On the rise of mental illness on college campuses


It’s not just at Middlebury. As Sailer notes in his review of Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind

A remarkable fraction of current articles in The New York Timesand The New Yorker include testimony that the author feels emotionally traumatized, which is stereotypically attributed to the malevolence of Donald Trump. But the evidence in The Coddling of the American Mind points to the second Obama administration as being the era when the national nervous breakdown began.

The authors cite alarming evidence of a recent increase in emotional problems. For example, the percentage of college students who said they suffered from a “psychological disorder” increased among males from 2.7 percent in 2012 to 6.1 percent by 2016 (a 126 percent increase). Over the same four years, the percentage of coeds who saw themselves as psychologically afflicted rose from 5.8 percent to 14.5 percent (150 percent growth).

Sailer blames the Obama administration, eg, the DOE releasing new definitions of “sexual harassment” that depend more on emotion than reason, but this is only playing kick the can, because why would the Obama DOE want to redefine sexual harassment in the first place? 

So I propose a slightly different origin for the current hysteria: 

If you incentivise lying, you get more lying. If you incentivise social signaling, you get more social signaling. The next thing you know, you get a social signaling spiral.

So people start lying because it gets them status points, but people are kind of bad at lying. Lying is cognitively taxing. The simplest way to make lying less taxing is to believe your own lies.

So the more people get involved in signaling spirals, the more they come to believe their own lies.

Meanwhile, everyone around them is engaged in the same signaling spiral, too. 

People get their view of “Reality” in part by checking it against what everyone else believes. If everyone in your village says the stream is to the east, even if you’ve gotten turned around and feel like it’s to the west, you’ll probably just follow everyone else and hope you get to water. If everyone around you is lying, there’s a good chance you’ll start to believe their lies.

(Let’s face it, most people are not that bright. Maybe a little bright. Not a lot. So they go along with society. Society says eat this, don’t eat that–they trust. Society is usually right about things like that, and the ones that aren’t die out. 

Trust is key. If you trust that someone has your back, you listen to them. You take advice from them. You might even try to make them proud. If you don’t trust someone, even if they’re right, you won’t listen to them. If you don’t trust them, you assume they want you dead and are trying to trick you. 

Since our system is now full of liars, trust is suffering.)

Eventually there’s just one sane person left in the room, wondering who’s gone insane: them, or everyone else.

In the case of the “mental health breakdown” on the left, it’s a combination of the left lying about its mental health and believing its own lies about things that are bothering it.

But what incentivised lying in the first place? 

Sailer dates the emergence of the insanity to 2012-13, but I remember the emergence of the current SJW-orthodoxy and its rabid consumption of what had formerly known as “liberalism” back in the Bush years, back around 2003. I was surprised at the time by the speed with which it went mainstream, spreading from “this thing my friends are arguing about” to “everyone on the internet knows this.” 


It’s Facebook. 

Zuckerberg launched “TheFacebook”, featuring photos of Harvard students, in 2004. From there it spread to other prestigious schools, and opened fully to the public in 2006. Because of its real name policy, FB has always incentivized people toward holiness spirals, and it began with an infusion of people who already believed the SJW memeplex that was hot at Harvard in 2004. 

At this point, it’s not necessarily Facebook itself that’s spreading things, and it was never just facebook. There are plenty of other social media sites, like MySpace, Reddit, and Twitter, that have also spread ideas. 

The lethality of disease is partially dependent on how difficult it is to spread. If a disease needs you to walk several miles to carry it to its next host, then it can’t go killing you before you get there. By contrast, if the disease only needs you to explode on the spot, it doesn’t need to keep you alive long enough to get anywhere. Where population are dense, sanitation is non-existent, and fleas are rampant, you get frequent plague outbreaks because disease has a trivial time jumping from person to person. Where populations are low and spread out, with good sanitation and few vermin, disease has a much harder time spreading and will tend to evolve to coexist with humans for at least as long as it takes to find a new host. 

