Mental health problems have ALWAYS plagued students – this is not a new phenomenon

New undergraduates are not only expected to be A* students but to do the right social activities.’ [Image: Pawel Libera/LightRocket via Getty Images].

New undergraduates are not only expected to be A* students but to do the right social activities.’ [Image: Pawel Libera/LightRocket via Getty Images].

I don’t think there’s any new crisis in student mental health. There has always been one.

Partly, it may be due to the unfamiliarity of living away from a family home for the first time – being responsible for one’s own finances while still trying to enjoy the high life that students seem expected to lead.

(This Writer tended to enjoy a very affluent first few weeks of term, followed by months on starvation rations, with the occasional escape into lucrative night work when times got really tricky.)

Partly, it may be due to the pressures of the new social milieu, into which they are thrown. If school pupils may be likened to wild animals (and I think they may), then students are only barely civilised. Tribal, hormonal and aggressive, they can be hugely intolerant of anybody unlike them.

And, partly, it may be due to the realisation that life isn’t as simple as they were led to believe. Most of us are told that life follows a fairly mundane pattern, aren’t we? You go to school, possibly to college. You get a job. You retire and after a while you die.

Then you get to college and find that your choices as a youngster may have already restricted your future possibilities – you may not have attended the right extracurricular activities; you might not have made the right contacts.

The decisions of politicians – voted into office by other people before you were old enough to take part in elections yourself – may have jeopardised your chances of getting a decent job (this was certainly true in the 1980s, when I was a student. The UK’s industrial base was being decimated by Margaret Thatcher and the jobs that remained were farmed out according to who people knew, not what).

Even your studies may provide no escape, asking you to deal with harsh realities dating back many years – of which you may not even have been aware, before stepping onto a college campus.

And it may partly be due to intelligence. Students understand more, and – in a world like ours – that can easily lead to depression.

Oh, was I the only one who saw it like that, then?

I don’t think so.

I know for a fact that many people of my generation suffered mental health problems – several, of my acquaintance, to the point of nervous breakdown. All were either attending higher education or had done so in the recent past.

Perhaps the answer is to give our youngsters a more realistic understanding of the world they inhabit, from a younger age; throw away the rose-tinted spectacles.

Or maybe we should create a better world for them to live in.

At the University of Bristol… it emerged this week that three teenagers, all believed to be first-year students, had died within weeks of starting their studies this term. The cause of death in each case will be decided by a coroner, but relatives of two of them have indicated that they killed themselves.
The deaths at Bristol, one of the most prestigious universities in the country, have resurfaced concerns about a crisis in student mental health and the capacity of universities to respond to it. A recent Guardian investigation revealed that the number of students seeking counselling at university has gone up by 50% in the past five years.

Source: Bristol student deaths highlight campus crisis in mental health | Education | The Guardian

3 thoughts on “Mental health problems have ALWAYS plagued students – this is not a new phenomenon

  1. Anna Zimmerman

    What is different now of course are the very large numbers of students attending universities, many of which are not really suited for academia (I have some insight into this because I’m a lecturer at one of these institutions). At the very least this means that the mental health problems are affecting larger proportions of young people – just as they are affecting ever larger numbers of people in general.
    They also have debt pressures that students in the 60s, 70s and 80s did not have.

  2. Iain Moncrieff

    The severe mental health problems- Schizophrenia, Bi-polar disorder and their variants – are more likely to start in the 18 to 25 age group than any other, which slews the student statistics. There’s a Mental Health crisis in the UK as a whole, not just in tertiary education. So, the government reduces spending on Mental Health and cuts the benefits to people unable to work because of mental health problems or any other reason. But it’s OK “we’re all in this together” Yeah, right.

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