The Fate of The Myriad of Students Dealing with Academic Depression
“It’s talked about but isn’t talked about enough.” This is just one of the many ways to describe the current situation of things as regards academic depression and the Nigerian Educational System. The rate at which academic depression is multiplying in the student populace is at an alarming one and it has become pertinent not just to identify what the root causes are, but to reach out to students who are the ones directly involved and find out what solutions are best to proffer. A study carried out in Western Nigeria showed a 25.2% rate for moderate depression and a 7% rate for severe depression in university students. Mental pressure and a host of other factors result in the drowning of students’ mental health and stability. What’s this, why is this? In proffering solutions to any issue, the root cause must be discovered and addressed.
Studies show that a huge chunk of the contributing factors to academic depression is attributed to mental pressure, inadequate sleep, poor eating habits, financial worries, and relationship issues. A study published on healthline.com written by Micheal Kerr and medically reviewed by Timothy J revealed that many students are usually not prepared for what hits them in the face upon resumption into the university; the stress, workload, financial worries, emotional strains together with the mental pressure and constant worries that emanate from the uncertainty of getting a good job after studying all pile up to cause depression in students. These factors that all come together to form a heavy burden are in themselves a whole unit to be analyzed.
Fear cripples! Fear damages! Fear limits! Fear as much as it can push one to strive to do better (as in the fear of failure), fear is a recipe to destruction and this is what many students are faced with. The pressure to do well to impress parents, teachers, friends, and society sometimes propels students towards fear. An overwhelming kind of fear that not only multiplies the pressure they have on them but also drastically increases their chances of failure.
A lot of it has to do with the mindset. So, in a case where a student is drowning under the mental pressure his mindset has placed on him failing his exams. It becomes a double dose of mental strain, a double fear situation where the pressure and fear are even heightened while yearning to do better, beating themselves up in the process. There are many dimensions to the academic depression discussion and It would be unfair not to mention the plight of students who are pushed to the university to study a course they passionately have NO interest in. Having mentioned all of this, the fuel to the fire in academic depression is the inadequate knowledge of (or total disregard for) mental health and emotional intelligence.
This is not a discussion to be directed at lecturers, students, or parents alone but the society in its entirety as it requires collective efforts. A lot of things have to be unlearned and a mindset that embraces healthy growth in all aspects of life has to be cultivated.
In the process of writing this report, I reached out to students across Nigerian Universities and got them to express their displeasure with the educational system, how it influences their mental health, and what they think can be done better. This is an articulation of all that they had to express. “Lecturers need to be more considerate when giving out projects and assignments. More than the possibility of even learning anything or enjoying the process, we all get in a rush to finish fast. To just do it and be done with it, rather than do it and learn from it”. One of the students narrated (name withheld). The “La-cram-la-pour“ ideology comes into play where students just cram it all and pour it all out when it’s time for assessments without actually learning. The pressure is built up, there’s a constant race to just pass and not to study or to know and in this race, some students get lost, swallowed up by pressure and fear and maybe even failure and there’s barely any room to learn or think of improvements or innovations. It slowly erases the joy of learning and replaces it with unnecessary pressure to absorb.
Another student from a different department and University also shared: “Some of us still rely on our parents for monies that we need and our parents do not have so much so having to ask for money for this project and that assignment all the time is causing a strain on them and us. For those students who are trying to make money themselves, it’s all so hard on them”. Financial strain is a huge contributing factor to depression among university students. Inability to pay fees affects the mental wellbeing of such students and struggling to make money while in school might need sacrifices like missing classes to work extra hours, losing sleep, falling ill, worry, depression. Having to deal with all of these with a really heavy workload is a cumbersome task indeed.
It’s evident that many lecturers do not treat mental health as anything important. Many of them have this ‘I suffered, you must suffer too’ mentality. They use this as an excuse when students appeal for some leniency. They proceed to tell you stories about how they suffered too in their time to get an A or B. Some lecturers just show deliberate display of wickedness declaring to students that they cannot pass their courses or deliberately failing students for unreasonable reasons or for refusing to have anything to do with them (as in the case of female students). These things are happening and it’s so draining knowing that after putting in all your efforts, someone somewhere for invalid reasons is choosing to make life harder for you under the guise of ‘I suffered so you must suffer too’”. Gathering all the outbursts gotten from students on the issue of injustice with grades, this is what can be made of it. Nobody wants to see their efforts get washed down the drain, nobody wants to be a victim, subject to manipulation by someone who is in power and has no strength or power to get justice. It’s pathetic! The pain it causes can be likened to torture. It’s a reason why students fall into depression and maybe eventually attempt or die by suicide.
Having established that there’s a rot in the system and there’s work to be done,
What’s the way forward?
Put Structures in place to get Justice for Students: Independent and strong bodies need to be put in place to get justice for students who have complaints of sexual harassment or undue failure of students for the lecturer’s reasons. To be able to truly get justice, it’s crucial to not just create judicial panels but create effective, just panels that wouldn’t downplay student’s troubles or experiences and give them a voice, a listening ear, and most importantly, justice!
Training Lecturers and Students on Mental Health and Emotional Intelligence: Firstly, acknowledging that there’s a need to learn and unlearn certain unhealthy habits and actions that directly and indirectly affect the smooth running of lecturer-student relationships and even the entire learning process. Re-orientating students and lecturers to create an environment that accommodates the student’s point of views alongside the lecturer’s points of views and ensures that lots of things are learned as regards mental health and emotional intelligence. Moreso, provisions should be made for students who are “trying” , who want to do something different, who are trying to be unusually creative. An educational system and the people within shouldn’t be rigid and just shut everybody who is not academically inclined out of the space.
University Responsibility: Under normal circumstances, any institution sensitive to a student’s mental health needs should make available functional guidance and counseling centers for its members. Mental health care provisions including mental health and life-themed programs are as important as healthcare facilities to accommodate student and staff needs. The introduction of life-themed programs on Student union, faculty, and departmental levels is crucial now more than ever. Programs that address mental health concerns, mental pressure, procrastination, time management, and more. Inclusion of courses or programs that teach about actual life, being human. So far, the system is designed to pretend like all the humans who are in school to study are just in school to study and the other parts influencing their lives are disregarded. This creates an imbalance. An inclusive curriculum that caters to academic, life, mental health, emotional health, and career needs need to be put in place. Apart from an inclusive curriculum, there should be an inclusive environment with guidance and counseling units on ground, functioning effectively. There should be programs put in place to take care of the mental welfare of students and lecturers at large. It’s the University and its members’ responsibility to work towards having conducive physical & emotional learning spaces.
Pre and Post Uni Preparation: Preparing students ahead of the university gives them a heads up to what and what not to expect from the university environment to help students adapt; Mindset training, handling pressure, time management, best studying style are very important as they aid the formal learning and thriving process (the primary assignment). Studying to get a university degree is a journey and it’s not a solo effort thing, faulty tires and engines won’t do much to help to succeed on the journey so they need to be fixed to ensure smooth running.
All of these things have cumulative effects on the academics itself; they result in poor grades, a dislike for any and everything that has to do with academics, and a gradual resistance to or pulling back from studying. Sometimes, students manage to scale through, other times; they leave the grades uncompleted, either because they drop out or they die by suicide. What’s the fate of students who have/who will come face to face with these challenges? The cycle of mediocrity? ignoring, pretending that everything is alright when the only thing that’s alright is the fact that this is being talked about now! But what’s going to be done about it?