This article by Louise Perry, a freelance writer and campaigner against sexual violence, picks up an issue which I have some nervousness about:
We might expect an 18-year-old to use more prosaic words when she is far from home, living with strangers, banned from leaving her accommodation, and now facing the prospect of Christmas without her family. Words like ‘sad’, ‘angry’, ‘upset’, and ‘lonely’ spring to mind. But over the past several decades, these ordinary words have been crowded out by medicalised words that seem to give an aura of authority. This new discourse speaks not of ‘sadness’ but of ‘depression’, not of ‘worry’ but of ’anxiety’, and not of ‘happiness’ but of ‘mental health’.There is no student mental health crisis
Mental health is a serious issue. Indeed, I wrote an article on my birthday last month about how my life has been touched by someone deeply affected by serious mental health problems:
In my personal life, a woman very close to me has suffered from significant mental illness. As a young man, I remember how awful it was to need to drive to psychiatric institutions to take her out of lockup to her home. The scars of mental illness don’t just harm the individuals, but rather, they break down the social capital of our families and our communities. I know. I have seen it happen. I have experienced it.By popular demand: Josem’s Alpaca policy
If we agree that mental health is a serious issue – as I’m sure our community does – then it is self-evident that it must be taken seriously. If it is going to be treated as a health issue, then it must be treated with science and intellectual rigour. It must not just be a social media punchline. This means that mental health issues need serious treatment and for patients to be handled by trained professionals. This is what serious issues deserve.
Louise Perry’s article talks about expanding mental health definitions to include normal states of mind. She’s entirely right: but there’s also the other end of modern mental health hyperbole. We must avoid the situation of untrained amateurs pretending to be experts on the issue. Serious mental health problems don’t just require a friend to talk to, they require serious medical treatment. They require professional diagnosis. They require scientifically-founded treatment.
If you’re just sad and lonely, then, as Louise Perry says, the most reliable treatments are very boring:
Perhaps the reluctance to face up to this peculiar sadness induced by 21st-century living is because the most reliable remedies to loneliness are disturbingly traditionalist: get married, have kids, live near your extended family, go to a weekly religious service.There is no student mental health crisis
On the other hand, however, if people are suffering from mental health problems, they should see a doctor. Pick up the phone and get expert diagnosis and advice. Don’t rely on whatever you find on the internet, because almost by definition, your judgment is likely to be not excellent.