An Open Letter to University Leaders: Students’ Mental and Emotional Wellbeing Must Be Our Priority
- Kamran Mofid
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‘This Open Letter is dedicated to the youth of the world, our children and grandchildren, who are the unfolding story of the decades ahead. May they rise to the challenge of leading our troubled world, with hope and wisdom in the interest of the common good to a better future.’
Today I have the grim task of sounding an alarm about the spread of an illness that is rapidly becoming the pandemic disease of the 21st century:
an epidemic of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide amongst the children, the youth and students world-wide. This tragedy is global and needs a global solution.
Dear University Leaders,
Mental health on university campuses is an urgent, national and global crisis. According to many different and diverse research and reports, very large numbers of students have felt “so depressed they were unable to function” at some point during their university time and many more felt “overwhelmed with anxiety, fear and depression”.
Overall, the need is dire: a silent majority of students feel isolated, stressed and depressed, whilst many mask their loneliness and problems and suffer in silence, given the stigma attached to “mental” illness.
As noted in these reports, in the past few years many students have died by suicide. Unfortunately, many universities have not taken decisive actions to make sure this doesn’t happen to current and future students. We need to prioritise mental wellness. We owe this to our human decency and sense of compassion. Our students are our children and grandchildren, not our customers and clients, bringing funds to our institutions.
According to Sir Anthony Seldon – Vice-Chancellor of Buckingham University – who has tirelessly been championing students’ happiness and wellbeing – universities have been "negligent" in accepting their pastoral responsibilities.
"Universities are not always honest about admitting the extent of the problems they have. They need to change; they need to take their responsibilities to students far more carefully."
And he says, universities have much catching up to do on student wellbeing.
Sir Anthony warns some universities might see their status in terms of research and league tables, with the danger they view undergraduates as an "inconvenience".
But he says they cannot ignore the rising incidence of problems, such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
"Universities, with some exceptions, haven't been fully owning up to the extent of the malaise among young people, or understanding what can be done to ameliorate these problems."
"I don't think universities mean to be negligent. But if not deliberately, they are being negligent; they are not accepting their responsibility for these young people. And needless, avoidable problems are occurring all the way up to suicide." *
So, here is my call to you, our university leaders:
Youth Mental Health Matters:
There are 1.2 Billion Youth Aged 15-24 Years in the World
"Youth and Mental Health": The shocking statistic is that 1 in 5 young people suffer from mental illness. Many more suffer from mild depression and loneliness. This is a plea to all youth workers, social/healthcare workers, academics, teachers, the youth themselves, parents, schools, colleges, universities, civil societies dealing with youth, politicians, media, business community, religious and spiritual leaders, all the people of good will:
Make the 2015/2016 academic year a year in which you purposefully ensure that a permanent, safe, creative space is made available for all young people to speak their heart, anxiety, worries, hopes and dreams. Let us all become a vehicle of hope and ensure young people are transformed into responsible global citizens, having overcome any disadvantages that they might have faced in the past. This is a true Common Good Vision.
As academicians who believe in our vocation as teachers, we can rise to this challenge and call by:
I firmly believe that all our universities, all over the world, should consider teaching the art of happiness to their students:
We should teach our students the difference between being ambitious and aspiring to succeed and being driven and consequently burnt out by the rat race:
We should do all we can to reconnect our students with the wisest teacher, namely, nature:
Thank you for your kind attention.
Prof. Kamran Mofid
“The next best thing to knowing something is knowing where to find it”-Samuel Johnson
With a sincere hope that students at every university, all over the world, will discover “simplicity, patience and compassion” as they embark on their studies:
Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
You reconcile all beings in the world- Lao Tzu