‘It has become difficult to leave the house’: The Tab Sussex investigates the effects of strikes on mental health
“Myself and others have felt discouraged, unenthusiastic, and lost”
The recent UCU strikes and subsequent protesting on campus have had an obvious impact. Lectures have stopped, deadlines have been amended, buses have changed their routes and solidarity for tutors has shined through. Of course, disruption is the purpose of a strike and would be useless without it. One less obvious effect of the strikes, however, has been on the mental health of students, staff and protesters. The Tab Sussex has spoken to students and staff about their experiences.
The largest damage caused by the strikes has been the loss of structure to students' weeks. According to mind.org, if you have a strong routine "you'll be more likely to stay motivated". The lack of lectures has torn apart the routines of students, causing severe problems for those with mental health issues. One student tells us that "as a student who has battled depression in the past and lives with anxiety, routine is a big part of keeping me happy.
"Being told that I will have no structure for four weeks was incredibly unsettling and has had a noticeable effect on me". She goes on to explain the effect that this lack of structure has created; "I feel lazy, I struggle to motivate myself to work, it has become difficult to leave the house, and my academic confidence has decreased."
Those students who are able to find the ability to attempt to carry on with their studies in order to give themselves routine, are being forced to "feel guilty for using the library", causing more mental stress. One student was even unable to "get to her counselling session" as a result of her fear of entering campus.
Whilst picketers are letting students onto campus, one student explains to us their fear of approaching the picket line; "you're made to feel bad enough that you lie something about going to the doctors in the hopes that they'll back off."
Coupled with the lack of routine, is the looming threat of deadlines. Extensions are making very little difference to the stress which students are feeling. One students explains their situation; "I have an assessment due on the 15th March which I have not even seen my lecturer for." The worst thing for students struggling with mental health is to feel alone. One third year student feels that "so far there seems to be a lack of support for students feeling such a way."
We spoke to students about how strikes and deadlines have affected their mental health; "I am not someone who suffers from stress on a day to day basis, but having an essay due on a strike day has left me feeling increasingly anxious about the performance of my final term." They also fear that "the stress and anxiety around the strikes will become evident in my grades."
A masters students explains; "I have an essay due next Thursday that is 55% of my module grade and we've had two seminars of teaching. I have no idea if i'm writing it correctly." The strain caused to students' mental health when they feel they have no one to reach out to regarding work is huge.
Staff members are also being made to feel the strain of the strikes, as one tells us that "the stress of missed classes along with the level of criticism we are receiving from fellow students does take its toll on your mental health."
The non-subjective nature of the strikes has been another huge problem. A third year students feels as though "the picket line doesn't know that you have anxiety. It doesn't realise that routine is a fragile thing which once disrupted can leave you with the only thing to get up for that day, gone." Whilst some students are able to brush off being told to go home when entering campus, for others the impact is far worse.
There are resources which students can use in this difficult time in an attempt to alleviate some of the mental health issues caused by this disruption. Many tutors are putting content on Study Direct in order to limit the lost content. Counselling facilities on campus are still active, but the anxiety of the guilt of going to campus is holding people back.
In the mean time, for any issues or worries that students may be having, the Student Life Centre is still available for drop in sessions, which can be made here. The Students' Union is also working for compensation for students, and have asked students to reach out to them with how strikes have affected their studies.