Last Thursday we celebrated University Mental Health Day, our Student Union’s instagram was taken over by our fantastic Vice President Welfare. Niamh posted messages of support throughout the day and offered loads of great advice to students for balancing their mental health.
I’ve been feeling down recently; running a fully digital campaign for Student Office while trying to balance Uni work from home takes its toll. However, what frustrates me most is the constant bombardment of students with the imperative to ‘keep a positive attitude.’ In this way, our mental health struggles and our anxiety are acknowledged as latent problems that students should just find ways to manage like staying fit, or not eating too many mars bars. Where has the anger gone? Why can’t we just connect the dots between our frustration and our anxiety?
It has become politically incorrect to voice frustration on social media. Its seen as a kind of oversharing that breaches the boundaries of folks’ digital personal space. But why is that?
Žižek talks about this when he describes the sense of self-commodification and self-manipulation that occurs in online dating spaces. He describes the way in which folks present a perfect version of themselves and let the void decide their fate. The explosion of online dating casts a gilded veil over the other pandemic we face – Loneliness – and the techno-love vendors parade themselves as life-changers and miracle-makers.
Similarly, we’ve acknowledged that Mental Health is in crisis (we did so even before the pandemic), we’ve promoted this ‘positive thinking’ mindset as the saviour. It’s not untrue, positive thinking can go a long way. However, the discussion is not about tackling the normal and expected vicissitudes of life. Rather, about acknowledging and fixing the systemic crisis of our mental health.
When I’m feeling down I know that it’s not only because life gets you down sometimes. I feel a massive weight bearing down on my head beyond my thoughts and moods. It comes from seeing that there’s dead ends all around and that the future is even more bleak than the present.
I’m not just being sad. The University’s Counselling Service offered me Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as a means by which I can manage my anxiety. Mark Fisher was right: mental health professionals’ approach of positive psychology – which aims to foster subjective well-being for the patient – is not helpful in this crisis. Again this is not about feeling down, we’re talking about suffering from the systemic neglect of Higher Education which affects us in ways we cannot address if the presupposition is that our mental health struggles are fundamentally endogenic.
Only a chaotic solipsist would look at the predicaments we face globally and say that our minds are our own business.
That’s why we should be publicly frustrated. We should pierce those bubbles of digital personal space and take the risk of looking a bit too cringe for social media. As an elected school representative for Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), I’ve been to countless meetings with University staff from all levels and its felt a bit strange. Conversations about mental health support have been ubiquitous yet they’ve become institutionalised and sterile. Students at ECA have been the first to notice and acknowledge this paradox by pushing past the false promises and the PR to make their own demands heard. It’s been my honour to voice their public frustration – whether in the ECA Staff-Student Meetings that I chair – or in my campaign as EUSA’s Vice President Community.
We need to come together and support each other above everything else. Because the forces we face are tearing us apart and putting into the confined space of individual expression and nothing beyond. Collective action is the future of mental health.
Voting runs from 8 March to 11 March via myed, and you can find Elias’ manifesto here.
Image: Elias Vasiloudes Nikolaides by Nafsika Hadjichristou