There as been great concern over the past ten years about the growing need for student mental health support in universities. The underlying reasons for the increase in distress in university students has not been well elucidated. Some people like to attribute the increased need to an increased number of students with emotional difficulties getting into university due to the increased use of medication. There is no evidence supporting this view. If these treatments actually worked, then one should see a decrease in problems in universities. One does see a high number of students entering university on medication, but it is clear from clinical experience that these students have often received medication instead of proper treatment.
The most important issue that one does see in university students is the lack of nurturing emotional space that many people in our society experience growing up. This issue directly contributes to anxiety, depression and trouble dealing with relationships. There are many students who get anxious about feeling anxious, or depressed about feeling sad, because they don’t know how to deal with basic emotions, and have received messages throughout there lives that they are supposed to function but not feel. Young people are often brought up more as products than as people, with little room for proper emotional development.
It follows that the use of treatment modalities that tend to limit emotional space or growth can be damaging to students. The trend towards using psychiatric medication, which can lead to emotional numbing, or superficial Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which can give the message that one should push away one’s emotions, can cause more long-term problems for students. One should not put a band-aid on a festering wound. As university systems feel overwhelmed with demand for help, they often turn to the type of responses or programs that make the university feel better, yet makes the student suffer more in the long-run. The foundation of proper response to student distress is to provide safe emotional space in the university, and quick access to treatment teams that promote emotional exploration and well-being. Otherwise universities are just colluding with the underlying issues in our society that are causing the increase in distress in young people.