Thinkful is thoughtful.
This quality sets it apart from so much else: Thinkful draws a breath, takes its time, makes its points. As a result, it is extraordinarily valuable not only for what the posts say, but also for the atmosphere in which they say it. - Professor Brendan Kelly

When we launched Thinkful almost two years ago, our ambition was to develop a slow space for reflection. This was to be a space where different disciplines might come together to address the mental health challenges of our time.

Much of this reflection was located in the context of higher education in 2023/24. This is sometimes referred to as ‘the post-pandemic university’; and it is a strange hybrid space of campus and laptop screen.

In the post-pandemic university, students and staff alike follow the dull drumbeat of narrowing opportunity and the need for competitive advantage. Deadlines and to-do lists crowd out opportunities for genuine human encounter; every moment must be optimized for a developing CV. There’s not really time for coffee with your classmate or colleague. There’s not really time to sit together and just be.

As a contributor to Thinkful, I've been glad to have the long-awaited opportunity to speak about matters that concern me both personally and as an academic in a more intimate voice - Dr Silvia Caprioglio Panizza

In writing of her experience of the Thinkful project, Silvia Caprioglio Panizza has expressed gratitude for the opportunity to speak about philosophical matters in a more intimate voice. We need more places to reflect on the human experience of ‘disquiet, exaltation and despair’, she writes, because these are the experiences that mark every existential journey. These are the experiences that ‘can be easily pathologized or explained away’ if the two domains of inquiry – philosophy and mental health studies – are not brought together with care and sensitivity.

Writing of her secondary school students who embark on university experience for the first time, Thinkful contributor Susan Andrews has suggested the need for more joined-up thinking when it comes to the 12-20 age-group. ‘Life is much harder and less magical than these young people were led to believe’, she writes. Both school and university students ‘need a safe refuge to explore their purpose and to know themselves’.

If we want our young people to flourish, live a good life, support each other, then it is up to the adults who meet them along the way to role model what it is to be part of a community to provide a buffer against the inevitable downs of life. illustrates this perfectly. - Susan Andrews

The Thinkful project has hopefully shown how educational spaces like the school and university might provide such sanctuary and refuge. As Susan continues, ‘no one field or organisation can lay claim to being the expert and the complexity of investigating mental health challenges surely warrants a collective reflection and response.’

Philosophers love distinctions. And one distinction that Thinkful might finally bring us back to is that between problem and mystery. Are our human lives problems to be solved or mysteries in movement?

This was the fundamental question of French existentialist thinker, Gabriel Marcel, who spent a lifetime writing about responsiveness to the particular both in his philosophical writings and in his many dramatic works.

As this season of Thinkful comes to an end , we might suggest with Marcel that there is no quick-fix solution to many of the problems of our lives. There is only an embracing of our flawed human condition and a companion investment in the relationships around us – in all their messiness, dissatisfaction, and wonder.