Dog-eat-dog culture is bad for students’ mental health | Lettesr

Former LSE student counsellor Robert Harris on the psychological horrors suffered by millennials, and Dr Max Davie on worrying cuts to student counselling services

Your article about “perfectionism” and young people in higher education (G2, 17 July) notes, but nimbly skips over, the clear link between neoliberal dog-eat-dog individualism and the psychological horrors suffered by unfortunate millennials who have never known anything but rabid destructive competition. The bullying cultures rife in academia (Report, 17 July) create terrors of rejection and exclusion. Young people are strongly inclined to feel that failure is due to inherent personal weakness, rather than something to be learned from to enhance personal development. A culture that emphasises pleasing those above and keeping up false images of competence and success with peers, rather than the enjoyment and value of pursuing knowledge for its own sake, will inevitably create both internal psychological attackers of guilt and self-blame and external bullies of insecure and anxious managers.
Robert Harris
Former student counsellor and psychotherapist, LSE

• Support for children and young people’s mental health should not be penny-pinched. Without early identification and intervention, mental health problems can lead to a sharp decline in health, leading to alcohol and drug misuse and self-harm – and in extreme cases can cause death. This is why I was deeply concerned to read that some universities are reducing or outsourcing their student counselling services (Education, 17 July).

Universities are right to address wellbeing, as a focus on diet, nutrition and physical exercise has many benefits to mental health. However, this should not come at the expense of evidence-based forms of mental health support. To send students to their local NHS provider is also unhelpful. This only adds additional pressure to services that are already vastly overstretched.

With reports of student suicides rising, all schools and universities must provide the support students need in order to survive and thrive. That includes providing mental health training to all staff so they can identify and support students at the earliest opportunity. They must also ensure appropriate follow-up services such as counselling are available.
Dr Max Davie
Officer for health promotion, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

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