The summer holidays are anticipated year-round by secondary school students eager to ditch the tedium of early starts and all else required by a daily school routine. Similarly, returning home to one’s family and home town brings a welcome respite to many university students, who relish what is likely their first substantial period of time with their relatives for several months. However, mounting pressure to fill this time as best you can by securing competitive internships, travelling, or saving as much as possible, means that this “break” can become just as synonymous with personal achievement as the rest of the academic year.
Those who fail to acquire lucrative positions to help advance their careers, to find employment, or to pay for the extensive travel that has become a trademark of the university experience, thus face an inevitable struggle during these three months of supposed freedom. These challenges are often heightened for those travelling hundreds, or thousands, of miles back to their home countries; anxieties are tested especially for those facing massive geographical distances from their term life and friends. Moreover, the period leaves young people, especially those struggling with their mental health, vulnerable to suspended isolation, potentially catalysing a decline in mental wellbeing and undoing positive steps made during the academic year.
Despite the popularity of complaining about morning lectures, exams and general academic routine, these commitments provide a crucial and pacifying balance to student life. For students wondering how to fill the empty three months ahead, reminiscing on such term-time commitments can bring on a strange sense of nostalgia. The workload, structure and, most importantly, the socialisation intrinsic to college life is often taken for granted by students during the academic year. Those who share accommodation with other students must rapidly adjust from seeing their closest friends and peers everyday, to seeing them – at best – once or twice a month.
Without even the comfort of Dublin’s familiar locations, isolated students face three months at home, disconnected from their lives in Trinity and, for many, the excitement and stimulation of a capital city they have become accustomed to.
For international students like myself, even sporadic meet-ups are impossible as we face being without the company of close friends for the duration of the summer. While facing only a few weeks of separation between visits doesn’t sound too daunting, the prolonged isolation from peers faced by international students contributes toward inflated anxieties. The opportunity to connect or disprove fears “in person” is lost, which can detrimentally impact the mental health of young, and still developing, minds. Without even the comfort of Dublin’s familiar locations, isolated students face three months at home, disconnected from their lives in Trinity and, for many, the excitement and stimulation of a capital city they have become accustomed to.
It is unsurprising that students feel overwhelmed when confronted, simultaneously, with an old way of living, a sudden lack of independence and a disconnectedness from the progress made during term time. While this trifecta affects almost every student, this change can be felt to an extreme by international students who are geographically disconnected, without access to a life they have travelled potentially thousands of miles to build. Casual visits to Dublin aren’t plausible. It is equally frustrating and guilt-inducing to watch friends meet up, even sporadically, without hope of joining them, intensifying an already substantial feeling of social isolation.
Though many are fortunate to have a healthy circle of friends in both their home country and at university, for both Irish and international students this is not a universal truth. I live in England during the summer and my two closest friends from home are both heading into their third and final years in September, meaning their holiday time is filled with internships, placement necessities, as well as holidays with other university friends. Their unavailability is understandable and I would not begrudge them for it, but without their presence it becomes increasingly difficult to socialise with people my own age outside of my workplace.
There is a tangible impact on mental health for students reverting from the total independence enjoyed during the academic year to full time domesticity during the holiday period.
A hard truth is that the only thing worse than not being able to see one’s friends, is to not see them while they are seeing each other. While I didn’t relish my separation from both my “home” and “college” friends, I understand it is a necessary consequence of choosing to study abroad. For me, and many others, all that’s left to do over the summer is work and make the most of the limited time we get to spend with family.
For international students, typical aspects of the student experience are set to a sort of maximum. Time spent at home is, paradoxically, confined to lengthy, constant periods during the summer and winter breaks, before separation again resumes for several months. Regular check-ins and social visits with parents or siblings become impossible, but that comes with the benefit of an extreme feeling of independence, living hundreds of thousands of miles away from one’s home country. There is a tangible impact on mental health for students reverting from the total independence enjoyed during the academic year to full time domesticity during the holiday period. While a few weeks of pampering on the behalf of one’s parents or siblings is undoubtedly desirable, weeks at a time spent waiting at home while your parents leave and return for work has an undoubted effect on your mental wellbeing.
From personal experience, after efforts to find a job had still not been fruitful for about a month, I recall feeling like a burden in my home as I stayed in the house all day, every day, unable to fill my time purposefully. The transition from being surrounded by friends, and roles in student life and academia, to staying inside for prolonged periods without company, would take a toll on any persons’ self-esteem, let alone someone still at such a critical developmental stage.
It is also important to recognise the consequences that suspension from Trinity’s health services can have on the mental and physical well being of all college students. Those availing of the free counselling service will be especially affected, as they are cut off from the vital resources available during term-time to help combat mental health issues. Sudden separation from friends, student life and potentially vital mental health services means a drastic and unpreventable severance from stability and routine, which makes summer an especially vulnerable time for those already experiencing issues with their mental health. The stigma which, despite being slowly dismantled, still remains around this topic means that broaching these issues, even with your own family, can be painful for students. To express these feelings and find feasible means of receiving support is even more unlikely, especially during the limited time span one spends at home.
Those fortunate enough to be able to afford private healthcare and/or counselling should suffer less from this shift; those who cannot, however, must spend prolonged periods coping with mental health issues without the professional or medical support they are accustomed to. Therefore, although the summer offers an opportunity to relax, away from the academic rigour of term time, it can become a crucible for a substantial and rapid decline in the mental health of young people. Without the aid of frequent socialisation and routine commitments, much of the positive work and progress made during term time risks being undone.