Mental health campaigns must go beyond hashtags

Students must face the challenge of an unprecedented mental health crisis, argues

Image: Wikipedia

Image: Wikipedia

The significant number of students attempting to access mental health services is something well noted at university. Media speculation over the cause of such a dramatic rise has been similarly been well reported. Could the government’s decision to triple fees be resulting in money worries, made all the worse by mounting concerns over the uncertain graduate job market? This, alongside the mountain of debt that awaits students at the end of their degree, could be adding to the strain of being a student. Mental health charity Mind reported that 28 per cent more students seeking counselling coincided with the rise in tuition fees. Blame is also often directed at social media for contributing to the pressure students are under. Some also propose that a new openness in students, with regards to their mental health, means more of them than ever are reaching out.

A Freedom of Information request revealed that in the academic year 2014-15, more than 43 000 students received counselling at Russell Group institutions, in comparison with the 34 000 recorded three years earlier. Moreover, what these statistics do not represent is the number of students unable to receive counselling from university services. Unprecedented demand has led to university services clamouring for more funding. Longer waiting times for appointments are leaving students without support whilst the services attempt to deal with the increase that is making them comparatively understaffed. The University of York exemplified the desperate need for mental health funding when a report released last year revealed that 50 per cent of ambulance call-outs to the University were due to self-harm and suicide related incidents. In August, the University followed up with a pledge of £500 000 to be invested in mental health care at the University.

The importance of mental health awareness cannot be overstated. However, when mental health awareness campaigns rely solely on rhetoric they fail. What do we achieve by vague assertions that we really must talk about mental health? While it is a step forward to encourage conversation, to draw enlightening comparisons between public discomfort with mental health problems and visible physical health problems, and to attempt to combat stigma – mental health awareness cannot stop there.

As a mental health crisis is the current problem facing students, students must do more to address it, especially at a time when government decisions are gradually chipping away at what it means to be a student, slowly turning education merely into a business transaction. A student experience that cultivates more than just transferable skills, and rather engages with the problems that orbit it, is a more worthwhile student experience.

While hashtags and catchphrases might constitute an atmosphere of inclusion and support, the feeling dissipates all too soon. A true commitment to mental health awareness is not repetitive mantras relegated to the social media accounts of our peers on dedicated awareness days. Mental health awareness is noting the specifics, learning how to support a friend in the best way during difficult times. In vague encouragements to bring mental health into the normal realm of society’s discussion, there is the beginning of mental health awareness. In students’ capacity to engage with issues occurring both on and off campus lies the possibility of social change regarding mental health awareness.

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