Mental health at Oxford

Pastel houses down Hollywell street

"Are you happy?", my friend asked me as we sat out on some rickety garden chairs staring out across a sad looking patch of grass. A rare moment of calm to take a breath.

I looked at him, a bit shocked by the question, and just open and closed my mouth a few times. Not really making any noise in particular. He stared back at me, an unwavering gaze, waiting for a response. He really did want to know. 

I thought properly, realising the uncomfortable question was not going to go away and then responded that I didn't think I'd ever been really since coming to Oxford actually. I'd had a few bad personal experiences which you might say would account for that general feeling, but actually when I wasn't having those experiences I'm not sure I was happy then either. I think an environment that has a dedicated week, catchphrase (5th Week Blues), and welfare outreach for poor mental health, has a real problem. Oxford has institutionalised poor mental health and most students here have let them because we see it as a fair exchange to be part of a world class university, getting an excellent degree and an unparalleled level of teaching. I'm not necessarily sure that that trade-off is fair and whether we should have to make that trade-off at all.

I make that exchange all the time though. I generally think that I'd rather go through the hell of an Oxford term with the exhaustion and excessive workload and come out with a good mark at the end than not. I really enjoy my academic studies and the pressure. Weirdly I actually enjoy being partly stressed and with lots to do, so you could say that in fact this situation was of my own making, but if I had known what it was really like, would I have chosen Oxford over, say Leeds? I don't know.

Sunset at Port Meadow

During interview season, tutors and staff tell us that when answering prospective candidate questions we should be as truthful as possible but always be upbeat. "Don't be disparaging or negative about the university; we don't want to put them off" they say with a mirthless chuckle. It's almost insect like the way they draw you into a honey trap. I don't think this is fair at all; it's letting people in under false pretences. Simply because they're intelligent doesn't necessarily mean that they can handle increased levels of stress. Oxford is a stamina test more than anything else. Can you hack the pressure and pump out the good quality work?

Mental health in Oxford is very poor. There are no doubt countless survey and data I could quote but if you were to ask any student they would tell you that Oxford is tough and crying is not a peculiarity. Is this a healthy university experience? Not according to other universities it isn't.

I think in many ways, even if I'd heard some more truthful accounts of Oxford I would still probably have applied because you never know until you know, and different people can deal with different levels of stress. Despite that I do find myself asking whether it's all worth it and is a degree from Oxford at the expense of my sanity actually a bonus?

I think it's really important when applying to ask yourself the same. It might be. You may have no big issues or problems, that is what I would wish for everyone. But I would urge people to do some background research into student mental health in any university before applying because your mental health and wellbeing should always be your priority. No degree is worth more than that.


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