On 10th October many of us would have stopped for a few moments to acknowledge, remember, and perhaps highlight World Mental Health Day. Many, if not all of us, know someone who struggles with poor mental health. Many of us, whether we acknowledge it or not, are part of the growing number of people in Scotland whose lives are personally affected by mental ill health.
Universities are at the sharp end of this health crisis, with 4 out of every 5 students suffering, to varying degrees. Student suicides are on the rise. Staff morale is lower than it’s been in decades. And so, as World Mental Health Day comes and goes, again, we perhaps need to consider what we, as the Aberdeen University community, need to do to support our colleagues, friends, fellow students, teachers.
The 10th October is about global mental health education; about increasing awareness of the wide variety of forms ill-health takes; about challenging the social stigma attached to this ever more common social condition.
We clearly all have a role to play to ensure our student and staff counselling services are appropriately resourced. We should be promoting Mental Health training of the University and wider city community.
But we also need to look at the social context of our wellbeing. It is no coincidence that we see individual’s mental health deteriorating at the same time as students (and staff!) have to work more, longer, harder just to pay rent. The pressure on students of fees and the lack of proper financial support for living will making the stress points we face more acute, more frequent, and more damaging in the longer term.
So, we need to be doing more to change the system in which we live, not just dealing with individuals in isolation. We must support collective endeavours such as housing cooperatives, community volunteering, cross-cultural exchanges. We must use our institution’s clout in the City and in Scotland to tackle inequality; to focus on cooperation rather than competition; to value education for the social and cultural benefits it brings, not simply the reductive economic and marketised worth it has in financial spreadsheets.
Poor mental health is certainly a huge problem for the individuals it affects. But it is only when we recognise that it is society’s problem, too, that we will be able to tackle the social causes and improve all of our health.
This article originally appeared in The Gaudie, the student newspaper of the University of Aberdeen, in mid-October