Identity & self-development

The student experience is very much about self-development as well as ‘training’ for a career. It is an exciting time, but also potentially a stressful one.

Finding out who you are

Leaving home and striking out as an adult (or leaving a previous life to return to study) can raise big questions about who you are – from simple things like having more choice over how tidy you keep your room to more complex issues such as exploring sexual identity or sexual orientation. This increased uncertainty provides an exciting opportunity, but can also be disorienting and daunting. It is easy to respond by falling into all-or-nothing thinking habits, offering depression a way in. See ‘Depression and the meaning of life’.

Student culture

Students have moved away from the direct pressures imposed by parents and schools into an environment where they are expected to make their own decisions as autonomous adults. The pressures from others which now play a greater role are those of the peer group – other students. Student culture, and the dominant social culture of your specific campus, can provide very strongly defining norms and expectations.

Social pressures

Aspects of dominant UK student culture which can become problematic include drinking and/or drugs culture, and pressure related to appearance. Both are areas where problems can contribute to a depression habit spiral. Alcohol plays a large role in most UK student culture and this affects students who participate as well as those who don’t. See the ‘Checking drugs and alcohol’ page for more info related to depression. Social pressure around appearance increasingly affects young men as well as young women and creates vulnerability to both depression and eating disorders. See the pages on ‘A depression-inducing culture? and ‘Understanding food and mood’.

Finding your niche

Aside from these specific issues and as with any new culture, it can be quite stressful adjusting to new expectations, values and norms – especially if the dominant values are very different from the ones you are used to (perhaps as an international student, or even a northerner at a southern university etc). However, most universities or colleges are big enough that there are a wide range of social groups and a comfortable niche for most people. Take the opportunity to explore what you really want/like, without having to fit in to what the majority seem to be doing.


As a student you will meet people from backgrounds different to your own. Coming into contact with different values, beliefs and expectations can be interesting and educational, but can also be a source of conflict. Living in close proximity to others also offers regular opportunities for conflict – different expectations about noise, tidiness, money, sleep times etc can be profoundly challenging and uncomfortable to live with. It isn’t surprising that conflict with housemates or others is a common source of stress and depression for students. Learn about ‘Communicating assertively’ as a good starting point for dealing with conflict.