We are more than just Week Five

Sana Ali 5 November 2016

Before coming to Cambridge I’d heard of the looming ‘Week Five Blues’ from a friend, so when I began experiencing mental health problems within a few days of being here, I felt completely alone. Cambridge is intense from the second you step into College. From the looming shadow of Kings’ College Chapel to the excessive emails about Matriculation and Formals and College Rules, the unique feeling of elitist suffocation is a difficult transition for anyone, but as a working class person of colour, I found it almost impossible to assimilate. I wish I could attribute this fact alone to my slow slump into unhealthy habits, sleepless nights and disregard for self-care, but the truth is, mental health doesn’t discriminate. The truth is, I didn’t realise it was Week Five before I began writing this. In other words, I didn’t realise it was ‘Time to be Stressed’ before I began writing this.

Through placing such a strong emphasis on one week, those who aren’t stressed feel like they should be and those who struggled earlier are largely invalidated. But the problem of Week Five Blues doesn’t completely lie in its capacity to invalidate, but its ardent fixation on the concept of ‘Cambridge stress.’ There is enough stigma surrounding mental health as it is; associating all Cambridge issues with one week does not help eradicate, but rather perpetuates, the idea that to struggle is to be under Cambridge-specific stress. But mental health is triggered by more than just stress. For me, it wasn’t just the workload. Making friends, past trauma triggers and often nothing identifiable at all, all contributed to the problems I’ve faced during my time here. And yes, Cambridge is a specific type of environment in which all emotions are heightened, from love to pure joy to despair, but we should be working all year round to help everyone deal with this, not just for a period of seven days. 

But not all is lost here. Wonderful, helpful groups such as Student Minds Cambridge and their ‘Not Just Five’ campaign are working tirelessly to advocate for the validity of mental health conditions independent of Week Five and/or academic workload, in order to fight the trivialisation of serious mental health issues. Through providing a consistent platform for those suffering from mental health issues to make their needs known, SMC are fighting stigma and promoting welfare provisions at all times in order to ‘dispel the myths that stress is always the cause of poor mental health in Cambridge.’

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a fervent petition to eradicate the concept of Week Five Blues all together, nor am I undermining the reality of struggling during week five, but rather a request to open up the discussion further in order to avoid the isolation of those who do not feel as if their issues can be confined to a space of seven days. It is important to give everyone an open space to express their concerns and communally relax, but it is also important to validate those who need support outside of a specified time constraint. To extend the good nature of Week Five all year round and create an open space for those who need it, when they need it.