Are students a therapists' gravy train?

November 8, 1996

As students we are continually told that demand for counselling services is increasing, stress levels are high and "surviving" college life today is far harder than ever before.

It is true that students, generally, are not well off. It is also true that some are worse off than others but is this really the explanation for the current preoccupation with student stress?

A recent survey carried out by Evelyn Monk of Glasgow's Caledonian University showed that 53 per cent of students exhibit stress levels on a par with what would be expected of psychiatric outpatients. Is this finding because students are poor? Are there equivalent figures equating lower income groups to mentally ill people too? Or perhaps such surveys speak volumes about how people view students today - and sometimes how they view themselves.

Student life has traditionally been regarded as a rite of passage, becoming an adult, being independent taking life into your own hands. Whatever you may think about the true extent of student hardship the argument that students can not survive university life without tutelage from a counsellor is an offensive one.

The idea that people, especially disadvantaged ones, are not up to life because of their circumstances is a conservative one. Such a culture can only make "problems" worse by making them intractable. But worse, it inflates or creates problems where there are none. The idea that adults (students are adults, you know) cannot deal with issues from sexuality to leaving home is grotesque and infantilising.

The pressure of course work or exams, for example, is a good thing not a bad, no matter who you are. Being pushed makes you better than you were - we rise to the occasion. Evelyn Monk's survey showed that 16 of the students with the highest stress levels achieved above-average results. Struggle can bring achievement. Mark Griffiths and Laura Spira seem to be arguing that students are incapable of both.

Adam Hibbert Student University College London

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