By Luis Alberto Suarez Rojas, Doctor of Social Sciences and Anthropology, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Peru.
In Peru, mental health has received a great deal of attention from public health and society. Nevertheless, it is the area that has the greatest historical debt, crossed by deep asymmetries and inequalities. Stigma, isolation and structural alienation profoundly mark the limits of opportunity. Today, young people with mental health problems face many challenges, especially those from poor and vulnerable sectors who attend public universities in Lima. In fact, over the past five years, public universities have incorporated a strong discourse on entrepreneurship, innovation, flexibility and soft skills. All of this is reinforced by the way the neoliberal hegemony sees success and life. However, another reality is that many students have to live in the shadow of these successes as they camouflage their mental health issues, attempt to isolate themselves and, in some cases, live on the margins. In this sense, entering university is a personal and family effort. Today, trying to cope with the situation is a major challenge for those living with varying degrees of mental illness. Thus, this article attempts to analyze the challenges, dilemmas and story of university students who experience this suffering. Of course, I will rely on an approach to life stories and ethnographic observation. Our proposal is to analyze the relationship between mental health, emotions and the academic field (the case of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos – Lima), considering the students’ difficulties, their stories of suffering, possible determinants (drivers), the moment of the crisis, the healing career and their visions of the public university. In this direction, it will be important to link two intertwined spheres, the family and social environment such as poverty and vulnerability, and a second sphere linked to the university domain, both the pedagogical-bureaucratic dimension and its relational aspect (social network, links and risk factors). Finally, today with the COVID-19 scenario, we will include this new angle to integrate how they deal with their emotions in this context of online classes, social distancing and quarantine. Finally, we wish to call for reflection both from the academic community and from decision makers (decision makers and policy makers) to broaden their vision articulated around the pathology of mental problems and claim the importance of seeing their life from multidimensionality and strong social asymmetries.