By Alice Graham
Leedsfess. It started as a Facebook page assembling the anonymous confessions of boyfriend-stealing coursemates and oat milk-stealing housemates. Quickly, it amassed over 30k followers and became a fond source of entertainment and community for Leeds students to post their weekly complaints about Minerva being down, the definitive rankings of “Uni of Leeds campus buildings as Bridgerton characters” (#leedsfess24367), and the chronicles of the infamous Black Eyed Peas Affair of 18/01/21.
However, since the announcement of the first national lockdown in March 2020, the Facebook page has gradually become a landscape of desperate and increasingly serious confessions. Leedsfess admins have had to shoulder more responsibility than ever, as students recurrently turn to the page to disclose their darkest concerns and most private struggles in a cloak of virtual anonymity. Scrolling through what once felt like an enormous groupchat filled with light-hearted inside jokes has somehow become a masochistic process of doomscrolling, as readers are greeted by a stream of confessions headlined by Trigger Warnings for mental illness, racism, sexual assault and addiction.
Some Leedsfess followers grumble about the pessimism of confessors and the consequently morbid tone of the page, with one follower asking: “Since when did leedsfess become an agony aunt, what happened to all the banter?” (#22495). Yet it seems apparent that the distressing content of Leedsfess echoes the current attitude of Leeds students. The reality is that there are hundreds of desperate students behind these confessions, holding their breath as they press submit in the hope that an empathetic stranger might extend a hand or a helpline in the comment section. Which is a reality that we should be alarmed by.
In a time where social interaction for Leeds students is almost entirely reliant on saying thank you to the scary co-op security guard and the dreaded zoom-quiz, it is unsurprising that so many of Leeds’ young voices have taken to publishing messages of alienation on Leedsfess. In many ways, it might be easier to divulge personal struggles on a confidential confessions page than to text a friend who you haven’t even seen in months. One student prefaces their post with “I gotta get this out somewhere and I've decided LeedsFess is the place” (#leedsfess24218), which embodies the sentiment of many confessors, as Leedsfess has emerged as the fallback tool of last-resort student support.
This notion of Leedsfess- the Facebook page once renowned for its coverage of the Eddy B Spiderman- as a genuine system of student welfare is remarkably telling of the state of university mental health services.
In October, following a devastating amount of student suicides, the National Union of Students issued a mental health warning. Despite this, Leedsfess remains one of the only therapeutic outlets available to many students in Leeds, as University mental health services remain critically underfunded. As a result, anonymous Leedsfess confessors deplore “how god awful the mental health services at the uni are'' (#22307) and report the month-long waiting lists for poor-quality services. Multiple students have turned to Leedsfess to detail their frustration with inaccessible or unhelpful mental health services.
As such, Leedsfess has become a virtual saving grace for the influx of anonymous writers submitting their worries. But it seems pertinent to consider the other side of this new Leedsfess: its readers.
Whilst Leedsfess admins have vocalised their effort to regulate the volume of confessions detailing mental health problems, an overwhelming number of recent posts are still made up by weighty material. This kind of content will have an unavoidable consequence on the spirit of its audience, which is why the aforementioned phrase doomscrolling springs to mind. The surfeit of upsetting content on the page commands the attention of our innate negativity bias, inevitably speaking over any typical Leedsfess content about chunder charts or pesto pasta.
Urban dictionary’s definition of doomscrolling warns readers: “The amount of time spent [doomscrolling] is directly proportional to how much worse you're going to feel after you're done.” Which prompts the question: what is the effect of consuming post after post on a Facebook page avalanched by confessions of personal distress?
Since its transformation into a curative vessel of anonymous outreach, Leedsfess has been a vital tool for the pollination of a sense of solidarity and reassurance in an increasingly online Leeds. What has always been a vibrant and engaged online community may simply be obliged to evolve in order to mirror this unstable student experience and submit to the remedial role that Leeds students have awarded it.