At the beginning of September, the time for the start of the academic year has already sounded in several countries around the world. In France, where universities were closed at the height of the pandemic, the start of the academic year will finally be spread over the next few weeks with priority given to face-to-face […]
Although we could not have anticipated the relevance of this issue given the difficulties that arose in 2020, the group proposed as its initial research proposal to study in a multidimensional way the mental health of the communities on university campuses. This is how the International Seminar: “Mental Health on university campuses: current problems, situations and challenges” was held in Miami in October 2019, organized by the Florida International University (FIU) and the University of Toulouse Capitole, with the participation of researchers from the University of Toulouse Jean-Jaurès.
A consortium of Universities, professors, researchers and professionals was set up to jointly address and investigate this sensitive and often understudied issue of mental health on university campuses. Relevant issues such as discrimination, excessive demands, and psychological distress surfaced.
Beyond the inaugural seminar in Miami, the research teams continued to reflect on the subject and designed a study to be carried out simultaneously in the different academic units including collaborators in additional universities. This field work arose from a grant awarded to Nicolas Tilli from the Center National de la Recherche Scientifique de France (CNRS) via the Maison des Sciences de l'Homme et de la Société de Toulouse (USR 3414). Subsequently, the International Colloquium was organized to be held in person from October 25 to 27, 2020 in Toulouse under the title of "Mental health on university campuses: the challenge of discrimination".
The call for abstracts mentioned that “The prevention and promotion of mental health within the university are understudied topics in the human and social sciences and, at the same time, are very important today: they have been the subject of numerous communications by the university, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the provisions taken by European and American public authorities. In fact, the impact that mental health can have on students and university staff (administrative or teaching) produces increasingly significant social and economic consequences and the situation challenges public actors .”
We did not foresee the anticipatory nature of these reflections and research, as a new challenge plagued university life throughout 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic eroded daily life, produced uncertainty, illness and deaths, and forced isolation. The second planned Colloquium included these topics and was finally held online with a significant number of participants, a variety of topics and solid presentations that were published in proceedings. At the same time, within the framework of the Colloquium, virtual meetings and workshops were held to present research results and develop a questionnaire to be applied within the university community of each prtner. All of this was successfully achieved despite the enormous difficulties caused by the pandemic.
Given the background discussed above, and reflecting on the impact that the Coronavirus pandemic (SARS COVID-19) was going to leave on university students, faculty, staff and administration we embarked on the planning of a third gathering through the Antonio Gramsci Center for Research in Communication and Social Intervention of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires, with the collaboration of the Communication Sciences degree, to host an International seminar to be held on December 14 and 15, 2021. This seminar will give continuity to what has already been done and at the same time will provide a specific vision from Latin America. We will continue with the multidimensional vision of the subject between Communication, Law and Psychology, understanding that providing and promoting mental health constitutes an inalienable human right. This must be considered especially in the spaces where academic communities live their daily lives. including students, teachers, technical and administrative staff, as well as the leadership.
It is difficult to overstate the extent to which entire University communities in different countries were affected by the pandemic and its consequences. To this are added the particularities of each academic unit. In Latin America, universities with a small number of students and good infrastructure coexist with others of massive size and there is a great dispersion in educational facilities that can be scattered throughout a city and not limited to a single campus. Likewise, some universities have technological infrastructure to operate remotely, while others completely lack alternatives to face-to-face. The quarantines required by the pandemic forced universities to make sudden changes, provide ad hoc training, and bring about pedagogical transformations with a great level of uncertainty on the part of the different social actors involved. Such dynamics added to the long-standing psychosocial risks existing in university life, often normalized and ignored.
Something that was observed and inspired part of the focus of the seminar was the horizontal networks and high level of peer-to-peer solidarity displayed in the face of difficulties. Despite University reforms dating back to 1918 in Argentina, that have attempted to democratize public academic institutions, universities continue to top-down power structures. For this reason, it is noteworthy that the crisis caused by the pandemic forced unusual solidarity on the part of the student organizations, the faculty associations, the infectious disease research Centers and university hospitals. Although it is not possible to generalize, this has been a very important fact in university life in Argentina.
On the other hand, delivering remote/virtual forced faculty to overexert themselves in front of the screens, to be bodies without bodies, which produced high levels of fatigue and uncertainty. This also forced many students to sharpen their listening and observation, and to increase their self-help. In Argentine universities, all of 2020 was virtual education, which, as already noted, forced innovations to be made rapidly and with few resources. This led to new ways of learning, but which left a mark on the psychosocial daily life, on subjectivities and on relationships.
Between academic reflection and the experiences of what happened, we have considered of fundamental importance the realization of the Seminar on Mental Health in Universities. Social actors, plots, solidarity.
According to the Report of the Strategic Analysis Council on Mental Health, and the WHO World Mental Health Plan of Action 2013-2020, this issue requires a multidisciplinary approach, due to its multifactorial, multidimensional and multisectoral roots. The objective of this theme is to establish a reflection on mental health strategies that can be useful to create awareness, understand and advance policies and actions aimed at prevention, communication, promotion, information and the fight against discrimination and stigma. This is a complex reality that deserves reflection at various organizational levels.
The triangulated relationship between Communication, Psychology and Law will allow us to understand the complex problems related to the prevention-promotion of mental health, the fight against isolation, public policies to reduce discrimination-stigmatization (of mental illness and people affected by it), social inclusion, respect for rights and freedoms, prevention of psychosocial risks in university services, access to higher education and successful completion of studies.
The reflections and themes proposed above are framed in objectives that are in line with the aforementioned academic activities carried out since 2019 and others that have arisen from the pandemic.
- Reflect on the importance of mental health care in university communities
- Promote the interaction of research teams from different universities and cultures linked to the subject.
- Encourage the dissemination of research results and reflections to the general public
- Identify problems related to mental health that have proliferated the most in university communities as a result of the pandemic.
- Analyze and evaluate the social and individual consequences of these problems and how they affect the continuity of studies and university success.
- To share with the university community in different academic units and to the general public, research results and ideas regarding the impact of the pandemic on the work and on the subjectivities of students, professors, administrative and hierarchical personnel.