Healing the Anxious Self: An Ethnographic Exploration of Undergraduate Student Experiences of 'Having Anxiety'
Chatfield, Emily Ruth
Mental health is a topical issue in Aotearoa New Zealand, with national statistics showing that many New Zealanders will experience mental illness during their lifetime. Much of the public discourse relates to depression and suicide, yet anxiety – which is often comorbid with depression – is more commonly experienced and can also be a source of great suffering. This research investigates the experiences of undergraduate students who identify themselves as ‘having anxiety’. I interviewed six undergraduate students at the University of Otago and one counselling psychologist who has worked extensively with undergraduate students, to form an understanding of what it means to ‘have anxiety’ while studying at university. The research showed that, as with all mental and physical illnesses, students construct personal narratives around their anxiety, incorporating both memories and aspirations. For them, ‘having anxiety’ is a psychosomatic experience. It can affect their sense of self and their ability to meet the cultural and academic expectations of ‘being a student’ at the University of Otago, which can also cause further anxiety. Yet these anxious students had found ways to manage their anxiety, using biomedically-recommended treatments, such as therapy and medication, developing personalised strategies, and cultivating supportive relationships, to move them towards an idealised version of themselves. Embedded in their illness narratives are cultural ideologies, reflections on biomedicine, and ingrained beliefs about what it means to be a ‘normal’ person. If rates of mental illness are to decline in Aotearoa New Zealand, personal illness narratives must be listened to, to ensure the optimal healing for each individual.
Advisor: Fitzgerald, Ruth
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Anthropology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: University of Otago; New Zealand; Anxiety; Mental health; Mental illness; Students; Student wellbeing; Dunedin; Anthropology; Ethnography; Culture
Research Type: Thesis