Graduating from university is always a bit of a scary transition.
You leave the comfort of full-time education, the path you have been following since you were 5 years old, and are thrust into the real world. Suddenly expected to be a real adult, find a career, make decisions, make money.
But graduating during a global pandemic is a whole new level of terrifying. On top of the normal fears that come with this huge life change, there is the added pressure of a catastrophic economic downturn, a crushing lack of jobs and unprecedented levels of uncertainty.
And the class of 2020 are feeling the full force of this horrendous situation. Their lives have been paused just as they were about to get started, and many feel as though their hopes and dreams for the future are slipping through their fingers.
It is no wonder that new graduates are struggling. The figures are incredibly bleak. Unemployment has just hit it’s highest level for three years, and between June and August, redundancies stood at 227,000.
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A survey by Prospects in May revealed that 26.1% of final year students lost their work placement, 28.2% had their job offer deferred or cancelled and 29.2% lost their job entirely.
We asked students to explain exactly how this uncertainty was impacting them – and across the board, they told us that their mental health was suffering in a big way:
Maya Elese, 23
Graduated from UCL, studied European Languages
I was hoping to pursue a career in journalism or radio post-graduation.
That is where my passion lies and I actually secured paid internships at numerous media organisations including The Guardian, but these all got cancelled in March following lockdown measures and the shift to home working.
I’m currently doing a ‘panic masters’ in Broadcast Journalism at City University to hide from the recession for a year.
I also started a PR and social media agency during lockdown – Say What – to try to keep my career options open after seeing the waves of redundancies in the journalism industry.
I already suffer with anxiety so the pandemic completely exacerbated that. Also, as a creative, I have found that I’m not enjoying the creative process as much. I have started writing freelance, and the inevitable rejections that come with the job hit harder. Every opportunity feels incredibly high-stakes.
The dire job market has also amplified major imposter syndrome, especially as a Black working-class woman trying to navigate a really white middle-class industry. There is a lot of self-doubt.
I have done everything society wanted me to; get good grades, go to a top university, get relevant experience, and have a great portfolio, yet there is still massive uncertainty.
I actually tested positive for coronavirus over three weeks ago and I’m slowly recovering from the virus.
Testing positive triggered health anxiety for me, my symptoms were fairly mild and I didn’t require hospitalisation. However, the long-term effects of Covid and no sign of a treatment or a vaccine has triggered negative thoughts that I will never be 100% the same again.
The scariest thing about the pandemic is the uncertainty, there is no end date in sight and there is nowhere to escape to, and medical professionals are still learning about the virus and can’t give you any definitive answers.
For me, my biggest fear is not being able to secure a well paid and permanent job following completion of my masters degree. This will be my fifth year in higher education.
Also, following the release of the government-backed ads stating that those working in the creative sector should just retrain, it is clear that we are totally undervalued. Not only is it an insult, but it also assumes that there are ample jobs out there for us.
I have friends with first-class degrees struggling to get jobs in retail. I’m not receiving any support at all from the government.
My university offers great career sessions to look over job applications, but the issue is now you have graduates competing with more experienced job hunters for entry-level roles, paying minimum wage. No matter how excellent your CV is, it doesn’t address the underlying issue that there simply aren’t enough jobs.
Tia Rankine, 22
Graduated with a BA honours, studied Drama:performance and theatre
Acting has always been my first love and a big part of my life.
Leaving university, I expected to use my last performance as part of my showreel which would help me gain a place with an agency. However, because of corona and the fact my course relies heavily on interaction, I was unable to complete my final performance, which was very upsetting.
Throughout university, I suffered with anxiety and at many points, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get through the process.
Not being able to walk across that stage and accept my degree in front of my family and friends was heart-breaking.
As well as acting, business management has always been a great interest of mine and, if anything, the setback in graduating has allowed me to explore that avenue even more, and I’m looking to enter a buying and merchandising grad scheme next year.
Hopefully that all goes well, because I don’t know if I can deal with another setback.
The biggest stress during this period is everyone keeps asking me: ‘What’s the next steps?’ or ‘what are you going to do now?’. There really is no way of me answering this because I don’t know.
Being in education for so long, I haven’t had this amount of freedom in a long time and I’m trying to figure out what the next best step is. Then to have all this Rona stuff on top of it just makes it 10 times worse.
Now I’m not only fighting graduates for a spot, I’m fighting all the people that have become redundant during this pandemic.