For example, chicken pox has been infecting humans for so long that it is adapted to our ancestral tribal size (which is pretty small,) so it has developed the ability to go dormant for 20 or 40 years until a whole new generation of uninfected people is born. 

AIDS kills people, but because its method of transmission (mostly sex) is not as easy as jumping fleas or contaminated water, it takes a long time. People who’ve caught bubonic plague generally die within a week or so; untreated AIDS patients last an average of 11 years. 

The internet has allowed memes that used to stay put in colleges to spread like wildfire to the rest of the population. (Similarly, talk radio allowed conservative memes to spread back in the 80s and 90s, and the adoption of the printing press in Europe probably triggered the witch hunts and Protestantism.) 

Anyway, this whole SJW-system got perfected on social media, and strangely, much of it is dependent on this performative mental illness. Eg, in “Don’t call people with uteruses ‘women’ because that’s triggering to trans people,” the mental illness claim is that the word “women” is “triggering” to someone and therefore ought to be avoided. The word “triggered” means “to trigger a panic attack,” as in someone with PTSD.

The use of “triggered” in most of these cases is absolutely false, but people claim it because it gets them their way. 

And if people are lying a bunch about having mental illness, and surrounded by nasty, toxic people who are also lying about mental illness, and if lying is cognitively taxing, then the end result is a lot of stressed out people with mental issues. 


19 thoughts on “On the rise of mental illness on college campuses

      • I use to hire engineers. One couldn’t add fractions in their head and almost wrecked and install.

        Now I have one as a partner and one as an employee and some software.

        Point being not really very many good ones these days and AI will be doing most of those jobs before long


  1. This is not how I remember the history of Internet SJWery. In a nutshell: Something Awful forums -> Shit Reddit Says, Tumblr, and Gawker journos like Lindy West.

    Facebook was the place to flee from MySpace. MySpace was full of kitchy ugly tasteless pimped profiles, the attraction of Facebook was its unchangeable, simple, puritan, elegant profile style. It was a place you went to signal you have good taste. That is not an SJW magnet. Pink haired folks with nose rings don’t really want to signal they have a good simple elegant taste.


  2. Yeah that’s pretty good. I tend to look at it last through a causality lens. I kind a look at it as pure numbers. Human beings believe in causality and believe that we have an ability to do things that are separate from the functioning of the universe. And I don’t say that to suggest that we don’t, but only that consciousness is able to have a good boy good and I don’t say that to suggest that we don’t, but only that human consciousness is The ability to have such a view.

    But if we look out into a field of grass and you see different puddles of shades of the same grass, sure we as human beings can go in there and we can analyze it and we can come down down and say oh there is this reason, this causes, of why this particular 50 foot circle is a darker shade of green or is growing that much taller than the rest of the 400 acres or whatever. But at some point we have to admit that whatever the cause that we determined, the cause of that cause it is really utterly random or something beyond our ability to really know why.

    So personally I just think that the reason why we see human beings manifest in whatever way, whatever trans we see socially, Hass to do with numbers and less to do with anything developing in any certain manner necessarily. Because, at some point we would have to say well how did Zuckerberg come up with Facebook, for example. What was the cause of Facebook. And then maybe we could say computers or whatever but whatever lines we draw to point to some reason why Facebook appeared, or why people began to use it in whatever way, at some point we just sit there and scratch your head because we can’t really know why. The reasons that we are giving it is utterly just the way that consciousness is functioning so far as to give itself a view upon the world.

    So mental health could just be the comparison between numbers and a given system. Human beings are also able to devise a system of limitation within this larger system of limitation that we call reality. And so it just may be that for every system of limits that we come up with the more people there are the more we’re going to have a figure like a standard normalized curve bell curve. But really when we again apply that limit and see this normal distribution within that system of limit, I submit that if we did not have that supposition of limitation as though it were a true fact of being human, we would probably see the distribution of human behavior pretty flat across the population. The curve being granted by that particular limitation that were imposing upon it; in this case, mental health.

