Abstract Systems, Ontological Security, and Campus Mental Health: Mitigating the Risk of Student Anxiety

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 09:15
Oral Presentation
Emma WHELAN, Dalhousie University, Canada
Karen FOSTER, Dalhousie University, Canada
In recent years, the mental health of university students has become a topic of grave concern. According to a 2013 Toronto Star report, in a survey of 30,000 Canadian university students, “89 per cent of students said they were overwhelmed by all they had to do; nearly 54 per cent reported being hopeless…56 per cent felt overwhelming anxiety and nearly 10 per cent had seriously considered suicide.” (https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/06/17/national_survey_of_postsecondary_students_in_canada_shows_stress_and_anxiety_are_major_factors_in_mental_health.html) Universities are responding by increasing services to accommodate, treat, and prevent student anxiety. This paper uses Ian Wilkinson’s (2001) work on anxiety and risk and Anthony Giddens’ (1990) concepts of abstract systems and ontological security to examine the ways in which management of the risk of anxiety is represented in Canadian university policies and materials for students. We pay particular attention to representations of social sources of stress and approaches to responding to them, arguing that contemporary approaches to student mental health contribute to the individualization and medicalization of social problems.