The Universities of Leeds’ Facebook confessions page, Leedsfess, is famous for its witty and light-hearted content. Over 30,000 followers like and share posts which ordinarily feature ‘God tier to Shit tier’ ratings, amusing indirects about housemates or obscene confessions, perhaps only shared thanks to the anonymity the page provides. These are some of the confessions which have become standard over the 3 years Leedsfess has thrived.
However, within the last few months, Leedsfess content has taken a noticeable turn. The confessions have become more serious in nature, with genuine calls for help and admittance of awful situations students have had to experience. Leedsfess told me “We’ve had more submissions regarding serious topics such as mental health, sexual health and racism.” They admit that lately “the more serious ones make up a larger percentage.” Although, they partly attribute this irregularity to the fewer conventional confessions received overall since the halt of ‘normal’ university life.
The ‘more serious’ content seems to parallel the bleak events of 2020. In July, the Black Lives Matter movement highlighted the systematic and institutional racism in the USA and UK; Leedsfess reflected this awful topic with victims confessing the racism they have had to face.
The anxieties many feel surrounding COVID-19 are prominent in these confessions. Angst is clear as students have angrily reprimanded their peers for not abiding by social distancing rules, or have asked advice on how to cope in these unprecedented times. Immense grief has touched this page with confessions of loss due to the pandemic.
Along with the posts mimicking society’s recent struggles has been an influx of other dark, personal, confessions; many having a heading of TW (trigger warning) or CW (content warning). These discuss drug addiction, sexual assault, and depression.
Leedsfess is seeing a dramatic surge of students voicing confessions which indicate struggles with mental health. This is not a coincidence but evidence of the increased deterioration of mental health which lockdown has made young people susceptible to. Research by the charity Mind have discovered that “over two thirds of young people (68%) have said that their mental health got worse during lockdown.” They have also found that “Young people are more likely to have experienced poor mental health during lockdown than adults”. Mind claims that the main culprits of worsening mental health has been loneliness, boredom, and anxiety. Interestingly, the age-bracket 18-24, typical of students, had worse mental health from loneliness than any other age group.
With an increase of sufferers dependent on confession pages and voicing their troubles in a pseudo-therapeutic outlet, it is important to question if this medium is effective. Could this be an alternative to established, recognised, and regulated counselling methods?
In 2019, Today Singapore released the article “Confessions pages — where
students reveal their innermost thoughts, and universities are listening”. Here, Psychiatrist Dr Lim spoke to the paper and voiced his concerns. He mentioned that sufferers “may not always receive constructive or genuine advice” and “for serious matters, one should seek professional help rather than bare one’s thoughts on confessions pages.”
However, Leedsfess believe it is important to post these sensitive topics. They recognise that “the University experience is not just about ‘banter’, so we’ve tried to incorporate stories from every strand of life”. Leedsfess admins are confident that their decision to post these submissions is beneficial as they told me “We’ve had many submissions come in thanking us for providing a voice and a platform for serious topics.” Consolidating this, admins said “the comments of support on posts and the feedback we’ve received via submissions and our inbox has indicated a
desire to keep serious posts around on the page.”
I interviewed a qualified and currently practising psychotherapist, Jan Hall, about the potential benefits Leedsfess provides for those suffering with mental health issues. She admitted that: “It could be helpful actually, especially if other people respond relating to the post; as sometimes when you’ve got an issue you think it’s just you and that nobody else could have experienced that.”
Mrs Hall added “as a professional, most therapists, not all of course, but most therapists are trained not to reveal their own issues – although they’re person-focused and they’re empathic- it would be considered quite unethical for them to speak of their personal troubles. So, there is almost a power imbalance. However, on a confession website there could be many comments which relate. It almost acts as a support group.”
Mrs Hall concludes “the largest attraction [for those posting] is of course anonymity. With anonymity people are inclined to be more open. Removed is the ‘shame’ which unfortunately often holds people back from asking for advice.”
There are also numerous studies proving that the written confession of upsetting experiences can help the individual. Psychologist, James Pennebaker, explained to Scientific American Mind that “there is very strong evidence that writing about upsetting experiences or dark secrets can benefit your mental and physical well-being”. He states “First, simply putting emotional turmoil into words changes how we think about it. Giving concrete form to secret experiences can help categorize them
in new ways.” Another benefit is “we tend to ruminate about them less, freeing us up to focus on other things.”
Leedsfess has always contributed to the lighter aspect of the University experience, sharing jokes and stories relevant to the Leeds student community. However, with the fallout of 2020, Leedsfess and other confession pages may have to evolve and shoulder more responsibility: as a platform which aids students’ struggles and advances student welfare.
Visit mind.org.uk for information and support concerning mental health issues