Universities must confront student mental health not hide it away

Universities must confront student mental health not hide it away

by Hector Crawford
article from Wednesday 28, November, 2018

STUDENT MENTAL HEALTH. We need to talk about Student Mental Health. 

Goodness knows, it won't talk about itself. Universities will talk about themselves, that is for sure. They will sell you this strange old world of books and lectures and faculties, where suddenly you become ‘independent’. Suddenly you are free to ‘say what you want’ and ‘do what you like’ and ‘be who you are’. But depression and loneliness and anxiety? They do not care about these things. They are invisible, and strangling, and silent. They do not talk, but they are bloody judgmental listeners.

Life is not always easy, and student life is the same. It can be harsh and difficult, and sometimes it can be overwhelming. Negativity begets negativity, dog eats dog; things get worse. And in your head the solution sounds so simple. ‘Stop procrastinating. ‘Get organised’. ‘Just go to class’. 

It is so easy to say these things, but they are so hard to do. You can have all the will in the world. You can feel it in your very soul. But you cannot move. Your body won't allow it. And your soul breaks a little under the strain of your body's own malfeasance, disobedience, you name it. Not yourdisobedience – your body's. Depression and loneliness and anxiety are the master puppeteers.

Things can get better. You can feel better. You can bebetter. Things will not just stay the same, however unchanging and impossibly immobile they might seem. You might understandthis; you might well know this. But the hardest thing to conceptualise is the ‘how’, not the ‘when’. For we will never get better if we do not know how. 

'How do I fight this demon, this spectre, this thing?'

Fighting the nameless is like chasing shadows. Impossible. But acknowledging this demon’s existence helps. Giving this demon a name helps even more. Bristol University’s Professor Hugh Brady has said that student mental illness is a nationwide problem. He is right. Identifying this problem asa problem, giving it a name, is a start. But there is always more to be said, and there is always more to be done.

Now is the time for self-examination. Universities are so much more than academic institutions, and this must be realised. They are interactive networks of people, of minds and bodies, truly, at their heart. They are playgrounds for ideas and classrooms for experimentation. And experimentation assumes risk, and risk assumes damage, and damage assumes pain.

And this, however frightening, is not so much the way life should be as the way life is. Life is painful and it is exciting and it is scary and it is fascinating. University is all of these things. But safe spaces and no-platforming are not the answers. They cannot be the answers – because you cannot safe space and no-platform your own mind. And depression and loneliness and anxiety? Don’t they just know it. 

University must love you enough to let you go, and love you enough to take you in – if you need help, if you wanthelp. The network is already there. The potential for help and support for those who need it most, and for those who wantit most, is already there. ‘Independence’ should not mean loneliness. Freedom should not be so suffocating. Help should always be a choice, but there should always be a choice

This is what students need to know. This is what they need to hear.* 

Universities can offer you a hand without snatching you away. They must, and they must call a problem a ‘problem’. Then, together, we can fight this problem.

*Or at least, maybe this is what I needed to hear. Perhaps this will speak to you too.


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