By Alexander Darby. Posted on 15th November 2015.
I’m directing a documentary about Oxford students’ mental health. I have just graduated from Oxford, and wanted to make film that would look back on what I feel is a highly underexamined aspect of many students’ times in Oxford. While Oxford is an undeniably marvellous institution, part of its inspiring and long term success is due to the constant demand it places on students for the self-sufficient production of excellence. This pressure is at once enabling and disabling. It stretches you to your best, which necessarily creates a burden of expectation.
One subject I recently interviewed for the film elegantly summed up this conundrum: “I would most likely have experienced mental health issues at any university. But at Oxford those issues became much more pronounced than they would have in any other environment. At the same time, the support I received at Oxford was probably better than what I would have got at anywhere else.” And although the university offers what by all interviewees’ accounts so far is a superb counselling service, I believe there are areas for improvement in how mental health issues should be perceived in student culture.
I knew many friends first hand who suffered from mental health issues while in Oxford, and the vast majority of them felt painfully uncomfortable about opening up on the topic. It was only after a boozy night of dancing, clubbing, and mandatory kebab-vanning, that my friends would break the implicit taboo on the subject. It was then nearly always overwhelmingly true that their issues were ones relatable to any student, and consequently ones that friends could lend a sensitive but at times vital helping hand with.
Since beginning work on the film, I now know from research what I previously knew only from intuition. This description of events is one that is recyclable throughout countless student communities in Oxford. Over and over again, mental health issues are labelled and boxed away as private, difficult to talk about with non-professionals, and, perhaps worst of all, as something you can just ‘push through’.
So why the recurring taboo? We all have mental health. If we’re talking about students, we’re all living together and living through the same things. We can all help each other, and that is what my film – In Our Own World – aims to do.
Please see https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/student-mental-health-oxford-documentary#/ for more information about the project.