Anne Diamond: why more youngsters need support

PUBLISHED: 09:46 07 December 2015 | UPDATED: 09:46 07 December 2015


Flying in your studies, living a busy, fun life. But what if you aren’t?

You hear a lot about the wellbeing quotient and the government’s idea of somehow measuring our happiness. We even hear about them teaching happiness in schools. I think now is the time to take this all really seriously.

Over the past decade, I’ve been through four lots of getting my kids through GCSEs, then all the stresses and strains of their A levels (and the crisis that comes every August when the regular family summer holiday is either wrecked or thrown into celebration by that one important phone call or email from school with the results). Then there’s the parental worry you go through when you see your kids off to ‘A level results night’ celebrations in their first night club gig.

Where I used to live in Oxford, this night was very often followed by news of at least one tragedy. I can’t have been the only mum who stayed up all night worrying. Now there’s the phase of sending them off to uni. OMG, does it never end?

Thousands of young men and women have joined colleges and universities in our patch over the last couple of months.

Freshers weeks are a long distant memory - and impatient tutors are already nagging over late deadlines, with red-eyed, hungover students struggling to keep up with high pressure social and academic demands. There are warnings students are struggling to cope with life on campus - making the emotional step of a new 
independent life, many living away from home for the first time.

No wonder, then, that according to research from the University of Reading, students are looking for help from counsellors - in fact, demand has gone up by 20 per cent just in the last 12 months. Apparently that equates to at least 115,000 students seeking help.

And there are questions about whether universities are doing anything like meeting that extraordinary demand for emotional and mental health support. Additionally, increasing numbers of students are at high risk of harming themselves.

Sir Anthony Seldon, he was the headmaster who famously first introduced happiness lessons at Wellington College in Berks and now he’s vice chancellor of Buckingham University, says this is a “massive problem” and universities have been “negligent” in accepting their pastoral responsibilities. He has said: “Universities are not always honest about admitting the extent of the problems they have.

“They need to change, they need to take their responsibilities to students far more carefully.”

As well as perennial problems of loneliness and relationships, of course there are now worries about the rising cost of studying, (I’ve met students who are seriously worried for their own parents, and feel guilty about asking for financial support even though they desperately need it), fear of failing to live up to value-for-money expectations and uncertainties about job prospects.

Nowadays there also seems to be a cultural change in being a student, according to those who are actually living through it.

Instead of a stereotype of student life being about long lazy days, it is also affected by wider social changes. An example is social media, which as well as feeding the pressure to work hard and party harder, while being wildly successful at both, never switches off. One student I interviewed on my radio show said media like Facebook and Twitter were fuelling a culture of constant comparison and a sense of inadequacy. She told me: “As well as being a first class student, you have to be a first class person, you have to be constantly performing socially, academically. It’s a nightmare. You’re constantly on.”

For goodness’ sake, we as a society must do something to address this. Because if we send a whole generation of young people out into society, armed with a degree but unable to live in this real, harsh, unforgiving world, then we are failing. But the “ologists” also say that young people with mental health issues grow up into adults with mental health problems. Crumbs, if that isn’t a dysfunctional society, what is? 


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