The world raised awareness for mental illness on October 10, being defined as World Mental Health Day. In the United Kingdom and countries alike, social media was fluttered with powerful quotes, and resources for those who battle with mental health issues of all kinds, bringing awareness to the stigma that is mental health.
The movement to tackle mental health in universities has, however, not been retrogressive. U.K. universities such as the University of Bristol, have tackled the mental health crisis amonf students by spending £1 million pounds on ‘wellbeing service’ according to the Financial Times in March, and have made more effort to confront these pressures that students are facing.
Eve Livingston, a writer for Dazed and The Guardian, however, states when I asked her about the topic that, “an important point is that the most widespread effect is on wellbeing rather than mental illness – so people just feeling a bit fed up or dispirited because of it, rather than developing actual mental illnesses.”
The Guardian has its own section online titled “Mental Health: A University Crisis.” Statistically, Sarah Marsh at the Guardian writes in 2017, that ‘data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) shows record 1,180 students who experienced mental ill health left courses early in 2014-15, up 210% from 2009-2010.’ Despite the awareness and attempts at tackling mental health in Universities, Marsh also states in her story ‘Number of University dropouts due to mental health problems trebles’ the fact that, ‘one university said there was a waiting time of 55 days. This was above the average of 15 days most universities reported and closer to the 84 days reported for NHS primary care.’
But where does that leave fashion universities?
Last April, The Business of Fashion published an alarming report questioning the methods of teaching at Antwerp’s revered Royal Academy of Fine Arts. The article described the environment of the fashion school after there was a student who attended the fashion program took his own life, reportedly, due to the pressure of the course.
As for the fashion universities, the stigma surrounding mental health is arguably more difficult to break. The pressure of attending such a prestigious fashion school such as Antwerp’s Royal Academy, Parsons School of Design, or Central Saint Martins is not news. Fashion students have been known to overwork themselves. The competitive nature that is the fashion industry is not quintessentially fit for those who battle with mental health issues.
Targeting a specific school, The London College of Fashion, students felt very compelled to explain the difficulties of being in a fashion university, and dealing with mental health issues. The students who came forward to explain what it is like being in fashion while battling mental health issues asked to remain anonymous for the sake of their status in the industry, but still wanted to share their own thoughts to bring more awareness to the conversation.
“Being at a fashion university has impacted my anxiety (social and general, but not diagnosed). It is very easy to compare yourself to others at a fashion university,” writes one student on the competitive nature in the fashion industry.
Another student explained that battling mental health issues while attending a fashion school makes it worse for your self-esteem, explaining, “I would say it made me a lot more insecure as a person, about my self-worth as well as appearance. I guess that was down to comparing myself to my classmates too much, both work wise and style wise. I already battle with social anxiety and depression so being in an environment where you need to step up because of so many loud characters made me crawl into my shell more. I think that was down to the fact that I wasn’t stable enough with my mental health and anxiety when I started university, so I think it just got worse.”
Another LCF student writes about the ‘fashion student identity’ that is judged based on what and who you wear or how you look, compared to other universities where the competitive nature of looking the part isn’t as prevalent. “I just can’t keep up with the lifestyles that they lead, and sometimes I feel like it affects my opportunities. For example, I don’t have the contacts or money to buy designer clothes, etc. Also, I really struggled in first year particularly, with the lack of social life, watching my friends go to ‘normal’ universities while I was stuck at a university with campuses all over London and a lack of any student union or nights out. Even fresher’s week was a shamble as it wasn’t organized like a normal university.”
“I find the workload can sometimes overwhelm me, and I have days that I feel really frustrated because I feel like I can’t be creative due to me feeling overwhelmed,” states another student on the pressures of the workloads that come with attending a fashion university.
When it comes to the bigger picture that is paying for a degree in fashion and battling mental health problems, one student explains that, “This is the society that has cursed us with debts, and sold us our dreams with a degree that most of the time is nothing but an expensive accessory you can place in your Instagram bio. Then you grow up, and realize that universities work like most businesses do, with transactions and interest rates, and fabrications of how valuable a product is. I somehow thought it would be different with fashion. My reasoning being that fashion can’t just be taught through textbooks, and works best in a network – which most fashion universities have a great grasp on. The more I tried my hardest to understand everything both fashion world related, the more I began to slowly sink into my own pool of depression. I found myself obsessed with perfection with appearance, and overworking myself. Applying that principal of ‘not having the power of voice – or for that matter care to do anything about someone else’s issue’ is exactly what is wrong with society when it comes to helping bring awareness to mental health is it not? No one seems to want to take responsibility for anything that isn’t self-driven.”
At The London College of Fashion, the feedback from students about battling with mental issues presents a very obvious conclusion that there is more to be done about bringing awareness to the topic. In fashion schools, you are taught to ‘survive’ in the competitive nature of the industry. However, it seems that the students of fashion students are mentally not surviving as well as they could, but feeling forced to accept that being psychologically unfixed is survival. Opening up this conversation, starting with the students who are about to embark in the industry, hopefully can invert some sort of change in the way that fashion schools handle teaching how to survive in the industry that is so high-pressured, and triggering for those with mental health problems.
Photo: James-Ewing, Courtesy of Parsons