Week 5 Blues and Mental Health At Cambridge

Alexander Groes 8 November 2016

Freshers, it’s week five already, and you may have noticed that this point at term elicits a certain amount of controversy. You may be just be wondering at how fast the term has gone, but think again – now you’re a fully-fledged Cambridge student, you are basically required by law to have an opinion on Week five.

So, what’s the big fuss with Week Five? Week five is a focus point for mental health awareness, because the halfway point in term is often when people begin to feel the most burned out, fed up and sleepy. Most crucially, it’s also usually the point when the big shop your parents did at the beginning of term runs out. Others criticise the concentration on the ‘Week five blues’ on the grounds that people can feel sad, homesick and stressed at any time of the term. And so the cycle continues. I say – enjoy the week five goodie bags in your pidge, take a note of the self-care advice and recipes doing the rounds, and keep your head down.

That being said, Cambridge’s relationship with mental health is being questioned more and more these days, and this must come down the time-honoured Cambridge tradition of needing to be busy. All. The. Time. Time becomes a currency and sleep is at a premium – people move from boasting about how little sleep they got to telling everyone they meet that they managed to get to bed at 10 the previous day. I spent most of first year dismayed at how everyone around me seemed to revel in getting just a few hours of sleep per night. In second year, the tables began to turn. Now in third year, I live in a house where you can hear a pin drop after 10pm. Aren’t I lucky?

We seem to get off on doing work as quickly and as deceptively as possible – or at least the arts students do. That’s not to imply that we’re not all allowed to be nerdy about our subject – in fact, nerdiness is very much encouraged – but not to the extent where you do more work than is considered ‘necessary’. So much for how much time you have on your hands – the conversation soon turns to how you spend it. For if there’s one thing Cambridge students seem to like doing, it’s being busy with things that have nothing to do with their course – be it sports, theatre or general do-gooding. Obviously, charity work is considered particularly worthwhile (am I sounding like someone in a Victorian novel?) because you’re not only having fun; you’re also saving the world. Particularly worthwhile also is having some kind of artistic skill (like music) which is unrelated to your course. Extra points if you’re a scientist, because then no one expects you to have any appreciation for art at all. Even the most innocent of societies like Tiddlywinks or something can’t just mere stress-outlets, because people want committee positions and CV content.

But perhaps the thing that’s most at premium in Cambridge is leisure time, time to do nothing at all. Perhaps it’s the half an hour before you go to sleep, or your lazy Sunday morning, but whatever it is, rest assured that those who have leisure time will be smug about having it, and those who don’t will be smug about all the worthwhile things they were doing to stop them from having it.

All in all, sometimes time-management in Cambridge reminds me a little too much of Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy discussing what makes a young lady accomplished (and therefore, marriageable). It’s as if we need good grades, worthwhile and interesting extra-curriculars with a smattering of committee positions, plus some creative or innovative skills thrown in, all with enough sleep to keep our bodies healthy and our complexions rosy, b3efore we can even consider our employment prospects. What happened to the good old days that we find in novels, where Oxbridge students laze around in silk pyjamas all day, wining and dining sumptuously every night, maybe read a book or two, and emerge with marvellous exam grades because they can express the most awful ideas with a witty turn of phrase? I would have been great at the pyjamas and fine food, if not anything else.

So let’s break the boundaries this week five. Let’s read a pulpy novel just because we can, or watch a couple of episodes of Tom & Jerry, because if there’s one thing that makes life fun, it’s not having to worry about how every minute can add up into making us a more ‘rounded’ person. Realistically you won’t have more than ten minutes to spare before you have to rush to supervision or committee meeting, but embrace those minutes all the same.