What’s going on in universities these days? It seems that not a week passes when we don’t hear of the banning or censoring of someone the students don’t like or whose opinions one group doesn’t agree with.

Kathleen Stock, a feminist philosopher at Sussex University was forced to quit her position last month. Last week LSE students attempted to seize a speech by the Israeli ambassador.

There’s a long list of people who have been banned from speaking at events at universities for fear of students being offended by what they have to say: Amber Rudd, Jordan Peterson, even my fellow columnist Jenni Murray.

Andrew Graham-Dixon, an art critic and broadcaster was expelled from speaking at the Cambridge University Debating Society after he did an impression of Hitler in a debate about good taste. This list goes on.

Dr Max Pemberton argues universities should be a space for every idea or thought to be heard, questioned and challenged (file image)

Max Pemberton, Dr. Max, believes universities should provide a forum for all ideas and thoughts to be heard. (file photo)

It’s getting ridiculous and all this has prompted academics to warn universities that they need to stand up to students and tell them to accept academic freedoms and differences of opinions — or leave.

What is the secret to our current situation? Universities shouldn’t be safe places: in fact, they should be the very opposite of this. It should be a safe space where all ideas and thoughts are heard, considered, questioned, and challenged. You can turn things on their heads, have them reexamined, discussed, and dissected.

It should not be illegal to speak in any area. I mentioned this to a student the other day and he laughed and said I was a ‘free-speech radical’.

But what’s radical about being able to discuss different ideas? If we can’t question anything and everything in a university, where on earth can we?

What angers me about this nauseating ‘safe space’ culture that has crept into our hallowed institutions like a patch of dry rot is not just the embarrassing infantilising of students that it encourages, but the subtle, insidious way students use the language of mental illness to justify their stance.

These students like to make out they are protecting their peers’ mental health, while clearly caring not one jot about the mental health of those they are attacking.

They resort to intimidation, threats, intimidation, and bullying their adversaries instead of engaging in rational, calm and civil debate.

What on Earth do they believe they can say that they are morally superior?

They suggest that ideas they don’t agree with will trigger some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as though the entire student body is walking around on the brink of mental collapse. Take control. 

Dr Max Pemberton (pictured) claims having your ideas challenged by someone you don¿t like will not provoke mental illness

Dr Max Pemberton (pictured) claims having your ideas challenged by someone you don’t like will not provoke mental illness

Let’s be clear: having your ideas challenged by someone you don’t like will not provoke mental illness. It is possible to have PTSD if you don’t agree with someone.

I’d go so far as to venture that these students are spoilt and childish and have no place in a university.

These students should quit in order to allow others who are truly interested in learning from the university’s rich experience to take their place.

In fact, the students who advocate the ‘safe space’ culture are hijacking the very good, dedicated work that has been done around tackling the stigma of mental illness, and they’re doing it to shut down debate and silence people they don’t like. It’s offensive to people who really do have PTSD.

My patients often have PTSD that has been medically diagnosed. They don’t have safe spaces or trigger warnings in their lives. They’re continuing to receive treatment and trying to heal.

The BBC has now quit the Stonewall diversity scheme and I don’t blame it. I’ve been saddened by what has happened to Stonewall. It took an unfortunate turn in focusing on trans rights, and then abandoned issues related to gay people. This effectively left the LGBT charity without the support it needs. 

The reality of PTSD is that often the things that trigger it are obscure and idiosyncratic —a smell, a sound, a phrase.

Patients who suffer from trauma avoid certain places. However, it is more common for symptoms to appear suddenly and are difficult to pinpoint.

I know of students who suffer from PTSD and will discreetly tell a lecturer about it. They may ask for a skip if the lesson is too much.

But it’s actually very rare that they need to do this and they certainly don’t make a big song and dance about it.

I find it absurd that their symptoms could be triggered by simply discussing topics or having their ideas challenged.

For those of us in the real world, I’m afraid those advocating ‘safe spaces’ just come across as mollycoddled, navel-gazing and self-obsessed.

Yes, it’s ok to cry and be sad

Pictured: Bella Hadid on the catwalk

Pictured: Bella in tears on social media

Bella Hadid (pictured), has been praised for her efforts to raise awareness about mental health through photos of her crying in bed 

Bella Hadid, supermodel and photographer posted images of her in distress to her 47,000,000 Instagram followers. She was applauded for spreading awareness about mental illnesses.

While Bella has spoken about battling severe depression and anxiety since she was a teenager, and I don’t wish to question her condition in any way, I’m conflicted about these kind of posts. While I’m pleased more of us feel able to talk about our struggles, and mental illness is now less stigmatised, I’ve noticed that some people may talk about having depression and anxiety when really they mean they’re sad and worried.

It is okay to feel sad or worried. However, it does not indicate a mental disorder. It’s part of life. People don’t necessarily cry because they are depressed, but because they are having a difficult time. This is completely normal.

Doctors are often to blame for this ‘medicalisation of everyday distress’. One young man I knew had been diagnosed with depression after he cried during the funeral of his mother. That’s not depression, that’s a normal reaction. It would have been stranger if he hadn’t shed a tear.

  • What a horrific story about the couples in California who raised each other’s baby for three months by mistake after an IVF blunder. I can’t even begin to get my head around how they must be feeling. While there are strict UK rules to avoid this, we all know that sometimes mistakes happen. They raise huge ethical questions. Which embryo is owned and who bears responsibility for it’s welfare? What is the right way to discuss ownership? While there are no easy answers to the problems these errors pose, we must ensure that, regardless of how controversial or uncomfortable, we don’t shy away from asking the questions.

Doctor Max gives…

Aromatherapy for the Go 

This handy lipstick-sized nasal inhaler (pictured) is the brainchild of Trelonk, a small firm based in Cornwall

This handy lipstick-sized nasal inhaler (pictured) is the brainchild of Trelonk, a small firm based in Cornwall

This is a handy lipstick-sized nasal inhaler (£6, trelonkwellbeing.com) to which you can add a choice of specially made essential oil blends — Power Through #03 (£24) is a good combination for easing the stress caused by acute or chronic pain. It’s the brainchild of Trelonk, a small firm based in Cornwall, which also does lovely gift sets — worth considering for Christmas.