In 2015, 78% of students experienced some sort of mental health problem. No matter how much you love your field or subject, depression, anxiety and fear are thieves that can strip passion and motivation like bark from a tree. This, along with the ever-increasing financial strain on student life can leave some disillusioned, forever questioning their decisions and the validity of their place at university. This questioning is often something being asked and answered and asked and answered again and again inside the head of so many, with nothing but a wry smile and a mumble to mask the silent internal war. The problem with these questions is that they, in their very nature, are unproductive and thoughts like these are rarely backed up by any logic. These questions, because they are silent, are not fully addressed like other questions, but instead are suppressed and only surface at times when there is no strength to push them down. These periods of mental weakness can come often in student life, whether it’s the consequence of staying up all night to finish an assignment or being really hung-over because you’ve been forced on another night out and the only way to mask the pain is to drink too much.
To start a battle with an invisible enemy, the first step is to acknowledge its existence. For many, this is the most difficult step. Although stigmatisation of mental health is decreasing, it is still a large barrier, especially in male university culture. The idea of telling your sports mates that you’re struggling just doesn’t seem appealing when the only physical contact you have with them is them pretending to hump you at pre drinks after too much Frosty Jacks. Unfortunately, for many, the battle, or hesitation to start the battle can seriously impair academic performance and can lead to failing assignments, falling behind and missing lectures. For others that do acknowledge this emotional limpet, there are support systems. Many universities have highly developed student-counselling services offering everything from workshops, to 1 on 1 counselling sessions. The problem is, that it is not enough and will never be enough. For example, the University of Bristol is home to approximately 22,000 students as of 2016, suggesting, that out of those 22,000, 17,000 would need some sort of help or advice from this service. So how can this crisis in our higher education institutes be addressed? Ironically, education could be the key.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) centres on the philosophy that a persons mood is related to their thoughts and operates as the participant learns to identify negative thought patterns. Once these patterns can be identified, evaluating their validity helps the participant realise the insignificance of these thoughts. This method has been widely used to combat depression, anxiety and many more mental health issues. Despite the method being effective, simple and helpful, it is only learnt about when the black box of mental health is opened. Wouldn’t it be great if this tactic and learning to be mindful of our thoughts were introduced at a younger age? Would it produce a more well rounded person, that when faced with adversity, is stronger, more logical and more prepared? Would the introduction of CBT in primary school curriculums facilitate in the creation of a more emotionally intelligent generation? It must be worth trying; especially as in this period of time, life slams on its brakes and many look over their shoulder and come to the crippling realisation that childhood is gone. Emotional intelligence therefore (unlike traditional intelligence) can and should be something for all.