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  3. The really big problem is reproductive collapse, especially among White people. Almost all White populations and many Asian populations have reproductive rates well below replacement. If these rates persist, in some European countries, each generation will be half the previous one. Why is that happening? Is it related to psychopathy among college students?

    The only place with above replacement reproduction is sub-Saharan Africa. There is something toxic about modern society. We are maladapted to it, and we are going extinct.


    • To be fair, the US population in 1900 was a mere 76 million. Today it’s about 320 million, and most of us have moved into cities where the average density is much higher than that of the country as a whole.

      Japan had 48 million in 1900. It’s population is now nearly 130 million, crammed into dense cities like Tokyo.

      The UK had 40 million plus an overseas empire; today, 66 mill and no empire.

      China had 400 million; today it has 1.4 billion.

      There are a lot of factors going into declining birth rates (like the option of contraception and the end of high infant mortality,) but I think part of it is just that we actually have a ton of people now and this level of density is, for the average person, completely unprecedented. I have no reason to think that 130 million people is normal or good for Japan (nor the oceans around it,) or that this number is somehow better than 48 million people all enjoying >twice the space and resources.

      So I don’t think there is anything necessarily wrong with birthrates dropping until people have a bit more room. What’s wrong are 1. Pension plans that assume infinite population growth and 2. people panicking because they’ve forgotten that the economy did just fine at 1950s population levels and pushing for the importation of more people to make up for the shortfall.

      That said, that doesn’t mean there aren’t also bad trends going on, like the devaluing of families, that need to be corrected for society to flourish.


  4. The proliferation of mind altering drugs likely has something to do with the vast web of mental breakdowns. You’re talking about social justice types but there’s a parallel opiod crises in the flyover peasant country.


  5. So people start lying because it gets them status points, but people are kind of bad at lying. Lying is cognitively taxing. The simplest way to make lying less taxing is to believe your own lies.

    Yes! A very large proportion of what is valuable in NRx theory is summed up in that sentence.

    I think you’re probably right about the causative role of Facebook, but I think it’s important to specify that technology is only an amplifier. The basic mechanism must happen always and everywhere when there is not precise formalism, that is to say anywhere where it is possible to gain access to status or wealth through means that are not specified in advance. If access to status/wealth is possible and the means of obtaining it are unspecified then you have an situation that optimizes for self-deception and ideology.

    Of course, the category ‘societies that are not precisely formalist’ includes every society that has ever existed and it’s probably not too far wrong to say that it includes every conceivable form of society too. However, not all societies are equally unformalist. A lot of statesmanship historically can be understood as an attempt to formalise social arrangements and an effectively regulated market economy approximates to formalism. Liberal societies are not just unformalist, though, they are anti-formalist and so allow for degree of signalling spirals that are unprecedented. The most obvious manifestation of this is the fact that the very concept of privilege has been inverted, so that people seek privilege precisely by defining themselves as the opposite of a societal definition of privilege, which identifies people as privileged in inverse proportion to their possession of characteristics that would allow them to accrue privilege. (Perhaps the closest analogy to this kind of madness would be cults in which the leader dies without anointing a successor).

    To make this more concrete, it’s probably impossible to create a university where status and access to resources is purely contingent on getting good grades, and it actually sounds kind of dystopian. However, the modern university is a kind of anti-ideal, in which privilege can be gained in all sorts of ways completely unrelated to the ostensible purpose of the university and which are constantly changing, in which most of the participants have no kids, no jobs and a shedload of spare time —> kaboom.


    • The difficulty with the internet is its extreme disassociation from anything in real life.

      When we interact in real life, we can evaluate not only each other’s words, but also each other’s actions. If your children are well-behaved, I’ll take your parenting advice more seriously than if they are badly behaved. If you have a successful farm, I’ll listen to your farming advice. Etc. I don’t think people are good at evaluating arguments on their pure, logical merits without recourse to physical evidence, which is why most people think math is hard.

      So a lot of people are making arguments online that we would never accept if they were grounded in reality (“promoting the idea that humans are supposed to walk on two legs is ableism”) and their very madness seems to help them spread because then people can get into pure signalling spirals.


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