FEELING BLUE? Mental Health at Cambridge University | Documentary

You know, there’s this great… I have it pinned up
somewhere somewhere on my wall this bit from ‘Under the Volcano’ by Malcolm Lowry.
It has this wonderful excerpt from it on on being in Cambridge sort of being
almost sort of seasick from from walking around on this, this shifting ship of a
place that really puts you into this dizzying spiral if you’re not incredibly
careful and level-headed coming into it. I definitely did not come in incredibly
careful and level-headed I came in naive and open-hearted. There clearly is
something about this place that’s not working right if so many people emerge
from it with serious mental health issues at the end Ah the harbour bells of Cambridge! Whose
fountains in moonlight and closed courts and cloisters whose enduring beauty in
its virtuous, remote self-assurance seemed part less of the loud mosaic
of one stupid life there who maintained, perhaps by the countless deceitful
memories of such lives and the strange dream of some old monk eight hundred
years dead a dream jealously guarded ‘keep off the grass’. And yet whose
unearthly beauty compelled one to say ‘God forgive me!’ Cambridge was the sea reversed – at the same time a horrible regression. The heart sickened at running
once more full tilt into the past. It was as though that experience of the sea also exaggerated by time had invested one with the profound inner maladjustment
of the sailor who can never be happy on land. I think there is an issue of mental
health concerns and mental health issues at all universities around the country.
Cambridge most certainly is no exception to that. More than one in four people
experience some form of mental health disorder in their life and if you
exclude dementia from that more than 75% of those will manifest before the age of
18. Students as a group within the population are more at risk if I can put
it that way for mental health difficulties so I don’t think that’s
necessarily unique to Cambridge it may be sort of specific to the transition to
independence students at Cambridge at clinical level are not more mentally ill than students at other universities. I’m willing to believe that there are higher
levels of perception of depression anxiety, mental ill-health among Cambridge
students. There are two ways of defining it essentially you tend to see this in
student surveys – people who are experiencing feelings of depression and
anxiety, and people who are clinically depressed – and there’s a quite a gulf
between those two. Around about 10% of the age roughly 18 to 25
population are likely to be suffering from mental ill-health at some clinical
level and that’s about the level here in Cambridge. If you look at students defining themselves, somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3 of Cambridge students typically would say that they’d
experience feelings of depression. As far as I’m aware when people say ‘situational’
or ‘temporal’ depression what they actually are referring to is what we’d
now call ‘Adjustment Disorder’ it’s a maladaptive reaction to an
identifiable psychosocial stressor or multiple stressors that causes a
significant impairment in personal family social educational occupational
or other areas of functioning. Implying that someone has minor depression it’s
not as severe as major depression is not true that they’re different entities and
both should be taken as seriously as each other. And I think there were
particular reasons why there may be particular concerns about mental health
issues at Cambridge. I think for a lot of people that I’ve talked to, but also
specifically for myself, the myth of the university is really what
becomes overwhelming after a while people have been, y’know, many young
people have been aiming for Cambridge or you know a similar high prestige
university during their school as if it’s like the goal that’s going to make
their lives perfect. Not only do we feel that we’ve landed ourselves this gig at one of these, you know, the most prestigious places that you could
possibly end up at – that… that has certain connotations of you know ‘do I
belong here?’, ‘I’ve been given this enormous privilege and so who am I to
sit here and and wallow over what I’m feeling and wallow over
the kind of state of mind that I’m slowly descending into?’ You could almost
feel locked into that goal and then having arrived and got here you might almost experience it as a trap that you know
you don’t really have the freedom to consider leaving or intermitting
because everyone expects that having got here you’ll be making the most of
this amazing opportunity and in that way you know sometimes your dream can also
trap you I spent a lot of time trying to pick apart the myth of Cambridge and
trying to pick apart the way that that’s impacted me
mentally and physically and just even academically People got into Cambridge
because you were the kids in school who went home and read extra and because it
was fun. Us as individuals we want to push ourselves as well It’s putting a bunch
of people together who from this are more likely to be kind of perfectionists
and hold themselves to unfair standards like, to begin with right. The environment that Cambridge has created over the years attracts people who are, sort of,
very passionate about what they do but they’re also oftentimes very insecure
and they’re very driven by academic success, they tie their success to their
self-esteem Students are so perfectionist and they’re not happy to hand work in that isn’t perfect But they’ve got to turn it over really fast I’ve got a feeling that that’s probably unique to maybe Cambridge and Oxford. They’re putting too much pressure on themselves
and I don’t necessary think that’s Cambridge’s fault, you know, a lot of that is down to the individuals themselves I think the environment that’s created here
exacerbates whatever is already existing and can poke and prod people to a point
