The Student and Mental Health: An International View
reviewed by Laurance F. Shaffer - 1961
In 1956, thirty-six participants from ten countries met at Princeton, under the sponsorship of the World Federation of Mental Health and the International Association of Universities, to think about the mental health of students. There were descriptions of national and cultural variations in mental health services and in attitudes toward them, major and minor papers presenting theories and observations, group discussions, and plenary sessions. The proceedings include the papers and verbatim transcriptions of much of the discussion.
For the American reader, the descriptions of mental health problems in diverse cultures will probably evoke the greatest interest. The French student experiences physical and emotional isolation in universities with little organized social life, and has a complete freedom that he is ill prepared to accept. British universities are cold to mental health problems, and such little psychological service as exists has to come quietly through the back door of the national health services. The Philippines, with more university students per capita than any nation except the United States, find a source of concern in the overdependent young persons forced into the student role by the social strivings of their parents.
The major papers vary greatly in character and, to the reviewer, in quality. Among them, Erik H. Erikson expounds the proposition that the major focus of college mental health is the identity crisis of late adolescence, long recognized in the more old-fashioned concept of finding oneself. Margaret Mead stimulates with delightful anecdotes on the rapidity of cultural change. Universities do not understand their students because the faculty members never were the kind of person that their students are now. Erich Fromm thinks rather mystically about the nature of mental health in terms of basic needs for relatedness, rootedness, transcendence, sense of identity, and frame of orientation. Most enlightening of the major papers, and the only one with a flavor of research, is Henry B. M. Murphy's description of the contrasting mental health problems of students at the University of Singapore who come from three cultures: Chinese, Indian, and Malayan.
Although some of the prepared papers soared into the clouds, the group discussions, perhaps predictably, were concerned with more earthly issues. How does one establish a mental health service on a campus, win the cooperation of faculty and administration, and evoke referrals for psychiatric help? What can one do for examination anxiety, for the apathetic student, for the disciplinary case? What is the psychiatrist's relation to education and the academic faculty member's proper role in mental health?
The conference met for eleven days and adjourned. It is probable that the processes of participation held real values for the members of the groups. But the proceedings communicate only a little of any inspiration that was present. The eight pages of recommendations seem a bit dry and might have been written as well by a small subcommittee without benefit of the conference. Why are the results so lacking in rewards? As one hypothesis, it may be suggested that the lack of real research is a root of the difficulty. Research received explicit recognition only in one four-page statement of good intentions which outlined a number of problems for investigators. The spinning of theories and wholesome shop talk have their place, but perhaps the college mental health movement should advance beyond the stage of propagandizing. The rigorous experimental testing of some good hypotheses is a step required for further progress.
LAURANCE F. SHAFFER
Teachers College, Columbia University