Editorial: Not just Week Five

Elsa Maishman 11 February 2016

A year ago, Issue One of Lent 2015 of this paper saw the headline ‘‘‘Unnecessary pressure’ on majority of students’’. This marked the beginning of an outcry about student mental health, lasting several months. Cambridge Defend Education, a group which has since faded from view, began a campaign to introduce a reading week, called ‘#endweekfiveblues’.

Like so many student campaigns, this one fell into irrelevence. But for a while at least, it looked as though the movement might almost have a chance of instigating real change. Unfortunately, a reading week alone would not solve the problem. London-dwelling students may be able to go home for the week, but those of us who have to buy international flights in order to escape the ‘Bubble’ would probably end up staying here, suffering through one extra week every term and having to pay for the privilege. Much better, surely, to condense the misery into as compact a period of time in order to escape the toxic atmosphere as soon as possible.

Instances of mental illness are far higher in Cambridge than in most of the rest of the country, and it’s not surprising. Taking a bunch of extraordinarily intelligent teenagers, holing them up together, and loading them with work until they reach breaking point can only be described as a recipe for disaster. Mental health problems shouldn’t be normal anywhere, but in some cases it can be comforting to know that other people are suffering too.

It’s imperative to take advantage of any support available – we’ve only got to live through university for a few years, but we have to live with our mental health for the rest of our lives. Focusing on the idea of ‘Week Five Blues’ is often counter-intuitive: one tea and cake session is not going to solve any deeper mental health issues that so many of us suffer from, nor is it going to support healthy students who may simply feel run-down by university life.

Instead we need to focus on welfare provision across every single week of every single term, in order to ensure that those with serious issues are properly supported, and students who are simply suffering from the intensity that is Cambridge know that it is perfectly okay to give up on an essay or piece of work here and there, in favour of staying healthy.