where something flares up that they didn’t really know was there before. Some pressure is helpful some anxiety helps build performance. Well we don’t want
cotton wool here – we want to say to people, you know, the world is full of
competitive stressful occasions and Finals will not be the last one that you
experience but here’s strategies for how to deal with it I can’t say to students:
come here it’ll all be lovely and you’ll never feel under pressure because that
would be totally ridiculous. You know, and they’re not going to perform at their
best unless it’s like that. And I think the other thing that we have to be
realistic about is as well as the extent to which student unhappiness is part of
life – life does involve being unhappy a fair bit of the time, and we can’t make that
go away You know, it’s not supposed to be easy if it was easy everybody would be here but, you know, this is Cambridge – this is
what has always been done and to be honest the results speak for themselves. Success at Cambridge should mean being
the best that you can be in the life you bring with you to Cambridge and the life
you lead at Cambridge My personal view on that is success at Cambridge would be to get the best grade you could possibly get. You know, that is, you know, if you’ve come
in and you’ve got a poor/average 2.1 for instance but you know deep down you
could got a First No I wouldn’t call that success – you’ve let
yourself down In my experience, amongst the academic
community of Cambridge, there are very two distinct groups of people – there’s one group who are
incredibly supportive and they think it’s fantastic what you’re doing and
they love hearing about the rowing On the other hand there’s a sort of group
who are the complete antithesis of that. I remember being told by an academic that
if you want to get a First or do well in your exams then you can’t row. And I do remember I supporting somebody who happened to turn up in sports kit
because they were having about 5:00 p.m. their supervisor latched right onto it and said – oh it’s really weird that, you know, you’ve come to me and you said you’re struggling
with supervisions but you come to me and you’ve just been playing football. And I was just like it’s 5 p.m! He’s been playing football for an hour –
that’s, that’s literally just downtime Y’know we’re training 5-6 times a week,
we’re playing matches – the varsity match has obviously got all the media hype around
it, so it does put those extra pressures on. I can’t speak for everyone but in my
personal experience I’d say it makes it so much better because you’ve got an escape
from your work Societies should occupy a space whereby people can feel welcome in
a group of people no matter where they are, where they are, who they are, or where they come from. in terms of in terms of mental health, I think we rely on each other a lot we
spend so much time together and therefore we’re a pretty tightly-knit group. I do believe that it’s our duty to our friends in choir to work together to support them to look after them, and I hope everyone in choir would agree with me It’s my outlet it’s where I have my fun
where I meet my friends, and I think there’s quite a lot of research into the
fact that sport helps your mental health. You’re kind of getting a double benefit I think it’s a little sad how rowing has been such a big part of my life at Cambridge
and I feel that if I talk to an academic or a supervisor about it then
I’m taking a risk in terms of which way they’re gonna go and are they gonna
support me with this are they going to deliberately make my life difficult and
that’s something that people have told me very early on like it’s almost
like a secret you have to keep yeah I mean my DoS of three years as far as
I’m aware, still doesn’t know that I row yeah… yeah… it’s just a bit weird, I guess… um So I think that some academics and
actually students are like feel alike it’s kind of a rite of passage it’s a
stamp of pride when you’re having a really tough time and some of my
favourite quotes are from my friend who actually did psychology this year,
experimental psychology, and the lecturers would literally be lecturing
about stress and she would be thinking are you listening to this? Is the university actually listening to its own research? Because stress does not get the best out of people in the
levels that that Cambridge puts it on An academic once said to me thinking
that it was hilarious, that he likes to make sure that his PhD students go
through a near-death experience before they finished their PhD and then he
passes them I mean they were certainly periods of time where I was spending
insane amounts of time in the library revising and just kind of pushing
yourself through sheer force of will when it came to doing my Finals at
Cambridge it came down to four exams in five days, two of which were on the same
day – all that mattered was these four exams, was one of the worst weeks of my life.
I didn’t feel like it represented the work that I’d done and the progress I’ve
made over the three years of my degree it’s one of the busiest times of my year I’ve had students with glandular fever, acute tonsillitis, gastroenteritis various things like this, and that’s just the physical things, never mind stress and anxiety to have worked so hard for three or four
years and get to the point where you’re not fit to do your exams, you’re not well enough to revise, that is a huge pressure for a student and really disappointing I think for everybody If the foundations
aren’t fully strong if there’s some cracks in the foundation then putting that amount
of pressure onto it is is obviously just gonna make the whole thing collapse and
unfortunately I’ve had personal experience of people collapsing – it’s, it’s I think
it’s not that infrequent an occurrence, I think it’s significant enough that
people kind of are aware that that’s a background thing and for people to claim
otherwise I think is… I don’t want to say it’s ignorant because I think that’s
