“Raising standards, improving lives” is the motto of Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. While looking for a school for their kids most parents look at Ofsted reports that tells them about the academic excellence achieved by schools. However, it does not tell them anything about the attention paid to the mental well being of the children attending a particular school. There can be no wellbeing without mental wellbeing.
Given that most mental illness presents in the teens and early twenties, it would also be worthwhile asking these questions: do they have a school nurse and/or a mental health counsellor who is well trained in these matters; does the school push for academic excellence at the cost of student’s mental well being; are the staff sensitive to the non-academic needs of the students; what is the anti-bullying policy of the school; does the school provide a positive learning environment for all its pupils?
Tatiana Cutts, a student from Oxford University writes: “The story of how I ended up there (a psychiatric institute) is not an uncommon one in Oxford. I love sports, but enjoyment wasn’t factored into my game-plan for finals, so rugby, surfing, running, swimming, football – it all fell by the wayside. I gradually progressed from 12-hour working days in Michaelmas to 16-hour working days in Hilary term. I’d get up at 9am and go to bed at 2am, only pausing briefly to prepare meals, which I would eat by myself, in front of my computer. I always worked alone in my room.”
“I was so frightened of not being allowed to finish my degree that I refused to allow the Priory psychiatrist to tell the Oxford psychiatrist that I had been institutionalised, or that I had been diagnosed as suffering a psychotic episode. I was terrified of what people who had seen me in college would say, so I never spoke about the previous year. I remembered it all vividly, and that only made the feelings of guilt and shame worse. I hated spending time with anyone who had known me that year. And they never mentioned it. It was the elephant in the room.”
Tatiana went on to start a student led campaign at Oxford called ‘Mind your head Oxford” aimed at raising awareness and reducing stigma around mental illness by encouraging other students to share their stories.
Her’s is not an uncommon story at Oxford or any institution where competition and “excellence” are the only things that matter.