Something has to give: Students are having anxiety attacks in the halls

Last year's Education Contest generated stories of struggle and perseverance from students and graduates across British Columbia. Here, one contestant shares what it really feels like to be under the pressure of an under-funded system. 

It is often assumed that once a student makes it to university or college, the barriers to education have been overcome. They got in, they paid the first semester of tuition fees, they are able to attend classes.

In reality, many students have to work part- or full-time jobs in order to pay for education.

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It is not uncommon to find a student working 30 hours a week, attending classes for 15, volunteering or getting work experience for eight, and spending over 25 hours writing papers, researching, doing labs, and seeking out tutoring. That adds up to nearly 80 hours in a week. If a student gets eight hours of sleep a night, they spend 56 hours sleeping every week. 

When all is said and done, a student is left with just a few hours a day to meet their other needs, including personal hygiene, physical fitness, meals, grocery shopping, seeing friends, and family obligations. 

Something has to give. Students in university are constantly forced to sacrifice some of their basic needs to meet their educational ones. To secure a good future, they let things slip. They sleep less. They skip meals. They accumulate debt.

We ask our students to live in a way most adults would not be willing to, simply because it is the “college experience.” In doing so, we are isolating them. The Canadian Association of College and University Student Services released a 2016 report that shows alarming mental health statistics. In the past year, 65% have felt overwhelming anxiety, and 13% of students reported that they seriously considered suicide.

If none of these numbers strike a chord, know this: the average student is disguising a serious internal struggle. I see students having anxiety attacks in the halls on a daily basis. I know people who cope with the unbearable pressure by drinking to the point of dependency. I cannot count the times I have found camaraderie in a group that is bragging about how long they’ve lived off of packaged noodles, or how many days they’ve gone without a proper night’s sleep.

You can let the BC government know how important this issue is by adding your name along with thousands of other British Columbians who are pledging to vote for a government committed to supporting post-secondary education. There’s an election coming up on May 9th, and we need a change for BC students.