that’s unfair, I think maybe they just don’t want to accept that there is this
this issue I think… I look at my class at biochemistry, there were only about 24 of us and the top three students there have all left and done PhDs in London because they wanted to get out and they did not want to stay in Cambridge they did not want to stay in the environment One that probably everyone says: I think the workload is immense it’s a bit of a joke amongst my friends that there’s always people crying in the library it’s not really that funny actually… excess workload in some subjects after my first term I’d basically done an entire
first year chemistry, biochemistry and physiology course I didn’t realise till I came here just how hard the student worked intensity of the competition In my first term I had 16 essays in 8
weeks a particular competitive intense environment 8 week periods of chronic stress
and anxiety and worries the shortness of the / terms very / short / terms Horrible! F*CKING BULLSH*T! why
are they so short?! constant stress pressure cooker of / Cambridge workload heavy workload highly intense Exam pressures stressful environment stress The workload in Cambrige is… super intense very stressful exhausting astronomical Various: “Pressure” I could not keep up Various: Pressure/Stress/High Workload At all. Having been through the three years, the
impact that had on my mental health at times and, like, the level of, like, not
being myself I was a lot of the time here I’m still not entirely sure that
staying was the best idea People think OCD is needing
to check seven times if the light switch is off before you leave the house. Really obsessive-compulsive disorder is about doubt, and it’s about, sort of,
preying on the thing that you’re most insecure about it I would have really
graphic images enter my mind and y’know just uncomfortable sensations in my
body and all sorts of… it really truly I mean, feeling like I was trapped in sort of my own flesh prison. I remember lying on the
sofa that summer and just staring at the ceiling and thinking… you know I really,
feeling like I couldn’t move and feeling like I would really really like to be
dead I mean I even wrote… I wrote a note to my parents… but I was just sort of
like this is, this is too much and I will I will have to end it I guess coming to Cambridge University I had the same anxieties and nerves that everyone
would have and I was anxious about my exams like everyone else and it wasn’t
until maybe my second year that me being anxious about every exam and me being
anxious about every day and me being anxious and nervous and scared about doing anything that I started to realise that maybe this wasn’t like everyone else And when I got here I was really optimistic for the first weeks here I was working
really hard to get my essays in on time and I wasn’t meeting a deadline by you
know sort of a matter of an hour or two and my supervisor I mean he… he started calling
me out on it just saying you know you clearly haven’t read enough for this
week and as someone who had come in with a specific learning disability I was
sort of saying to him I’m reading as much as I physically can in a week In my second year I had my first real case of a panic attack…
which I would not advise anyone having it’s terrifying. I’ve been in a very
fortunate situation: my Director of Studies have both been medics themselves
with an influence within the college to vouch for me. I say that I feel very
lucky because I know not very many people do and in my
experience in speaking with other people sometimes how good your mental health
isn’t necessarily how good your college or how good your subject is but how good
is the person who’s willing to vouch for you is, if there is one. Pastoral care always has to be a concern of ours, it’s not something that we can ever hive off
and say I’m just here for your intellectual needs. Cambridge students
are young adults in residential communities of young adults (and some
slightly older adults too) and we have a duty of care for each and every one of
those adults here we do have multiple levels of support it’s really important
that students are able to navigate what I know is a complex picture. But we,
those who are providing the advice the guidance and the support, need to ensure
that we are all working together to ensure that they that guidance and
support is available where it is needed. Directors of Studies are really there to
provide academic support, now they should have some awareness around student
mental health issues but it’s fundamentally not their job Senior Tutors are responsible for the educational provision that colleges
provide, but there’s also a welfare side of that, so Senior Tutors are
responsible for the welfare provision of the college too You have a team of tutors / Tutors are meant to be your head of pastoral care There are some college based counsellors and a friendly Porters Lodge who at 2 o’clock in the morning… they are just somebody to talk to who may eventually end up
advising you to speak to your college nurse then I will sign-post them to the counselling services Our primary focus is to offer counselling support to the students And College’s welfare officers – they’re usually a student who first finds out that others are considering self-harm but there’s also the Senior Tutors’ Committee one of the subcommittees of the
Senior Tutors’ Committee: the Welfare and Finance Standing Committee the Committee
on Student Health and Wellbeing Disability Resource Centre Students’ Unions’ Advice service and then there are student organisations / organisations like Student Minds exist to fill in gaps and to be a friendly face that doesn’t judge I feel like that even… even meeting with
my tutor now and he’ll say ‘well, you know, I don’t know what you expect me
to do’ or I go to him with something that I’ve heard from the student advice
service and the Disability Resource Centre and they say, you know: ‘you should
