Wise counsel

I may have been a very insensitive person back in the 1970s when I was a student, but I have to say honestly that I cannot remember any of my fellow students suffering any form of psychological distress. Of course we don’t ever know what goes on in someone else’s mind, and how much distress some people learn to absorb before they eventually snap. There must have been some who were stressed by examinations, personal relationships, concerns about whether they would find employment, and so forth. But I was not aware of any of this, nor was I aware of any university support services that might have helped those in need of them. Indeed in preparing to write this post, I have dug out the booklets and manuals and information I was given when I was a fresher, and there is no reference in them to any counselling or similar services; though there is, believe it or not, a robust defence of the use of recreational drugs. Well, it was the 1970s.

Thankfully most universities nowadays employ professional counsellors who can support students in difficulty. And while I cannot imagine that there were no students with such needs 40 years ago, it seems clear to me that the stresses and pressures that might create these needs are much stronger nowadays. Recently for example it was reported that 1,300 students of the University of Glasgow saw a counsellor in the last academic year: that is about 7 per cent of the entire student body. Students enter university with huge pressures: financial, personal, professional, academic. Not only are these pressures common, they tend to affect those most who have nobody to talk to to relieve them. The variety of problems counsellors may encounter and the complex needs of those seeking help are shown in this account of the work of a counsellor at a Canadian university.

Mental health and wellbeing are vital in higher education institutions. So universities need to provide and value the work of professional counsellors, sometimes also of chaplaincies or indeed student initiatives (such as the ‘Please Talk‘ programme in Ireland). Whatever form these services take, they should be strongly supported by universities everywhere. The key principle should be that, whatever your problem, you must know that you need never be alone. Never.

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9 Comments on “Wise counsel”

  1. Anna Notaro Says:

    As a complement to this post one might add that poor mental health in universities does not concern undergraduates alone of course, at least since 2000 there have been reports that many academics in the UK are suffering from stress and psychological problems, (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/712391.stm) and only last month The Guardian has published a piece by an anonymous PhD student highlighting the “culture of acceptance” around mental health issues in academia (http://tinyurl.com/nzuyjo9) other causes include an uncaring environments and workloads (for some examples of good practice in tackling such issues see http://tinyurl.com/oob2p9t)
    So it would seem that no one seems entirely immune by some kind of mental problem or, at least, psychological challenge.
    While I write this I don’t feel very optimistic, maybe because like most people I have been shocked to hear the news of a teacher stabbed to death in her own classroom (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-27193638), a violent death is horrible no matter where it occurs, and then there are places, like schools, universities, churches which, at least in our imaginary, are sacred, a safe refuge from the turbulence of the outside world, death in such places is particularly unacceptable, it leaves us exposed as a community, and yet it is exactly in that same sense of community in what brings and keep us together that our strength, our hope lies.

  2. There were times when psychological distress was very fashionable, though. I remember certain people feigning mental illness because they thought it made them more interesting. It turned real in one of their cases.
    Being a student, though, was quite all-consuming, left no time or energy for spreading one’s attention.

  3. V.H Says:

    In many cases depression can be a function of diet. And the change in diet that occurs when moving from home. What might be normally eaten in moderate amounts in the home may when cooking for oneself become something very different indeed.
    The nature of Fructose and sugars generally has become a focus of study for the past while. Fructose with depression, given the body doesn’t use it until it has been processed by the liver. But since HFCS has become a main ingredient of much of a students diet anyone sensitive to it will react to it one way or another. And since it’s so normal an ingredient the student doesn’t pick up on what’s causing the reaction.

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