The cost-of-living crisis and how it’s affecting uni students beyond finances

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Trigger warning: This article contains mention of suicide statistics.

Many uni students who have weathered and beaten the two-and-a-half-year COVID blues now face an equally hard struggle in 2023 that leaves dwindling sums in their bank accounts. This new challenge they face is none other than the cost-of-living crisis, which is also impacting their mental health. This year, the escalating costs of rent, food, fuel, and education have become pressing health issues that university students face daily.

(Credit: Pexels)

Choice between work and education:

There has been an increase in uni students who are now pressured to juggle the demand of their studies with paid work to continue supporting themselves – whether that be picking up casual gig, or taking up demanding, often unmanageable hours.

Jacob Nye, a 31-year-old former university student, now works full-time in a management position and yet, is struggling to afford essential commodities such as cereal, meat and electricity due to his rent prices rising from $350 to $600 this year.

“The only way I could study is if it was self-paced with zero class time and extremely flexible practically. Otherwise, if it cost me any time at work, it would become impossible to study with the cost of living,” says Jacob.

The preferred schedule described by Jacob could work with Zoom classes – but what happens when students are required to attend classes in person?

A 2023 survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) in the UK reveals that more than half of the 10,000 uni students surveyed are simultaneously grappling with the demands of work and education – from attending lectures and tutorials and hastily completing assignments during the semester.  

(Credit: Pexels | Ketut Subiyanto).

Jacob states that he feels more “anxious than depressed” about his current economic situation and the knowledge that another rent increase is sure to come soon, which could jeopardise his prospects of pursuing further education.

“[The] biggest hurdle is cost-of-living; for me, uni would only work if it didn’t impact my job. But I’d be too tired to study after working full time,” he adds.

In an SBS News interview, one international student believes overwork is one of the reasons students have resorted to the ‘emergency measure’ of using Chat GBT to complete assessments.

(Credit: Ron Lach | Pexels).

The strain on mental health and the rise in suicides:

In 2023, 46% of Australians experience feeling troubled and worried due to economic pressures.

Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) have released results that the cost of living has, for the fourth quarter in a row this year, been one of the two leading causes for adults over 18 feeling “distressed”, leading to a heightened suicide risk. The study reveals a 19% increase in the likelihood of experiencing harmful thoughts for those anxious and stressed “beyond normal levels”.

SPA’s Chief Executive, Matthew McLean, acknowledges that social isolation and loneliness drive this distress. According to ABC News, some often don’t have the time and money to socialise amidst the rising cost-of-living. In this climate, fears about the growing cost of a beer ($8+) or an adult movie ticket ($26.50+) can prompt people to skip a friend’s gathering or miss out on socialising altogether.

Additionally, findings from SPA and a Longitudinal study show that human interaction is not as frequent as in previous years, despite the accessibility of social media. In this digital climate, it can easily seem quicker, cheaper, and easier to communicate with a friend via text or DM than to physically show up to lunch amidst the pressures of budgeting, work, and study.

With no relief in sight for this cost-of-living crisis, young adults like Jacob will continue to adhere to their preferred schedule – a choice based on necessity. They may do so while hoping the price they pay,+ does not become too high a cost in the future.

If you or someone you know is struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, remember you are not alone, and there is support:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467

Mission Australia: 1800 88 88 68

Headspace:1800 650 890

Link2home: 1800 152 152

Western Sydney Students Financial Support: 1800 668 370

WSU Renter Support: 1800 668 370

WSU Emergency Accommodation: 1800 668 370   

Natasa Aster-Stater

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