apply for an exam warning’ and I say ‘okay I’ll apply for an exam warning’ and I go
and ask my tutor if I can apply for an exam warning and he says: ‘well we don’t… I mean we don’t do those anymore’ and I say: ‘okay well this this list of
people has told me that you do do these still and that it’s a good idea to have
one given you know my circumstance and that is what I’m trying to do now’ and he
said: ‘well I don’t know if they know what they’re talking about’ The ‘impenetrable-ness’ of it is one of the biggest problems especially for disabled students because
I feel like you hit these kind of blocks on the way that just drain your energy out
and you kind of give up and it’s too easy to get lost in the system, I’ve got friends
I can think of who… who did pursue the routes available to them to kind of to
get help for what they were going through and it worked up until a point after which the college stopped following up with them and they were just kind of forgotten about So basically I came to Cambridge a student
with like a pre-existing sort of mental health situation like I had like
diagnosis had treatment stuff like that so I was just a sort of floundering it
was like it was just me this one tiny person I wind up in this weird position
where I feel like I’m advocating for myself in this way where I’m getting on
peoples nerves and being a nuisance and I feel like I’m a burden It feels really
chaotic to keep reading the guidance and stuff that’s given and when you see it
on paper it looks really simple it says ‘just go to your college nurse or go to
your DoS’ – for then that not to actually help is really tough yeah there’s a huge amount of bureaucracy that feels so cold and impersonal and just
almost I mean I almost just want to cry when I, you know, when I open some emails
because they’re sort of like ‘I can’t believe
you’re asking me this again’ and I’m like well I don’t know unless I ask I don’t know any
of us unless I ask… and I’ve been in bed for four weeks and not talking to anyone
and not really eating I mean that is not the optimal time to be a self-advocate If you have mixed anxiety, depression, depressive disorders, any compulsive
disorders if you came into contact with someone who was: ‘I’m really sorry I don’t
know’… that feels like a wall You know the thing is like I’m I’m already deeply
ashamed of it like I’m not, I’m not going into these situations thinking ‘oh great
like I’m going to I’m going to get out of what I need to do by by asking for an
extension or whatever now’ no I’m coming in genuinely feeling terrible um and I
don’t always know if I can quite convince people that that I am feeling
that way but like it’s real every time and to go into those situations and
to sort of have to grovel almost and… and beg for support or to go through this
really lengthy process of documentation where you’re sort of guilty until proven
innocent that… that doesn’t contribute to anything feeling any better… So I intermitted at the start of my
final year of Medicine – it was off the back of me struggling with some of my
exams that I was doing at the time that I needed to carry on with my degree.
It was excruciating to come to that conclusion I wasn’t handing in things on time at all at that point and I just got out of
that whole experience like you’re just you just need to do better, you need to
figure out how to do better, you need to… you know, everyone’s struggling here you
need to sort out how to make yourself work in this environment. I just thought
well okay I can’t do that If we’re intermitting somebody we’re
intermitting somebody because we don’t think they’re well enough to be here,
they’re really struggling, they recognise that they’re really struggling and there
is a good prospect with the right period of time away and the right support when
they’re away they can come back in a much stronger position the assessment is
done holistically with the student right at the centre of the assessment having
regard to medical evidence and academic evidence everyone said: ‘no don’t intermit,
don’t intermit you know it’s better for you if you can just get through it’, I
think it was really frustrating for me for a while because I felt like
regardless of whether or not they intended to I felt like I had to fight
to be able to intermit I know there’s some colleges that push
people to intermit and that’s problematic in its own way of course but
I really felt like it was tough for me to convince people that
maybe I shouldn’t be here when I was eventually called in and they were like
‘you are going to intermit’ and it was presented as a question but I like had
run out of resources by that point. It was basically a disciplinary measure
they gave me about two days basically you have to get out by like this weekend
like bring all your stuff home students feeling isolated when they intermit: this
is common occurrence it’s something that I think we need to be very alert to at
the University and I think it’s probably fair to say that there are times you
know a student has intermitted, so far as you know they are pursuing the course of
treatment or support that they need you’re probably not as quick getting
back to them about things as you would be with a fresh urgent case who’s just
walked in through the door as the process went on then it becomes really
again so dependent on who your director of studies is and who your support are
because the process of intermission is just you leave and you’re off the
register and you don’t go to any classes and then in 12 months time or and an
agreed-upon amount of time you come back the idea that they have is that people
go away and all their problems get fixed in that year and they come back and it’s
fine and nobody has to deal with anything You fall off the conveyor belt and
you have no idea what to do – what happens to your funding what happens to your
student loan what happens to your room what happens to your exam and no one
says anything about that unless you have someone one of the really terrible
things that my college did like their particular attitude was you are causing
problems for your friends and we don’t want that to happen – they encouraged me
to talk, strongly encourage me to talk, less to my friends – so obviously my
friends were all still there and I spent a lot of time frightened to to go back
into college like just as a… because members of the public here allowed to visit for
example but I felt really intimidated from going back – if my friends in college
had been able to believe that I was being taken well care of by the college
they wouldn’t feel like they had to look out for me so much they wouldn’t be so
worried I did to an extent feel forgotten – maybe
you know maybe if you checked, things wouldn’t gotten bad again I should say
that senior tutors have been working really hard on intermission and we’ve
developed guidance to ensure that students know exactly how to concentrate
on getting the support they need during intermission whether that’s in
Cambridge or elsewhere and are properly equipped to come back at the end of
their period of intermission to resume their studies. The senior tutor in a
college is responsible for working closely with the student, tutor, medical
experts to ensure that that package of advise and support and the right
decision is made in the right way. One of the students that we interviewed in the
past week for this documentary kind of raised concerns about going off the grid
on intermission and feeling quite disconnected from college life um in the
year or however many months of intermission I was wondering what you
thought about that I think more… what, what I’ve said I mean I regret that but
I think what I’ve just said kind of covers that I think we have to say to ourselves you know
consistently have we checked on that person I think there’s probably an area
where we could do a little bit better in the university but equally we have to be
realistic about the amount of pressure that were under in terms of time and
resource we have to be realistic about the extent
of resource that we have available and if we’ve got to significantly grow this
amount of money what are we shrink instead we can’t
simply grow the cake. There is certainly something close to a crisis in terms of
demand and resource – spending has gone up by over 40% across four years. Now
clearly you cannot sustain an additional 10% a year on an ongoing basis. The University Council service is excellent but resourcing is always a problem… / You know, we’re very lucky to be as well resourced as we are here… /that’s a lot of pressure to put on a small counselling service do we need to give more resources there, more counsellors basically? / Cambridge has a terrifically well-funded
university counselling service /The counselling service and the Disability
Resources Centre often at busy stressful times they kind of reach the limits of
what they can do there is evidence to suggest that when people think it’s
underfunded they don’t use it and that’s really upsetting but even though if it is
underfunded I don’t want anybody to go away thinking that they shouldn’t use it
or that there is someone more in need or that there is, you know, you should be disuaded by anything like waiting times – please no matter what I say now if
you if you need to please go Cambridge is a wealthy institution but it’s not
that wealthy and it doesn’t have unlimited cash flow and we can all point
to individual things and say well ‘this shows an institution where there is you
know there is there is a lot of fat that can be cut’ but actually lots of colleges lots the
time at certainly in faculties and departments, there really isn’t very much
fat to be cut I was wondering how much you think there
might be a disparity between the provisions that certain colleges can
provide for students? All I’d say, you know Lucy, that Murray Edwards (college) is a distinctive… has a distinctive character but every senior tutor and every College
recognises that every student in Cambridge has a right to equivalent
support Another major issue is the lack of
counselling or the disparity in counselling across colleges and then the
issue becomes can colleges afford it and this is kind of the crux of many of the
issues That’s the thing: it’s the luck of the draw
about… and it shouldn’t be your, your student experience and your mental health
should not be decided upon which tutor you get. Pure and simple I remember telling people about my
mental health issues here about specific learning disabilities about depression
about OCD – I got everything from you know this sort of ‘oh I’m sorry that’s
happening to you too’, ‘are you just making that up, you know, you might just be lazy’.
I remember lying on my floor in first year and just thinking what am I doing
here? which i think is a common thing. And my
supervisor I also remember him just sort of asking
me ‘are you even trying?’ and I I don’t think I’d ever tried harder at anything
in my life before the supervision system in Cambridge is great in that it gives us one to one or like two to one academic tuition but when supervisors
can range massively from PhD students to people who have been here for 50 years
the level of training they have received can vary massively and the amount of
empathy they have with students varies massively
and actually the pressure that difference supervisors put on you can
really have a strong mental health effect Like, ‘I’m sorry I need an
extension again this week on my essay and I’m sorry to ask for it again’ and I
always… I mean the fear in sending those emails the, sort of, the terror in lying
in my bed which is usually where I wind up because I haven’t got out of bed all
day and don’t physically can’t sometimes um… the
terror in sending those emails is enough to almost you know shut me down all
together in and of itself because I never quite know what the response will be.
People, I mean, people say to me all the time like okay but we do receive
training and if if people are receiving training it’s clearly not effective
training or it’s not… it’s not training that that is targeted at the actual
issues that students are facing. I think the university would say that
training is available there is training that occurs and extensive training is
available individuals whose role is fundamentally academic I think they should receive a degree of training around the sorts of science to look out
for in respect to student mental ill-health and what to do. Certainly supervisors should be in a position to provide them with
appropriate support and guidance. I think quite often that support and guidance is
is to give them the advice as to who to go and see when they’ve identified
that there are… there is a student with a particular mental health concern all academics with student facing roles know when to refer students who need support to
the people who are best placed to provide it [behind camera] How likely are you to refer a student to the counselling service? [laughs] so I didn’t know that was something we could do I didn’t know I could formally refer I have no idea how
I’d go about referring a student I didn’t know that I could I was a director
of studies and I received no training for that My supervisor training was I think
10 til 4 I did supervision training in the first year of my PhD, it was a
two-hour session I can’t remember there being any discussion of words like ’empathy’ ‘compassion’ ‘health’ ‘awareness’ they just read out stuff like ‘don’t
attack the students’ ‘supervisions last an hour’ ‘you should read their essay’ ‘drink
some coffee beforehand’ For first aid training it’s mandated every
three years so that those learned pathways are maintained – supervisor
training isn’t repeated at all I think they just assumed I’ve been here a long
time and I know how it works I was not given safeguarding training supervisors don’t get safeguarding training even things like where is appropriate to
supervise or not I remember one literally did my supervision in my
bedroom what do I do if a student breaks down and starts crying? When he questioned me about that I broke down into tears and then two minutes later I
was joined by another supervision partner, who was also crying! supervisors dating either their own students or students from the faculty I’ve heard a lot of stories A friend of mine
dated a student who was supervised by them on the MPhil as a supervisor you’re not
just teaching, if your student is ill or can’t do the exam you’ll be asked to
give an expected grade turn so this isn’t just a question of affecting what
a student learns it’s literally the grades they leave with I have absolutely no idea what I would look for to know somebody was struggling with their mental health. I would have really graphic images
enter my mind Unless they were visible physical
markers, if they were crying, if they had visible scarring or something uncomfortable
sensations in my body even if the work started to suffer my first thought would not be that it was a mental health situation at all feeling like I was trapped in, in sort of my own flesh prison people who have a
tendency towards perfectionism or obsession which could very easily tip
into being a problem it sounds horrendous but sometimes it can
actually benefit academic work feeling like I would really really like to be dead it was emphasised that if there was a doubt you have to go to the students director of
studies but I don’t know how I would know if I had those doubts Right so I have this little booking system on my
computer that I can go to to book extra training sessions or something but I
don’t get paid to do that which means you lose time for your own projects so
most people don’t have time for that your payment is linked to the supervision
reports that you submit you don’t get paid to prep at all you don’t get paid for marking it all You’re teaching a topic you don’t really know you don’t get paid for
arranging supervisions at all you feel like you don’t have enough time to read
someone’s essay you don’t get paid for any admin at all you don’t get paid to write supervision reports at all when I started I would spend absolutely ages preparing, like all week preparing to do whatever three or four supervisions maybe less so you have to take on more students to balance that out because the more students you
take on the cheaper it becomes to prepare for the supervision so probably
ended up being paid £2 an hour It also means that as a supervisor, if I
have to rush off at the end of a supervision, I can’t stay and be like ‘are
you okay?’ This kind of ramping up of the workload only negatively impacts students if one of my students intermits, I’ve lost a student which means that over the
course of a term that’s £90-£100 down over a year that’s £300 down – I
don’t want my students to intermit partly because I will lose money if they
do: my life becomes more financially unstable if I make that kind of
recommendation. That’s a lot of money to lose, right, and so you obviously don’t
want your students to intimate but I don’t think a supervisor is less
likely to then say ‘if you have problems you should talk to college’, I
think most supervisors will help the student do that. The thing is that most
supervisors would happily go to paid training because you want to get better
as an academic you want to be taught these things A supervisor might not think that
they’re in a pastoral role but at the end of the day they’re the one who has
the most contact with the student So I think right at the heart of it his
supervisors need to be aware that any of their students could be facing a mental
health issue and knowing what the appropriate advice and guidance is and
actually in some case it will be inappropriate to intervene – somebody who
who doesn’t have extensive experience of providing mental health support people with good global functioning, people who are of average to above intelligence
tend to manage lot better with their mental health disorders can
