The current focus on student mental wellbeing infantilises grown adults, pathologises everyday emotions and trivialises real mental health issues
Earlier this month, our “Tales from the Safe Space” series looked at the way in which mental health is being trivialised and used as a tool to infantilise students on our university campuses – specifically Cardiff University on that occasion.
Now, Spiked (one of the first outlets to sound the alarm about the defining downward of mental health issues) take up the case again, in light of goings on at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association:
For the past year, the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) has been promoting a message of ‘wellbeing is everything’. EUSA has introduced a special mental-health fund, and our president even took a pay cut to boost the totals. Now, after a year of mental-health activism, some of the dangerous effects are being felt. Students are being infantilised and are pathologising normal experiences. Students at council meetings are complaining that they are being ‘intimidated’ by hand-raising or head-nodding. And, surprise surprise, there has been a 75 per cent increase in the demand for counselling.
EUSA has been advertising its new ‘de-stress therapets sessions’. This follows the rising trend of animal therapy on campuses in the US. For example, students at Oberlin College flocked to their Safe Space along with a ‘therapy dog’ after academic Christina Hoff Sommers (‘the factual feminist’) delivered a controversial speech.
Therapy dogs are used worldwide to help those suffering from PTSD. They are also used by carers to assist children with serious autism, and in hospices to help bring joy to those suffering in isolation. Now, therapy dogs are being used to ‘treat’ students suffering from exam stress. Students, no longer trusted to deal with the challenges of academic life, are being treated as if they are suffering from debilitating illness.
And it’s not just therapets. You can also see the wellbeing obsession in ‘self-care’ initiatives, offered at Oxford and elsewhere, where students are encouraged to do finger-painting or bake cupcakes. Or the Safe Space at Manchester, a plush, comfy room where students can retreat to when the ‘triggering’ is just too much. When students aren’t being told they’re mentally ill, they’re being treated like easily upset children.
Therapets. For students. Not for returning veterans who witnessed death, carnage and unbelievable stress close-up while serving our country in uniform. For students.
The mind boggles.
Charlie Peters, University of Edinburgh student and author of the piece, points out the damaging effect that this dumbed-down mass application of mental health treatments is already having in the real world:
The emotionalisation of politics, academia and debate has damaged the intellectual capacity of students. If you ask a student today what they think about a pressing social issue, they’ll tell you how they feel about it. Thinking is no longer important – emotions are. Rationality and reality go out the window when offence-fearing students are asked a difficult question. As for those who deviate from the prevailing groupthink, they tend to answer weakly, or insincerely, so as not to upset the campus thoughtpolice.
But campus hypersensitivity is not only damaging the academic sphere – it is stretching already limited resources and pulling them away from those who are truly suffering. Student therapists are being overworked, and the quality of care is bound to suffer. Queues of students complaining about exams, deadlines and stress are putting a strain on resources to the detriment of those who are genuinely in need.
It is also dangerous – and contrary to the very idea of university – to debate ideas primarily in emotional terms, as students are encouraged to do by the excessively broad focus on mental wellbeing and the cult of Identity Politics.
There is a real element of selfishness at work here. But then perhaps it is no surprise that a generation raised to believe that they are unique and precious snowflakes have difficulty considering the needs of others, or appreciating that by clogging up student mental health services complaining about exam stress or their”trauma” at hearing contradictory ideas in class might actually result in fewer services available for those with, say, depression or bipolar disorder.
As this blog recently remarked:
This is dangerous stuff, inflating good mental health with a regression to a sanitised version of childhood, with face painting and cookies and puppy dog videos. And whatever transitory benefit it may provide to students who are not really mentally ill but are simply stressed or homesick, it will do nothing for – and in fact diverts attention and resources away from – the far smaller number who are genuinely in need of help.
True mental health comes about by building a healthy resilience to the kind of everyday emotional bumps and scrapes which characterise adult life. In the real world, people sometimes have completely contradictory views about fundamental issues, but must nonetheless live, shop and work together.
Safe space policy makes that harder by sending the message that students should not have to so much as glimpse opposing ideas, while the entire cult of Identity Politics is built on the notion of a backbiting Hierarchy of Privilege, where everybody is an oppressor and nearly everyone (except for cis white men at the top of the pyramid) is also oppressed.
Therapets for students. And bouncy castles, and finger-painting, and Play Doh and puppy videos.
Soon these people will have jobs.
Top Image: Queen Margaret University Students’ Union
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