I’ve started counselling to help with my anxiety overall, but this is a perfect time with everything going on and it being a time where I’m figuring out the next chapter of my life.
My counselling team has an employment specialist who I have a meeting with in a couple of weeks, which should be good. But I can’t help but worry about what the future looks like.
Connie Evans, 22
Graduated from the University of Leeds, studied English Literature and Philosophy
I have always known that I wanted to be a journalist. My absolute dream is to be a features writer on a national newspaper, particularly looking at arts and culture.
I had originally planned to try to get internships in journalism once I graduated, and then eventually try to secure a grad role. But trying to secure a job in print journalism is tricky enough at the best of times, let alone when there’s a global pandemic going on.
I realised that my initial plan was unlikely to work out, so I made the big decision to apply for a masters.
As someone who struggles with anxiety and isn’t particularly comfortable being spontaneous, this was an extremely stressful and anxiety-inducing time for me. However, I felt as though this was the best alternative to the plans I had originally for post-graduation.
Luckily, after a particularly stressful application process, I was accepted onto my first choice of course – Newspaper Journalism at City University in London.
I am so happy with the decision I made, however, it really had a huge impact on my mental health. The periods before, during and after submitting my application was hugely anxiety-inducing and I was constantly worrying about whether I’d done the right thing.
Now I’m on the course, I started just over three weeks ago.
I am really enjoying it, but the fact that I’m getting myself into an extra £10.4k of debt, on top of my student loan from four years as an undergraduate, really plays on my mind.
I really worry that even after completing my MA I won’t be good enough to get a job in journalism and I will be back in exactly the same position I was in when I had just finished my undergraduate at Leeds.
I am incredibly lucky to have a great support system of family and friends. My GP is also aware of my mental health issues.
I have been taking anti-anxiety medication for about eight months now, which I would really like to be able to stop taking, but at the moment that just isn’t feasible given all the stress and anxiety-inducing things (not least a global pandemic!) that are going on in my life at the moment.
Mumbi Jessica Mulenga, 23
Graduated from Cardiff University, studied English Literature
My hopes for life after university were pretty high.
I had several job offers from various companies, ranging from a placement year with WarnerMedia, to a digital marketing job in Beijing, to possibly even taking a year out to just work for sixth months, save some money and travel the world.
Until this awful pandemic hit and for me, it hit very close to home.
My mother contracted the virus in March, which meant that I couldn’t come home like the rest of my peers who fled back to their respective homes in panic.
I was stuck in my university flat, no resources from the university to help me complete my degree and to be quite honest, it is only by a miracle that I finished with a high 2.1 because my situation was extremely dire.
Fast forward to June and my mother had thankfully recovered, I was able to go home, with a new perspective on my life as I had now graduated.
I spent my time applying for jobs, night and day, only to receive the same answer each time “unfortunately due to your lack of experience…”
That infamous line recruiters send candidates.
I began to find a recurring pattern amongst recruiters, employers would come back and tell me it was a close call between myself and another candidate, but they just seemed to have more experience, which set them apart from me.
I kept getting told that I had potential and was going places, so for this reason they wanted to keep in touch, mentor me and polish my skills by giving me some work to do in exchange for experience.
I started to feel like I wasn’t good enough, was my degree worth the four years I spent on it? Why couldn’t I even land myself a part-time role as a tutor?
Nothing has been working out and it’s frightening. You look at all the debt you willingly got yourself into and you almost have no choice but to compare to your peers who opted out of further education and are comfortably sitting in their secure, corporate jobs, working from home.
I haven’t received any support from anyone during this time. I worked hard to find some work near my home such as babysitting local kids, putting my marketing and social media skills to good use and helping some people with their businesses in exchange for a small fee, but all these payments are hand-to-mouth.
I am simply struggling and the scariest part of it all is I don’t see an end to any of this.
If you are a recent graduate and you are struggling, make sure you talk to somebody. And remember – you are not alone in this.
The pandemic is huge and scary and is effecting everyone at every stage of their life in different ways.
So it is important to find ways to cope and identify if you are feeling particularly anxious, depressed or overwhelmed.
Your GP is a good place to start to find support for your mental health, but also talk your worries through with family and friends if you can.
Seek out your fellow graduates, even if they look like they are doing OK on social media, chances are they have similar worries to you. So reach out and see if you can support each other.
Need support? Contact the Samaritans
For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.
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