Graduation and wellbeing
Struggles with mental health are increasingly common amongst students, but what is often much less spoken about is the effect that graduate life can have on our mental wellbeing.
Graduation is an exciting time – it feels like real life is finally beginning – but it can also be a difficult time. From difficulties making friends to the frustration of living back with your parents, from the uncertainty of the job hunt to the busyness of working life – whichever of these situations you find yourself in, post-graduation life can be sprinkled or flooded with feelings of disappointment, frustration, failure, exhaustion, loneliness and unsettledness. And whether these emotions are the primary ones that you’re experiencing, or whether they’re just occasional worrying spots in the midst of all of the excitement, they can, unsurprisingly, have an effect on your mental health.
Here are a few thoughts from a (somewhat) recent graduate who has struggled with mental illness:
Don’t be surprised if you find life a bit hard.
There are a lot of reasons that post-graduation life can be difficult. Even if you are having a wonderful time, don’t underestimate the effect of busyness and change on your emotions. Feeling low or stressed at times is normal and not something to worry about it. If you find yourself experiencing prolonged periods of low mood or anxiety (particularly if that anxiety doesn’t seem to have a source) and you’re finding that it is making it difficult to eat, sleep or concentrate, then it is probably worth going and speaking to your GP about getting some help.
Find some time in your week to do something fun.
Join a sports team, pick up a hobby, join a running club or a book group or a choir or something else that is not work and that is with people.
In the busyness of working life, I’ve found ballet classes and a weekly knitting group such a helpful break from the norm. A chance to think about something other than work, and to begin to build friendships with new people. Exercise, in particular, is generally seen to improve mood and reduce anxiety, so worth trying to find time for.
Find a church family to be part of.
As mentioned, church life as a graduate can be quite a different experience, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing! Whilst you may have been a bit of a temporary member of your uni church (with all of those long holidays away), working life is different, and this church that you join may end up being the one you stay at for the rest of your life. As with everything else, you may find that building relationships takes longer here as well, as you have less time on your hands than you did as a student, but it’s worth seeing that if you are going to be part of this church for the next five or ten or fifty years, then you have time to invest properly!
Whilst you were probably part of a church with lots of other students, you may find that in post-graduation life there aren’t as many who are at the same stage as you. This is normal and can be a good thing. It is good for us to be friends with people who are not like us, as well as those who are, and you will probably find their friendship to be helpful and valuable as you work out how to cope with all of the struggles and difficulties of this new stage of life.
In times of both sadness and joy, church family is vital. Find people who will rejoice with you and weep with you, and encourage you to keep holding on to Jesus as he holds on to you.
Don’t be surprised that God can and will still use you.
Sometimes we can think that when we’re struggling that God won’t want or be able to use us. This simply isn’t true!
All of us are struggling - that’s part of what it means to be a Christian. We are the poor in spirit – the ones who know that we have nothing of our own to offer and so turn instead to Jesus to save and work in and through us. As Paul reminds his readers in 2 Corinthians: ‘We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that his all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’
I’ve had depression for the last 4 years, and I’ve been involved in full-time Christian ministry all of that time. It has been so hard at times, but also so wonderful to see God at work during that time - not just ‘in spite’ of my illness, but through it and in it as well. He’s a very good God.
This article comes from ‘Transition’, our resource for final years and graduates entering the working world. Get your copy now for more articles and ideas for living and speaking for Jesus after graduation.
Ellie Cook is a UCCF Staff Worker with Christian Unions in the North East. She is part of the church family at Christ Church Newcastle, and spends her spare time knitting, writing, and hanging out in hipster coffee shops.