The key assumption in neoclassical economic theory is that individuals are perfectly capable of taking rational decisions, translated into the homo economicus ideal-type. But what happens if individuals are not in perfect health and have their decision-making process threatened?
Lately, much has been discussed about the rise in mental health issues, especially among youngsters. In a fast-changing world full of uncertainties, individuals may constantly focus on achieving perfection and success under highly competitive environments, threatening the eﬃciency of their decision-making processes. A recent report by Craig Thorley for the Institute for Public Policy Research in the UK shows that the number of students under 25 years of age disclosing a mental illness to their institution has increased fivefold over the past decade. What are the causes behind this?
The combination of academic, financial and social pressures is the key to understanding what motivated this phenomenon. It is undeniable that individuals have been living in environments that undermine mental health. For instance, a survey published by stem4, a teenage mental health charity, reveals that the top anxieties among 12-to-16 years old are exam worries, work overload, friendship concerns, lack of confidence and self-esteem, and feelings of being overwhelmed. In parallel, this new generation of youngsters feels more financially pressured given their large student debts, under the expectation that such investments will pay oﬀ in the future. Under scarcity of time and mental health, as defined by Mullainathan and Shafir (check our review of their book on Scarcity here), individuals have their “mental bandwidth” depleted, i.e. they become less mentally efficient. What can be done to avoid this?
There is a need to not only prepare students better for academic challenges, but also to provide them with good health support systems inside universities. However, there are three underlying challenges. First, it is necessary to make students speak out for their feelings and enlist the help of a specialist to cope with pressure and avoid loneliness. Second, academic institutions ought to provide easy access to university counseling services, though it is not always the case that supply meets demand, and in less developed countries this type of service may not even exist. Third and more importantly, students may not realize that they need help, or that there is someone willing to listen to them.
Under these circumstances, the national health service and private institutions need to combine forces to find an innovative solution to the rise of mental illnesses. We need to understand its causes and how to tackle it, because it has huge economic costs. Also, we must work towards a society that is sensitive to these issues and realizes the importance of mental well-being.
Shafir, E. & Mullainathan, S. (2013). Scarcity: Why Having So Little Means So Much. Times Books, New York.
Thorley, C. (2017). Not by Degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s universities, IPPR.
The Guardian (March 26, 2017). Mental health problems rife among teenagers but teachers lack skills to help by Rachel Ellis.
The Guardian (August 29, 2017). The rise in student mental health problems – ‘I thought my tutor would say: deal with it’ by Donna Ferguson.
The Guardian (September 05, 2017). More students than ever suﬀer mental ill health. We must change our toxic world by Nihara Krause.