I have problems with mental health and don’t want to be told how to feel about class lists

An open letter to the No Campaign

cambridge students Cambridge University Cantab class lists mental health the tab

The following letter is to everyone who studies at this great institution, whose current biggest problem is being dominated by a select, and extreme few, damaging any progress that could have been made.

Before I start properly, I feel like it would be appropriate for me to outline my own problems with mental health.

I was diagnosed with deep depression after a series of set-backs in my personal life. This led to suicidal thoughts, a violent intervention from my father, and a long-term plan to put me on a diet of anti-depressants. Over the next few months I tried to commit suicide three times, once nearly succeeding. This was 3 years ago, and I now no longer have those thoughts, however I do have serious problems, including long episodes, still stemming from my past.

Calm waters and clear skies.

Calm waters and clear skies.

While I under no circumstances can speak for every sufferer, the impression I got from counsellors and GPs was that my case was a serious one. Despite this, I gained a place at Cambridge and have had the time of my life.

What is deeply disturbing to me and others I know with serious mental health problems, is the position of an extreme few Cambridge students claiming to represent the vast numbers of sufferers at the university. It is unacceptable to argue on behalf of us that we should be mollycoddled and treated like children, when we have gone through the rigorous Cambridge entrance process, been under immense pressure during interviews and exams, and then have got through or will go through the Cambridge academic process which trains you to be one of the best young thinkers in the world, all while having to carry this burden. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the debate over the class lists.

I say this very clearly to those who have appointed themselves leaders of the “mental health struggle”: you do not represent me or many other Cambridge students who not only survive, but thrive, in, and even because of, the rigorous Cambridge system.

The grim location of the published class lists

The location of the published class lists

Please stop claiming ownership of this dialogue, because your views are wildly different to those of the average Cambridge student with mental health difficulties. It is plain wrong that one very niche group of opinionated people hijack “the mental health argument”, when it’s very clear from the public views of students that you do not represent us.

We can get through our terms without you trying to tell us how much work I am able to cope with, what we can and can’t watch or read without being “triggered”, and most of all, whether we would or wouldn’t be happy with our grades being known by peers on the side of a building. We can make our own decisions about these things.

The problem is that Cambridge’s mental health scene is dominated by those on the extreme side, which unfortunately means that the vast majority of students are shut out of the debate. When you have this extreme side being aggressive towards, or even ridiculing, anybody who disagrees with them then you make moderates scared of taking part in any kind of public discourse. The irony is that the people claiming to stand up for the suffering students do it in such a way as to shut out the majority of people who suffer.

Not always bad news for mental health and class lists

Not always bad news for mental health and class lists

Now from a personal point of view, a view I know is also held by many others, the current Cambridge system with class lists helps me and my recovery. To know that we can perform and succeed at one of the world’s best universities is something that we take a lot of pleasure from, especially when looking back at where we might have been a few years ago compared to where we are now. If this is taken away then I have no doubt that a large part of the gratification people recovering get from knowing they can still thrive despite having a mental health problem will be taken away, clearly negatively affecting someone’s recovery back to health.

If we really want to make any progress on getting rid of the stigma surrounding mental health, we as students have to get rid of the extreme side of the mental health debate that does nothing but alienate the vast majority of students. Just like many media outlets are doing in the UK now, we need leaders that bring EVERYBODY into the debate, not push people away, and the current lot need to stop treating us like children.

Hey kid! Don't you think you need a coffee after all that hard work?

We’re supposed to have moved on from this

Mental health NEEDS to be on the agenda. The figures of those who suffer are shocking and need to be addressed. But let’s not allow a group of extreme-viewed students dominate this debate. The vast majority of students with mental health problems at Cambridge thrive, despite having a problem. It is not for an extreme group to take this hardship that we have had to fight through to get to where we are and tell us that we can’t get through the current system in place. Being rewarded by being listed on the side of one of the most famous buildings of one of the most famous universities in the world as one of the very few students having managed to succeed despite having mental health issues is one of the most gratifying things about Cambridge, and is no doubt also something that comforts many of these students.

They claim to want people to treat each mental health case with the compassion and individuality it deserves, yet when it suits them, they lump “all mental health sufferers” together, as if we’re all the same. We’re not.

Yours sincerely,
A disenfranchised undergraduate.