When Vera Brittain, the acclaimed author of Testament of Youth coined the term ‘scholastic seclusion’, she had intended it to refer to the isolation she felt being left behind at Oxford while most of her contemporaries had gone off to serve in the Great War.
However, scholastic seclusion seems to have a new meaning in the modern age. Cast your minds back to the heady days of secondary school. You always knew where your friends would be at any given time of the day. This is not so in university where conflicting time-tables can make it difficult to meet your existing friends on a consistent basis. Moreover, some courses have titanic-sized classes, making it somewhat awkward to make new ones.
Therefore, it can often happen that one is forced to lunch solo, or to kill some time between classes in the library (studying, not watching South Park, honest). This is presumably a wide-spread issue, as you may have seen the HSE recently launched a mental health-themed poster campaign advising students to ‘add friends to their tea’. This well-intentioned campaign has struck at an oft-overlooked aspect of mental health: the importance of maintaining social bonds.
Isolation is a root cause of the present mental health epidemic. As George Monbiot put it in a recent Guardian editorial, human beings have always been ‘ultrasocial’ but we are now being ‘driven apart’ by a raft of economical, ideological and technological changes.
Take technology for example: we are more inter-connected than ever before yet we have somehow managed to arrive at an impasse where human beings are more self-centred and narcissistic than ever before in our history.
Technology allows us to alter our perceptions of both ourselves and the world around us. I can now take a picture of myself and modify it with beauty filters and the like before uploading it to project an unrealistic representation of myself unto the world. Moreover, I can customise my Facebook feed to only show content from pre-approved sources, thereby sifting out certain realities that I may find objectionable.
This process of tinkering and tailoring with reality has had a detrimental effect on our collective sense of self-worth. Since we are able to create perfect, albeit fake, worlds online, we lapse into crisis whenever something does not go our way in the real world.
Renowned French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said that humans differ from ever other animal on the planet in our desire for perfection. We carry with us this innate desire to perfect ourselves and the world around us, we are never content to sit idle. This can have a detrimental effect on one’s mental health in terms of social media. If I feel that I am under-achieving in life, looking at the oft-overstated pictures of people’s seemingly perfect lives on Facebook is hardly going to have a positive effect on my outlook.
Our toxic ideology places success, usually expressed in monetary terms, ahead of all else. Things like altruistic development and caring for the welfare of others all take a back seat to the accumulation of wealth in terms of the quintessential ‘life goals’. This cult of success pitches humans against one another in a never-ending struggle of one-upmanship.
Thanks to a crippling recession, the jobs market is at breaking point. This sparks intense competition in schools and the job market itself. With a limited supply of ‘good’ jobs and an over-supply of well-qualified graduates, youths are now forced to compete with one another more than ever before, thereby reinforcing the ever-expanding cult of individualism that was birthed by the first Instagram selfie.
As Monbiot rightfully states, the most feared form of torture in the prison system is solitary confinement. Humans regularly choose physical pain over isolation. Bearing in mind the amount of time and money we are now spending on counselling services and awareness campaigns: why can’t we also simply resolve to talk to the person sitting alone beside us? It seems as though talking to strangers has become taboo, and we need a change of ethos. We should never subject one another to solitary confinement.
-By Eoin Molloy
Image: Moyan Brenn on flickr