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AbstractThis article uses ethnography and coproduced ethnography to investigate mental health labels amongst university students in the UK. We find that although labels can still be a source of stigma, they are also both necessary and useful. Students use labels as ‘campus technologies’ to achieve various ends. This includes interaction with academics and administrators, but labels can do more than make student distress bureaucratically legible. Mental health labels extend across the whole student social world, as a pliable means of negotiating social interaction, as a tool of self-discovery, and through the ‘soft-boy’ online archetype, they can be a means of promoting sexual capital and of finessing romantic encounters. Labels emerge as flexible, fluid and contextual. We thus follow Eli Clare in attending to the varying degrees of sincerity, authenticity and pragmatism in dealing with labels. Our findings give pause to two sets of enquiry that are sometimes seen as opposed. Quantitative mental health research relies on what appear to be questionable assumptions about labels embedded in questionnaires. But concerns about the dialogical power of labels to medicalise students also appears undermined.

Original publication




Journal article


Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry


Springer Science and Business Media LLC

Publication Date