The unfathomable happiness of a 2.ii.

13 February 2015

We all know about our mental health problem. The first issue of this newspaper this term reported on the “unnecessary pressure” felt by a majority of students, in that the 2014 National Student Survey showed only 55% of Cambridge students find their workload is manageable. As Murray Edwards JCR’s Academic and Welfare Officer Charlotte Furniss-Roe commented, “trying to balance work,social life and sleep is difficult.”

The reading week campaign covered on this term’s second front page offers one solution. It has a commendable aim in trying to better support those amongst us who do suffer from mental health issues, may be as high as 20%, according to the National Union of Students. Its support thus far, however, has seemed limited, though the success of the Week Five work boycott remains to be seen.

In the same week, I wrote that “giving students space to thrive in their extracurricular activities” is a good aim to which we should strive. I went with the idea that “they may not be as high- achieving, but they’ll be happy”.

That’s great, and happiness is a fairly uncontenstable ‘good’, and we should all strive for it, but clearly we’re struggling. As the story on our front page shows, some colleges have seen as many as one in 10 undergraduates intermit on average in the past three years. For many of the 947 undergraduate students who have intermitted since 2011, it’s less about happiness, and more getting through each day as it comes.

What can we do to ameliorate these concerning statistics, then? How canwe make sure that the number of intermitting students who don’t return in the next three years is lower than the 227 from the past three?

It’s a difficult question, and one to which nobody seems to be able to offer a definitive answer. William Hewstone wrote in this paper that “Cambridge’s pressure shows we’re getting it right”, and to a certain extent, he has a point. The reason our qualifications have such purchase in the real world, is that Cambridge is really, amazingly, awfully, impressively tough. Our degree certificates are as much a statement of ‘if I can put up with three years of this, imagine what else I can do’ as they are of any academic achievement.

The question then becomes, as Associate Editor Sam Rhodes and former Editor-in-Chief Ashley Chhibber debated in this paper, “should we continue to lie to Cambridge’s hopefuls”, or should we more honestly admit that “it’s kind of about learning things but mostly it’s about being crazy stressed for three years and being okay with this. Good luck.”

But for those facing serious mental illness, that’s a pretty grotesque response. ‘Batten down the hatches and see you on Graduation Day’ isn’t good enough. The best response we can give may be that Associate Editor Freya Sanders gave in her piece ‘What have you done today?’

Don’t do that essay. Miss that lecture. Skip that seminar. Look up that book on Wikipedia. Punt. Sleep in if you can’t face getting out of bed. Go for a coffee. Get a 2.ii. Disappoint your parents.

In spite of what many have said, it’s not about being the best. It’s not even really about being happy. It’s about being healthy. Start there, and the rest will, eventually, come.