Poor mental health is no fantasy 1

October 24, 2003

Frank Furedi ("Get rid of those professional stabilisers", THES , October 17) may be right to suggest a counselling culture can cause some people to exaggerate their mental ill health and vulnerability, but he goes too far in denying the possibility that anyone might really be mentally ill or emotionally vulnerable.

As a student, I had major problems with the workload and social life. I did not see a counsellor or a doctor and dropped out. It was years later - when I ended up in hospital - that I learnt I had schizophrenia. I am back in higher education and doing well, but only because of university, doctor and counsellor support.

Furedi dismisses the idea that students might commit suicide or might need help for "depression and anxiety, as well as schizophrenia, bipolar, obsessive-compulsive and panic disorders", in effect accusing all mentally ill students of hypochondria, but these conditions are very real.

If university counselling or support can stop one person from killing themselves or help one person to cope with their mental illness, surely this is a good thing? About 1 per cent of the population has schizophrenia; since universities have tens of thousands of students - hence hundreds of potential sufferers - this one mental illness alone should be enough to justify a university counselling service.

The anti-psychiatry movement, of which Furedi seems to be part, likes to pretend that mental illness is created by the people trying to help its victims. This is not true.

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