Procrastinating, over-tired, lacking in concentration, eating poorly? Those sound like the normal traits of a university student to me. Not anymore, it seems. According to most UK university guidance today, if you’re an undergrad experiencing any of those things, then you might be struggling with a mental-health issue.
Before students have even sat through their first lecture, they’re bombarded with advice, tips and invitations to workshops to enhance their mental wellbeing. This year, students at King’s College London will be offered the chance to attend an ‘exploring emotional intelligence’ workshop during freshers’ week, to help ‘identify and deal with the pressures and challenges of their day-to-day lives’. The UK student mental-health charity, Student Minds, recently launched its campaign #BestNightIn, encouraging students to share pictures of themselves in slippers watching Netflix, to counter the stereotypical image of the party-hard fresher. Student Minds hopes the campaign will help students ‘feel confident to do what they want’.
Such interventions aren’t isolated to freshers’ week. There’s ‘university mental-health day’, the Scottish National Union of Students’ campaign calling on us to ‘think positively about student mental-health’. And, throughout the year, there are various workshops and sessions on campuses across Britain to help alleviate students’ exam stress or their general bad feelings.
The NUS found in its 2015 mental-health survey that almost 80 per cent of students had experienced a mental-health issue in the previous academic year, a staggering increase from its report in 2013, which found that only around 30 per cent had. A survey undertaken by the Architects’ Journal found that over 25 per cent of architecture students had received intervention for mental-health issues. These stats seem worrying – but are there really that many students with serious mental-health issues?
The most common mental-health concern cited by students is stress. Most undergrads will be familiar with the mid-term slump: late nights in the library and the struggle to get up for an early morning lecture. But isn’t this just part of university life? Of studying hard for your degree? Instead of simply saying that university is meant to be hard, university management and students’ unions are telling students that if they find it hard then they might need help. This is dangerous. It does nothing to tackle the real mental-health issues that a minority of students will be suffering from; it just turns something like stress – a natural consequence of working hard – into a mental-health concern. The reason many students think they have mental-health issues is because they’re constantly told that they do. Students’ unions and campaign groups are constructing a mental-health panic on campus.