The Tab Mental Health Survey
TIM SQUIRRELL wants to take Cambridge’s understanding of mental health to the next stage – and he needs your help to do it.
**UPDATE** We have now had just over 2000 responses, which is great, but we want more. Please keep spreading the word and fill out the survey – even if you haven’t personally suffered from mental illness. The more students take part, the bigger the difference we can make.
When I published my previous article, I was utterly overwhelmed by the responses I received. People I knew well, people I barely knew, and people I’d never met came out in droves to ask questions, to talk about their own experiences or the experiences of those close to them. I spent a large amount of time in the comments section, reading and replying, and I was both amazed and shocked by some of the things that were said: amazed by some of the difficulties that others had dragged themselves through, shocked by the unnecessary and almost callous obstacles that were placed in their way.
The fact that so many people either responded anonymously or spoke to me privately is testament to the huge stigma that is still attached to mental illness, even in Cambridge. Not everyone feels able to talk openly about these issues: for every one person who is comfortable doing so, there are probably a good fifty or so suffering in silence, speaking either to nobody, to a few people they are extremely close to, or to strangers they have never met.
Since the publication of my previous article, something unfortunate has come to light. Last term, I was told by the authorities at college not to talk to my friends about my depression – this followed an incident in which a concerned friend from another college took me to our Porters’ Lodge. However, what I didn’t find out until very recently was that my college had then both emailed and phoned her for hours at a time, asking for information about me. Then, they told her not to inform me of these conversations.
I am sure that they had my best interests at heart, but that does not change the fact that their actions were unacceptable. Telling me that I should not talk to my friends for fear of burdening them and then simultaneously putting one of those friends in a position where they had to take on a huge burden – one of both responsibility and of secrecy – is not only unfair, but dangerous. It generates a strong possibility of driving a wedge between us due to the unnecessary stress put on her, as well as completely neglecting the fact that she may very well have had her own problems to deal with.
This is one more in a long string of examples of how inadequately our institutions deal with students suffering from mental health difficulties – often leaving people unable to tell even their closest friends or family. This is utterly unacceptable. We can do so much better than this. This is not ok, and this must change.
So, what can we do? From the responses that I’ve had, I believe we can infer two things: mental illness is endemic in Cambridge, and the current support structures are inadequate for dealing with students with this kind of problem. There is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence to support these conclusions, but what we lack currently is the statistical evidence to back it up. To this end, I’ve been working with a JCR Welfare Officer to design an anonymous mental health survey, which should hopefully be circulated through every college JCR and MCR, in order to collect hard evidence that there is a problem.
However, it’s going to take a while for this to be passed through all the necessary channels. It should hopefully circulate at the start of next term, but in the meantime, there’s still something you can do to help. There is a trial survey linked on this page, which we hope to use to raise awareness of mental illness in Cambridge, ahead of the release of the full-scale survey.
I know that there are problems with small sample sizes on surveys like this, and I’m very aware that it would be hopelessly ambitious to expect all of Cambridge to answer. However, from the responses that I’ve had so far, I believe people are prepared to take this seriously. Nearly every single person in Cambridge has either suffered from mental illness themselves, or knows someone who has (though they may not realise it). This means that every last one of us has a vested interest in making this better.
There wasn’t even a single negative comment on that Tab article – surely that’s evidence that people are sick of the status quo, and are ready for something to be done about it.