compensate a lot more particularly younger people. These things can be ticking on
in the background without them realising and often it takes someone else in order
to point out that they’re ticking a lot of the boxes that you need to tick in order to be
diagnosed students that are quietly in their room, not socialising, um, they’re the ones that it’s very easy to think ‘oh they’re fine, I haven’t heard from this student for a while’ but that we need to be making sure that we’re meeting and spending real quality time listening to students across the board My grades never really suffered and so there was never a ‘we need to come in and talk’ and had I chosen to I probably could have simply never told
anybody – the only, the only person that really realised was my supervisor in my first meeting with my director of studies as a fresher I was told that if
I had personal pastoral problems I must go to my tutor if I had academic
problems I could go to him my pastoral problems were totally entwined always
with my academic work they were mostly due to the fact that I had these 16
essays and I felt like he had closed the door people have come to me while I’ve been their supervisor because they haven’t had a good relationship with their director
of studies you don’t know who the first person someone’s going to turn to good training would be an immense boon to every student in the university
irregardless of their mental health conditions I think this is where students have to
understand that the university is just a collection of people doing their jobs
and it’s very easy to be angry at this big conglomerate – if we want to improve
this we have to have them onside we have to appreciate the work that they do if you don’t recognise somebody’s wider humanity and the needs that might come
with that I don’t think you can educate them I wouldn’t trade 10% of student
happiness for better academic performance You can come and see me in the afternoons, we go for walks, we go for coffee We’ve created three new posts – in
the counselling service and one in the disability resource service we recognise however that we have more work to do to ensure that across Cambridge but with
support students receive is the best it can be students just want it explained to us why it’s difficult – just be honest with it –
people can accept that it’s flawed but just don’t present it as this perfect
thing because it isn’t and it is really tough for administrators and faculty to
take these very real emotions that people are feeling and turn them into
sort of actionable items one of my friends his… his supervisor deliberately
arranges supervision on Saturdays to stop people doing extracurricular
activities they’re suspicious that we don’t work hard enough they’re
suspicious that we don’t understand what it means to be at Cambridge, they’re suspicious
that we don’t do our own work they’re suspicious that we aren’t achieving our potential I remember in first year having one supervisor who just
relentlessly bashed me no matter what I did and then came out my second vision
report he predicted me a really high grade and I was like you’ve put me through so
much trauma all yeah my gran died and I got back from her funeral and I felt really depressed, and my DoS went like ‘she may have been your favourite granny, but these things happen I still expect the essay on Monday’ An academic has expressed the view that letting in
people like me who didn’t have standard who had non-standard
qualifications and non-standard like life experience and background
is a mistake and they could let in easier people though they would be easier to deal with… But actually that had such a massive effect on my confidence and then
they’re suspicious that we aren’t… that we don’t suffer in the way that
we say we suffer I was like: am I not meant to be Cambridge? I was really close
to my gran it will be amazing if like the university could act in a compassionate way and consider themselves compassionate that was the thing that was
totally missing from my experience I I think there are some very practical
things though that are easily accomplished on a smaller scale. One is to to lead with empathy I think in supervisions that would mean, you know, when an essay doesn’t come in on time
or when a piece of work isn’t the quality that you might expect of it – not
starting out with, you know ‘why are you not taking this seriously’, ‘why do you not
care’, ‘why are you wasting, wasting both of our times’, but saying ‘what, what happened
here and how can we work to make it better?’ what you want to university to be A university can be a place where people
come and have a horrible time and develop unhealthy behaviours and bad mental health
and go off and hate it for the rest of their lives… or it can be an amazing
place where people come and learn stuff and become better people people are very
apprehensive about taking into account lived experiences of students when it comes to reshaping things
because they don’t feel like they’re empirical enough or they don’t feel like
they’re… these great traditions have lasted for so long and they’ve worked
just fine and you know maybe it’s just students now that are having a problem, I
don’t think so I don’t I don’t think you know I think you could go back a long
ways looking at what people were writing earlier in the 20th century in the 19th
century, people have been having emotional struggles here forever
and it’s just now that we’re starting to listen to them and starting to open up
this conversation with them and open it up in a substantial way Just because
we’re noticing it now doesn’t mean it hasn’t always been there My name is Christopher I am finalist here at Cambridge And I suppose one thing I would want most for the university to do is to do is to treat emotions as another form of knowledge and to not relegate them to the dustbin of human experience [VARIOUS CONTRIBUTORS HAVING THEIR SAY ON THE MENTAL HEALTH DEBATE]

24 thoughts on “FEELING BLUE? Mental Health at Cambridge University | Documentary

  1. Thank you so much for making this video.
    I'm a mum of a third year HSPS student who reached mental 'shut down' point just before final exams a couple of weeks ago, couldn't get the coursework done and has left and applied to intermit which we will be assessed on 31st May, although she had to leave immediately. This has been building for two years. She loves Cambridge, appreciates her supervisors, tutors and DoS's, has worked so very hard and really genuinely cares about the subjects and studies. I think her experience will reflect many other students in that she was always behind and then – despite continual work – felt she was just perhaps too disorganised, lazy, not good enough to be there etc etc. and didn't feel she had a right to seek help either as felt other people must have much worse problems than she did.
    She assumed she would just manage to pull it together when the time came, fired up by motivation, but went the opposite way 🙁 Whilst it is easy, of course, for me to tell her she is not a 'failure' and her happiness and wellbeing is so much more important than any degree, my daughter naturally feels rather defeated and this video has been so reassuring for her. THANK YOU for caring enough to produce this. I am sure it will be helpful in all areas to address this issue!

  2. Thank you for giving a voice to all of us who went through this experience, and knew this reality of Cambridge. These voices represent so many of my friends and colleagues who were battered by the experience of being here.

  3. You are all amazing intelligent people with an understanding of how many of us live with depression I send you all love and say this …… let’s not think about this too much this whole system of super rich accommodation high pressure life YOU HAVE SO MUCH TO OFFER TO PERGAPS A SMALL SELF SIPORTING COMMINITY

  4. And positivity to see how we could possibly build or at least try build a community funded community

  5. Everyone is blaming each other and the teachers are keep saying “oh well its a part of life to be stressed” that is true but if you are willing to push your students to point of breaking your students down that isnt normal. That is just abuse, stress shouldnt be a part of driving students to their best. Stress destroys our mind and slowly makes us more vulnerable and unstable. If they are going to use the excuse “well if they dont stress out they wont do their best, like look at the results” this excuse just shows how messed up your morals are. Does a school’s reputation matter more than the well-being of their students? I really am just enraged about this, this needs to change, rather than just saying “oh this is how its always been” they need to change this. If this is how one of the best universities environment is, is it even worth going there? Just how important is education that we need to destroy our mental health for it? -opinion of a student

  6. they dont push themselves through the force of will not to die of aging process before finishing near death experience but we´re all christians

  7. Paige sented me here. Right now almost every student is stressed because its exam season by the way im not a college student but by the look of the students you can tell they are pretty stressed and FEEL BLUUE

  8. I watched the documentary and I have one question. With such short terms and excessive work load because of the short terms does a student have the time to actually learn properly, have the time to consolidate what they have learnt, have time to improve their essay techniques etc or are they just skimming over a heap of work and putting together a stack of unpolished essays that they are going to forget about in a few weeks because they haven't had the time to really delve into the topic and really understand it in depth? To me that is not learning. That video has put me off Cambridge. It is not getting the best out of its students.

  9. I feel so bad for the guy that has to keep rowing a secret. It definitely is weird. I'm from Australia and we get encouraged to balance our interests, be active. Playing a sport and having hobbies is preferable and will help you start up conversations even with academics. As for the lack of mental health and disability support, I'm genuinely speechless. Guess I expected so much more from an institution like Cambridge. There's something wrong with a system that forces you to let go of everything just to be able to stay on top of work.

    btw Paige sent me here haha

  10. I think there are 2 main messages in this documentary:
    1) They are arguing the University should take more measures to prevent mental health issues developing and becoming seriously out of hand
    2) I don't think they're putting people off of applying, but instead showing the reality of Oxbridge and that it isn't a Utopia. It is very much a place of work. For many, it becomes too much. I think this is a message to prospective students as much as it is to the University, that they should be warned and raring to go if they apply. It shouldn't be somewhere to apply just because you're smart.
    I think we should be grateful that this video has been produced regardless of what happens because it opens up our eyes as to what the University of Cambridge (and indeed Oxford) is like, and by watching this people can make more informed decisions about applying.

  11. More people NEED to watch this video, the problems described at Cambridge aren't exclusive to Cambridge, but no student deserves the treatment and lack of support described.
    I'm sure there are many lovely counselors and people there who are trying hard to support students, but there NEEDS to be more access to those services, and people claiming it's fine even when they have students complaining (and rightfully so) is so dismissive.
    I really hope that changes are made following this video (as I want to apply to Cambridge this year but my mental health is struggling as it is with the pressures of A levels)

  12. You are so stressed because you choose to care what degree you want. You think that if you have a 2.2 someone will judge you and think you're not good enough, but it's nothing like that. I wish that any of the Cambridge students could come to a Romanian University to see how much information is given to us too and how students deal with it. I don't think that at Cambridge, a teacher publishes right before an exam a 400 pages course and you have to learn it in two weeks notice.I think there's a problem of perspective too and I think that you put on yourselves too much pressure. If I'm mistaken then there's my bad, but this is just my opinion and untill I see exactly how much worload do you have I don't think I can make an accurate comparison.

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