My last blog a larger amount of attention than any of the previous ones. Which I am stoked about, out of all my blog entries, that one had the most potential in my mind, but this entry changes format from the last. My focus is not on myself, or on other people but this is instead an opinion article about how universities treat students with mental health problems and the issues I have with it.
The reason I have decided to write this is I was recently in a conversation with several other people about how good our university was at treating people with mental health problems. At the time I was in a bad way and was struggling with personal things, so was unable to weigh in to the conversation as I would like to have, so this is my belated opinion on the matter. The university I attend is very good with regards to mental health, they let me switch to a part time course, they give me any extensions I want and are in general very accepting and understanding. As far as universities go, it is a good university for students with mental health problems. However the problem I find with it, and the problem that makes me think universities approach to mental health is wrong is that there is a minimal focus on recovery. I have to meet with academic advisors, lecturers, senior staff, tutors and counsellors on a semi regular bases and (as previously stated) they are all understanding, but their focus is solely on how to cope with your current problem. This is fine, but a university is in a position of care and I believe should have some focus not only on dealing with the present, but also on the recovery of students and dealing with the future, no amount of extensions are ever going to make me not depressed and even the counselling service only helps people deal with the current, day to day problems and fails to address any long term turmoil or negative internal processes, both of which is required before any substantial recovery can occur. I have said, and I reiterate that my university is very good with regards to mental health for a university, but in general I think the approach adopted by universities to mental health is inappropriate.
An appropriate analogy is to compare what institutes of academia currently do to the act of a doctor giving a patient morphine. It removes the pain, and cures the problem in the short term but at no point does it address the central cause of the problem, and as a result the doctor would need to pursue further treatment before recovery can be made, in most cases a doctor cannot simply cross his fingers and hope the problem goes away. I do appreciate that an argument exists that the current effort put in by a university to manage mental health problems is enough and the role of recovery should be entirely separate from them, I respect this train of thought and intend to address it later. I don’t like to criticise without offering a solution. This, like all this entry, is just my opinion, but my experience with my university is that they are effective at signposting students to services that may help them in the present situation, but research should be put into broadening their sign posts to include services that offer treatments that encourage long term recovery, such as cognitive behaviour therapy or courses in anxiety. I have been told about both of these, but not by my university, by my friends (and have yet to try either of them unfortunately as I have no idea how to apply). I am not in a position to comment on how hard it would be to achieve this, but my opinion, forged from my own experience is that it would be beneficial.
A secondary problem I have with academia’s approach to mental health is how accepting they are of it. It is known that a lot of mental health problems stem from the stress that comes alongside a degree, and universities do put some effort in to reduce the chances of students developing mental health problems, but the feeling I get is that there is a high level of acceptance that students are likely to develop mental health problems, and in my mind that acceptance shouldn’t exist. Developing a mental health problem is horrible, I won’t go into detail but my most recent term (trying to study while managing a newly diagnosed mental health problem) at university was the hardest few months of my life. I’m not blaming the university for this, I am simply stating that no one should be put through what I went through if it can be avoided.
I accept there is a possibility that I am wrong when I say there is a high level of acceptance, but that is the impression I get, and getting this impression is just as damaging as if it were true. I ask you to put yourself into my shoes, or the shoes of someone like me- when your mind tells you that you don’t matter and that you deserve to be suffering, it doesn’t matter if the idea that you don’t matter is accurate or not, the fact you are allowed to think it and that enough evidence exists to hold onto this impression is what matters and what allows your mood to plummet and your depression to grow. Yet again I am not certain how this can be fixed, I think it would need a big change in focus. Students are allowed to think that their degree means everything, and while it is important, the world of a university student is a world which is heavily warped. I’ve been told by friends “We need you to finish your degree” and they speak as if that is the highest concern. I think work needs to be put in to keep students priorities in check and worldly. Health should come before your degree, if you mess up an assignment it is not the end of the world and nothing within university is worth losing yourself. In my mind the best way to do this would to be to constantly remind people of the outside world and to stop students forming “university bubbles” which I believe play a large part in warping their priorities and allowing them to think their degree is worth destroying themselves over. Though as I have stated (many times) this is my opinion, and very possibly wrong.
Thankyou for reading. As I have stated many times, these are just my opinions and I don’t wish to force them onto anyone, I just offer it as a form of feedback to universities.
Love Steven 🙂