On the 1st June an inquest was held into the suicide of a student at the University of Manchester last year. The student had written a five page letter, in which he expressed his shock at the university’s failure to check up with him, despite them being fully aware of his pre-existing mental health issues. The student called for more to be done from the university in the future. He was right: more does indeed need to be done to combat the worsening mental health of students across the country.
This case marks the seventh student suicide at the University of Manchester during the 2017/18 academic year alone, following a rising trend over the last five years. Bristol has similarly seen eleven suicides in the last year and a half. And this is no accident. It is indicative of a larger mental health crisis in society, one that is worsening every year.
It is not a coincidence that the mental health of students has worsened alongside the increased marketisation and commodification of education. As capitalism’s pervasive nature sees it increasingly spread through education, the pressures of the market, which values results over the wellbeing of the people, inevitably takes its toll on people’s happiness.
The idea that someone’s exam results and degree qualification completely determine their future socioeconomic status (and resultantly their future happiness) is repeated time and again. This anxiety can quickly intensify in a university environment where peer pressure, expectations and insecurity combine to make the university experience very stressful for some.
Whilst one grade should not determine anyone’s worth, this is reinforced by the real economic pressures of finding and adequately performing a job within the competitive market system once they graduate, or for many working-class students – simultaneously while studying for their degree.
The crisis of capitalism which we find ourselves in has seen the worsening of this mental health crisis: the stresses and strains on the wellbeing of students have increased alongside the worsening state of capitalism in recent years.
The pressures of maintaining high grades while working to provide enough money to survive leaves thousands of students stressed, which in turn feeds into this mental health crisis. Under capitalism, universities cannot adequately fund mental health services. Those that do exist are suffocated by management’s constant demands to cut costs.
The abolition of student grants and introduction of tuition fees have increased the financial burden of studying on working class families, heightening the class divide. Student loans have similarly ensured that financial pressures remain with people throughout their lives.
The 2018 UCU strikes in response to pension cuts to university staff is further evidence of this, showing that the ruling class is increasingly attacking the working class in education; not just students, but staff as well. These trends match the policy decisions of the ruling class, such as the austerity measures enacted by the Tory government over the last nine years; policies of cutting costs wherever they can to financially suffocate workers and increase the short-term profits of the wealthy in society. Any resultant suffering, which is clear in the mental health crisis of the students who have suffered through this, is the price we have to pay for the benefit of the capitalists.
Universities do not do enough to combat the mental health crisis, nor to prevent these student suicides. Counselling sessions are difficult to organise and sporadic, while student mental health services are limited, due to under-staffing in an attempt to save on the costs of hiring the required staff.
The NUS, as well as many student organisations and societies, acknowledge this mental health crisis, and talk constantly about how it needs to be solved. However, they do so without taking action to fight its systemic cause. It is not enough to acknowledge and discuss the problem of mental health in our universities, rather we – as students – must unite to fight the economic system that causes this crisis by seeking profits instead of valuing the education and wellbeing of the students. We must stand up against those controlling the universities, against the Tory government, and against the ruling class. Only once we change the economic conditions of our society, on a revolutionary basis, can we begin to deal with the mental health crisis with the adequate structures and apparatus needed.
The fight for socialism is a struggle for control. The isolation and lack of agency capitalism inflicts on the working class is rooted in private property. Socialism would un-do this and set about the creation of a society where we have democratic control over production. The fight for socialism is the fight for our own lives.
Ivan Walton, Manchester Marxist Society