Psychopaths come in many flavours, all of them dangerous, but there’s a common thread that strings them together. Psychopaths create personas to hide behind, they might be the pleasant co-worker who asks you what you did at the weekend, or the cheery neighbour who always says ‘Hi’ with a smile as you’re leaving the house. Psychopaths have no empathy, they don’t feel anything for others, and they work hard to keep it a secret until it’s too late. Psychopaths are punishing, they act with cool rage and crushing retribution, delivered with full force, no remorse, and no warning. Psychopaths are dangerous because you can never tell where you really stand with them, until it’s too late.
Universities, too, are a little bit psychopathic, and here’s why:
Before getting to University, I was sold a face that didn’t match the interior. The open day was a bright and happy affair, bloated with opportunities, glowing reports, shiny presentations, and cheerful students. The reality was nothing like it. Fresher’s week, a thoroughly bizarre experience, left me swept under by feelings of isolation, sadness, and confusion, in the wake of excess intoxication, no sleep, false friendships, and having to deal with the behaviour of students even less well adjusted than myself.
Seminars were awkward, uncomfortable silences, intermitted by an equally uncomfortable lecturer’s cajoling – to no effect. You could sense nobody wanted to be there. Exams came, I’d never felt so wrong. Existing, just, on caffeine, sugar, the promise of a restful summer with no essays or exams, and pure-bliss freedom. The relief came and went in an instant. I sat on my chair at 10 am, after being up for nearly two straight days and laughed. Hysterically. The summer lacked its promise. Where was the rest? Gone with the thought I’d not make it to year two. How did I know I would, when I wrote my 24/48 hour exams not feeling at all like myself? I didn’t trust Mr Hyde, the maniacal, caffeinated creature, to do me justice.
So that was year one. Sunshine and daisies? Hardly.
The flowers only grew on the grave of my stable sense of self, the sun revealed the camber of the newly disturbed earth beneath. And the face of the establishment fell. I knew that University was filled with hollow promises and veneered smiles. It came for the person I was and smashed it to pieces. A sledgehammer of insanity, it walloped me.
Am I the only one to take a bludgeoning? I don’t think so.
And what did it offer me as recompense? There’s the open door team. You can see them a couple of times a term, if you’re lucky. There’s your supervisor, untrained and helpless to help. There’s the groggy, sluggish system, which punishes poor attendance, but prances prissily around the issue of mental health support. I don’t even know where I stand with it. Who makes up the rules and more so, where are they?
So, for me, university feels like something pretending to be what it’s not. It left me to fend for myself psychologically and emotionally, and in confusion, caused by the dissonance between perception and reality. It didn’t care that I wasn’t coping. If it did, there would be the necessary infrastructure to support students in crisis, but the reality is, it doesn’t exist. The rapid pace, lack of support, and brutal examination periods has left me, and many other students battered. I didn’t realise until it was too late, and I’m part of a bigger problem. It’s happening to students everywhere.
UPP student survey for the Guardian found that 87% of first year students struggled with some variation of mental health issue. Of this figure, almost half (44%), reported feeling lonely or isolated. We are facing an epidemic of psychological illness at universities across the country. Universities are not doing enough to support mental health issues, and we need real change here. With an institution that hides behind a cheerful, sun-beam persona, obliquely avoiding the issue of mental health, and smashing students to bits psychologically, university is a lot like an anti-social monolith, and it must work with students to learn how to feel again.