It’s been over two years since I was preparing to move to an amazing city and embark on the most exciting adventure of my life so far. Like many students studying the clinical sciences, it has been a life-long dream and ambition to get to this point; a veterinary student at last.
Many of the students on these clinical science courses may have experienced being called a ‘swot’ or a ‘teacher’s pet’ throughout their education so far. Having classes with other students that spanned across the academic spectrum, being in the top percent of their school would have been inevitable, until they reached the age of 18. Being placed into a situation where they are now alongside a large group of students achieving the same or better than themselves makes this new chapter even more intimidating! Although uncontrollably exciting, many students face the turmoil of feeling unsure and unworthy of their university place. Two years on and still I am often left feeling sub-standard and like a duck out of water; as an ‘academic dunce’, I was feeling uncertain if this was normal, but recently something pretty alarming struck me; I am not alone.
Lately, concerns about the mental health of clinical science students have attracted even more attention as the number of reported cases continue to rocket. This begs the question: why is the mental health of such students deteriorating at this troubling rate?
Although we are still searching to find a definitive answer to this question, science is getting closer! Already, a firm link has been established between depression, anxiety and stress. This relationship has become the main avenue explored by scientists, in a bid to find missing pieces of the mental health puzzle. Although the link is undeniably there, exactly how the three factors relate remains unknown. In terms of potential factors, there are unfortunately too many to count! Homesickness, deadlines and money worries are all things which can be trigger factors. Different students cope with new responsibilities in different ways, with varying degrees of success. Clinical science students are not exempt from these worries because they are bright, they are in fact at a higher risk of developing mental illnesses due to the nature of their training. Before a lot of students reach 20, they are faced with tough ethical decisions, clinical responsibilities and the associated pressures; for example, a correct diagnosis may rely on you having to pick out a crucial piece of information from the black and grey muddle in front of you on the ultrasound machine, which, understandably takes it toll. One of the most common forms of stress for veterinary and medical students alike, is the feeling of inadequacy, as highlighted earlier. Although it won’t impact every student in the same way, or at all, it is always important to look out for friends showing signs of feeling stressed and under pressure.
A positive work-life balance can be a major struggle and even non-existent for some students. Regardless of how difficult it may be to allow yourself to go out for a pint with a flat mate, pick up an instrument, or add to the collection of fictional books in favour of textbooks and hours of stream capture; to meet up with friends and family back home, despite having so many hours of placements to fit into your holiday timetable; giving yourself that time to relax is imperative to your success. For example, research has shown that reading for 30 minutes a week, which we can all make time for, increases health and well-being by boosting self-esteem and confidence, as well as aiding sleep patterns and combating feelings of loneliness. I personally have always been a very busy person, and extracurricular pursuits still hold an important place in my life. Of course, rationally we all know the importance of a day of relaxation, but with the ‘to-do list’ mounting up, pushing these thoughts aside can prove to be an even greater challenge.
Mental well-being is ultimately a personal and individual experience, so a blanket explanation will never cover the spectrum of feelings experienced by students dealing with stress and anxiety. In a lot of cases what research has found is that stress is a real obstacle when it comes to mental health, but just a small amount of relief goes a long way. So, to anybody studying clinical sciences, the books can wait for a while! See that long-distance friend, read your favourite book again, cook up a meal to make Chef Ramsay proud. In short, be kind to yourself! You may feel like you can’t do it and you don’t deserve to be here, but you do. Believe in what that admissions team saw in you all that time ago.
For help and advice on dealing with stress and anxiety, contact Student Support services, or follow these links: