A recent student suicide has once again shone a light on the disastrous impact that mounting debts, rents, and insecurity have on young people’s lives and mental health. Only clear socialist policies can tackle this problem at its root.
The tragic suicide of an applicant to the University of Manchester, followed by a cold response from university management, has highlighted the fatal impact that the marketisation of higher education is having on young people’s mental health.
Every week, new stories emerge detailing the devastating effects of the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis on ordinary people’s lives, exacerbating pre-existing mental health problems.
The latest NHS data details a grim reality of 1.6 million people in contact with mental health services, nearly 400,000 of whom are children and young people. Other harrowing data reveals that there have been 319 student suicides over a four-year period.
Poor mental health is a deep rooted problem in society, with a variety of sources. And it is no surprise that the mental health of young people, in particular, is deteriorating.
The future is a bleak picture for many young people. Students can expect to graduate from university shouldering tens of thousands of pounds in debt, only to then be squeezed into low-wage, precarious jobs, which can barely provide for increasing rents and soaring living costs.
And all of this is amplified by a lack of funding for services, which undeniably worsens the situation.
Pushed to the limit
The mental health crisis isn’t a problem located in university budgets alone. A decade of austerity has pushed the NHS to its limit.
95% of GPs believe that mental health services are critically failing. And 63% fear that their patients will come to harm through lack of treatment. As a result, antidepressants are being overprescribed to deal with the limited supply of CAMHS (children and adolescent mental health services).
YoungMinds, a mental health charity, conducted a survey amongst people aged under 25 about their mental health. They discovered that 14,000 children and young people had attempted suicide while waiting for mental health treatment on the NHS.
More than 44% of these young people had waited more than a month for mental health support. And 58% said their mental health got worse while they were waiting for help.
These shocking statistics give us a glimpse of the huge problems the NHS is facing.
Roots of the problem
Providing better mental health services alone is not sufficient, however. The immense pressure that young people are under contributes towards and exacerbates mental health issues.
The Independent reported, for example, that Britain is facing a ‘mental health threat of pandemic proportions’ from the cost-of-living crisis.
This problem must therefore be fought and tackled at its roots, if we are to alleviate the conditions affecting people’s health.
The rent strike movement in 2020-21 saw a nationwide fightback against university managements, as students were herded onto campuses – and into cramped accommodation – at the height of the pandemic.
Activists pointed out that education bosses and landlords ‘brought us here for their profits rather than our safety’. Students’ mental health, in other words, was sacrificed for the sake of parasitic money-making.
Workers and youth are hungry for an alternative to this grim state of affairs. Everywhere – on the industrial front and in universities – people are mobilising and struggling for better conditions.
But it is only on the basis of a clear socialist programme that we can solve the mental health crisis.
For starters, university students and staff must unite and fight against the marketisation of education: for free education, funded by expropriation; for student accommodation and services to be brought under public ownership and democratic control; and for universities to be run by workers, not fat-cat managers.
And it means reversing all privatisation and outsourcing in the NHS, bringing health services under public ownership and workers’ control, and providing full funding by nationalising the banks and major monopolies.
Only on this basis can we end austerity, save the NHS, and lay the foundations for a major expansion of mental health services, alongside providing better conditions and pay for healthcare staff.
Only in a socialist society where planning is based on need, rather than profit, can the material causes and social conditions behind mental health problems – such as insecure housing, unemployment, low wages, and debt – be eradicated.
And only then can we ensure that students do not have to pay for their degrees with their lives.