The mental obsession with student wellbeing
Last week, Student Minds Cardiff, a student-led mental-health service at Cardiff University, bravely tackled the stigma of mental health and the ‘stresses of adulthood’ by hosting a free ‘inner-child day’. Seriously.
It took place in the nightclub of the students’ union building and featured such mental-health managing strategies as biscuit-decorating, dog-petting, face-painting and jumping about on a bouncy castle. Students were able to work towards the holy grail of positive mental health by practising their forward rolls and uploading pictures of their newly ornamented biscuits to social media in return for the approval of their peers.
The nightclub was suitably decorated. There were balloons everywhere to appeal to the six-year-old children just waiting to burst out of the students’ twentysomething bodies. A giant screen at the front of the room showed a woman cradling a miniaturised version of herself as someone would cradle a child. Apparently, the phrase ‘Can your inner-child come out to play?’ was meant ‘to offer hope to sufferers’.
Watching this event unfold was like walking into a perverse version of Alice in Wonderland. Twentysomething adults were catapulting themselves towards a healthier state of mind on the bouncy castle with an abandon that would get them banned from any normal event involving bouncy castles. Note to the hosts: encouraging people to release their anger and anxiety on a bouncy castle may not be the safest idea. Particularly when the occupants are fully grown (if mentally immature) adults, rather than the small children bouncy castles were created for.
This attempt to fight insanity with insanity is worrying. The trend towards medicalising everyday moods, to treat, say, the homesick student as someone with a mental-health problem, has led to the creation of a bogus epidemic of mental ill-health on campus. This means that people who suffer from a genuine mental illness, such as schizophrenia, are missing out on support because too much attention is focused elsewhere.
These childish events will do nothing to help students who are genuinely unwell. What’s worse, they’ll make today’s pampered students even less likely to grow up.
Johanna Williams is a writer and a student at Cardiff University.
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