working a part time job and worrying about a crippling amount of debt. It’s no wonder that according to YouGov, 1 in 4 students suffer from mental health problems.
Despite this, no change is happening. Fees are set to increase even more this year. The government has already set out plans and started the process to start selling off the student loan book to private investors. Bursaries for student nurses are to be abolished this year, and unsurprisingly applications to nursing and midwifery courses have fallen by 23% due to this decision.
I think it is a fair assessment that UK students are in trouble, and that maybe, just maybe we should start listening to them and their stories of what life at university is really like.
So here is one such story…
Name: Callie Watling
Postgraduate Student (her Undergraduate degree, however, was not at the University of Hertfordshire)
Currently studying for a Masters in Journalism and Media Communications
“My mental state was not a good enough reason to have extenuating circumstances.”
Picture by Callie Watling
First year of Callie’s undergraduate degree
“My first year was alright, it was a bit dull because Student Finance didn’t give me enough money to live in London, and so I had to go live in Watford with my aunt. So I had to commute an hour and a half every day to university. And I couldn’t do anything after university because I had to get back. And didn’t really make any friends, and that kind of stayed throughout all 3 years really. I made like two friends.”
It was in Callie’s second year that the issues she had regarding her mental health at university started for her:
“My second year was hard because I had issues with my mental health. From October, so right at the beginning, all the way through to June/July. So really the whole year. Basically, I just became depressed and anxious. And I didn’t go to university anymore. Didn’t do my work. I couldn’t be bothered. I couldn’t be bothered with anyone. I didn’t talk to my family for like a month. I didn’t see anyone from university. Those friends I was just telling you about I didn’t talk to. I would try and avoid my boyfriend. And get him to not come and visit because I just wanted to be alone. So it was pretty bad.”
So bad in fact that it almost lost her place at university:
“And then I nearly got kicked out of university because I wasn’t putting in any effort and I just ended up plagiarising because I would take things online and submit them. Just because I had to submit something. That was it. I knew perfectly well that was what was going on. I just didn’t care. I didn’t care to check over it. I didn’t care to quote or anything. Then, I nearly lost my place at university and got in quite a big bit of trouble. So I went to my course leader and and explained everything with what was going on and quite frankly he wasn’t very useful. He listened to me, which was good. And understood where I was coming from, but when it came to actually sorting out the issue at hand, I got a couple of links. One to an extenuating circumstance form and another one to the mental health team. That was it. And I didn’t go to see the mental health team because it was daunting. I’d have to travel an hour into university to speak to these people that I didn’t know, and there wasn’t any other guidance or help offered. Also, I filled in my extenuating circumstance form, and had to get a note from the doctor to prove that I did have mental health issues, but then my form got rejected because apparently I didn’t get a note early enough to actually cover when I was feeling very low. So I had to retake the essay, which was good that I got the chance to but the grade was capped and it meant that my mental health state was not a good enough reason to have extenuating circumstances.”
Callie is not the only student dissatisfied with the mental health services available at her university, as although, the survey by YouGov showed that three quarters of students were aware their university had a counselling service they could access, 1 in 5 students, however, said that the services available were not helpful at all.
However, by the time third year came around, although she did not receive the support she needed Callie was able to get back to a healthier place:
“By the time third year came around I’d kind of got it sorted, and I was back on track. Third year was also very different because we didn’t have to go into university. We had to go in for 5 days of week for the first term, and then after that we weren’t in at all because of our dissertation. So I was left to my own devices, and I think it helped not having the pressures of having to go in all the time. And have lots of deadlines. It definitely, along with having medication, sorted me out I think.”
Masters (Callie is currently studying her Masters at the University of Hertfordshire)
“Masters is better. So much better. It’s not that I didn’t like my undergraduate course, I did, this course is an extension of my undergraduate course. I did Media Communications, and now I’m doing Media Communications and Journalism. But I prefer it, I think because I want to be here more. I’ve chosen to spend that extra year expanding on what I already know, and learning more writing skills. And because I want to write I think that helps, and I think it helped that here I made friends. Actual friends. Friends that are actually your friends, who spend time with you outside of university, and talk to you. And I know I can comfortably come to my friends here and say oh I’ve done this would you mind looking over it for me.”
“The Masters degree is better. I’ve got friends. I enjoy the course so much more.”
As, someone who chose to study at the University of Hertfordshire not only because I liked the Masters course on offer, but partly I must admit from comfort, as I did my undergraduate course here, I was curious to know why Callie chose to study here:
“Because they offered the best course for me. The work placement that the university offers spun it for me because I wanted work experience. I didn’t want to do another dissertation. I didn’t enjoy doing my dissertation. Who does? And I like the the fact that the University of Hertfordshire offers a work placement as part of your degree, so you’re going out and getting your experience while getting your grades and your qualifications. And I didn’t find any other course at any other university that offered that along with the course I wanted to do.”
If you are having issues with your mental health here is a rundown of the options open to you…
The Student Wellbeing Office at Herts offers many different kinds of professional counselling services for students. They can be found in Hutton Hub on the College Lane campus and can be contacted by telephone at +44 (0)1707 284453 or by email at email@example.com.
There are also organisations outside university that are available for students seeking mental health, such as Student Minds, which is the UK’s student mental health charity.
Student Minds offer support through numerous confidential support programs, which are run by groups of trained student volunteers. However, Herts does not currently have a specific Student Minds support program set up at the University, but if you want to change that you can find out more about running a support group here.
The charity, Mind, also offers advice and support for people struggling with their mental health.
Mind can help provide information on a range of topics including:
Types of mental health problem
Where to get help
Medication and alternative treatments
Mind can be contacted from 09:00 am to 06:00 pm, Monday-Friday (except for bank holidays) on 0300 123 3393 or by text on 86463 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .