A cost of student living crisis

By Hailie Pentleton-Owens

More young people than ever before are citing financial difficulties as the top reason that their mental health is suffering. 

Another year, another World Suicide Prevention day spent speculating on how best to end the suicide endemic that envelopes this country. How do you stop a person’s thoughts from trapping them in a self-defeating cycle, or rewire your own reflective ruminations to reach more positive conclusions? Is it a case of prescribing more SSRIs, or printing more CBT booklets? Should we be taking more walks, or removing sugar from our diets? Sure, these things can always help. But, perhaps, for more people now than ever, it’s less about treating acute mental health issues and more about ensuring that our most basic needs are being met, before it’s too late. 

I’ve had more reason to turn off the television than ever recently. Firstly, because it’ll save me a few pennies on my ever-increasing electricity bill – sorry, Pointless, you’re just not worth that kind of money gal. Secondly, however, because I simply cannot bear even another second listening to politicians with skewed priorities downplaying the toll that this cost of living crisis will have on the health of those most likely to be enduring the coldest moments of the winter ahead. It’s going to take a lot more than spending an extra tenner on a kettle to cope with forking out an extra forty percent on bills. And, with a spike in expenses, comes a spike in mental health issues, only set to worsen as the situation unfolds. 

You see it on every network, on every news feed. Every discussion I have at work at the moment comes back to the cost of living crisis, or the accommodation crisis, or the general lack of security that students feel in their current living situations. For the first time ever, financial concerns are the top reason young people believe that their mental health is suffering, finding it more difficult than ever to balance bills, rent, and basic necessities. As prices continue to skyrocket, student loans see no special increase, minimum wage can barely make ends meet, and the demands on our time remain the same. Is it any wonder we’re facing a student mental health crisis? As a spokesperson for the National Union of Students stated: “students are burdened with anxiety, feel overlooked by those in power, and are unsupported when it comes to addressing the financial difficulties that compound the student mental health crisis.” 

One student, James, spoke to me about the impact he believed that the cost of living crisis was having on his mental health. “It’s made enjoying life so much more difficult,” he said, “the cost of everything at the moment is making me second guess every single penny that I spend, and it’s hard to think about anything else other than where the money to pay the bills is coming from.” As a young person trying to juggle work and studies, friendships and personal development, money should not be on our minds as much as it seems to be. 

Katie, a recent University of Glasgow graduate also expressed deep concerns around the challenges that the cost of living crisis has presented her with. She’s considering putting her academic progression on hold, saying that “the idea of pursuing [her] masters instead of just trying to get a real job is becoming more daunting every week, worsened only by the headlines. In fact it now seems completely impossible.” She also mentions the personal strain that tightening the purse strings has had on her relationships, noting just how difficult it is to “say no to plans […] because the electricity is suddenly twice what it was last month. It’s hard on your friendships, and your relationship, to be constantly thinking about and worrying about money and trying to avoid doing nice things because of it.” 

There’s being careful, and then there’s being confined by unnecessary, and costly, constraints. Financial stress should not, as James expressed, be making us “question whether or not [we] enjoy existing.” Students, so often ineligible for benefits like Universal Credit, Carer’s Allowance, and other means of financial support, are facing this crisis face on, with very little options other than to take on more hours and hope for the best. Students in private halls, who are not guaranteed the £400 energy grant, instead banking on the integrity of their landlords, will have to make do and sacrifice to pay the bills. Students who still find themselves in search of accommodation will continue to pay ridiculous rent rates for rooms further afield from campuses than before. Something has to give, or more importantly, something has to be given. We need support, and we need it now. Indeed, as an NUS spokesperson has stated, “both universities and Government must do more to support vulnerable students. They must also put protections in place to prevent thousands more reaching crisis point.” 

If you need advice around rising costs, or are having difficulties at University as a result of the cost of living crisis, get in touch with the SRC Advice Centre via [email protected]


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