Deputy Features Editor
‘Have you seen Durfess yet?’
It was a common question during freshers’ week. Something we had all looked at prior to arriving at Durham, a common source of laughter (usually at Hatfield’s expense). Any chronic procrastinators will no doubt be familiar with the worrying amounts of time one can spend scrolling through the Durfess feed – as I did, in my bid to conduct‘valuable research’ for this feature. Since its inception just over a year ago, it has picked up over ten thousand likes amongst the student community, with ‘confessions’ being posted several times a day. Content ranges from the hilarious to the heart-breaking, falling broadly into three categories.
A lot of the feed is taken up with funny observations of university life, from ‘My housemate put a lobster in the tumble dryer’ to ‘Yellow frep tops: who wore them better, Van Mildert or Josephine Butler?’ This kind of thing, along the lines of @overheardindurham on Instagram, is usually harmless and leads to a few people casually tagging their friends in the comments. It’s amusing, it’s relatable and often painfully true: ‘Entering the lecture theatre to a sea of glistening brand-new Macs…’
It’s amusing, it’s relatable and often painfully true
Other posts present themselves as public service announcements, often in the form of a good old rant; I’m thinking of the recent post outlining ‘library hierarchy’ to clueless freshers (‘know your floors, know your place’). Equally, sometimes people feel the need to express genuine concern and disgust at certain aspects of the Durham community, notably ‘the skinny culture for girls in Durham’ a few days ago.
Of course, the third kind of post sees students confessing their fears, worries or insecurities, often when their mental health is at its very lowest. From freshers who feel ‘ridiculously out of place’ to returning students who are ‘already as miserable as I was last year’, these posts nearly always receive kind, supportive comments, and sometimes an actual Durfess post goes up offering this support, such as one during freshers’ week ‘to all the people struggling tonight’ as the author told us about the death of their childhood best friend during freshers’ three years ago.
On one level, the way Durfess has flourished suggests that we as students feel more isolated than ever; finding it easier to explain your feelings anonymously within a public forum than to seek help face-to-face suggests that, whether you think there is anyone to turn to (be it on a personal, collegiate or university-wide level), you simply don’t feel like you can. It’s just easier to fill out an online form and wait for the supportive comments to appear.
That said, it’s not fair to think of Durfess as a faceless community of anonymous confessions, because that undermines the immense amount of good it does for those who are suffering with their mental health. When I spoke to the creators of the page, they explained that its origins lay in the reality that ‘people had things to say and didn’t have a place to say them freely. This meant both the fun things and the serious, much less enjoyable stuff.’ They told me about the sense of community they think it inspires: ‘every serious and sad post receives messages of outpouring and support from students and lecturers offering to help. Somebody [said in a post that they] couldn’t buy food – twenty people offered food for them. It’s a nice thing to see.’
The crucial thing that Durfess can show us about the student community is just that – we’re a community. United by a love/hate relationship with Klute as much as by our own personal struggles and the help that we can offer each other, Durfess shows that, while most of us are finding life a little harder than we might care to admit in public, everyone understands that difficulty and there is always, always someone willing to lend an ear, or just offer a few kind words.
(If you are struggling with your mental health and don’t know who to turn to, make time to find out about your college’s facilities or the university counselling service. Durfess is great for general support, but please seek professional help if you need it.)
Illustration by Kleopatra Olympiou