Your Students’ Union Welfare Officer, Lloyd Harris, takes a look at Mental Wealth and the stigma surrounding mental illness.
The hype of Swansea Freshers’ fortnight has long come to an end. The non-stop socialising, boozing and relentless nights of partying are starting to feel like a distant memory as the hangover of life comes crashing down. So, what are you left with? Independent living, making friends for life, and of course, #noparents. However, you’re also facing deadlines, financial strain and quite possibly the highest levels of stress you’ve experienced to date. The Freshers’ fortnight is undoubtedly a rite of passage, but now that it’s all over, how do you cope with the trials and tribulations of #UNAY? University is guaranteed to change your life. Hopefully, the majority of these changes will be enjoyable, the best days of your life in fact, but don’t kid yourself; it’s all going to be hard work. Being a student in Swansea is all about trying to find the right balance between doing well in your studies and making the most out of the two drinks for two pounds in Tooters. Finding this balance between work and play can be quite a task to say the least. Handling stress, meeting and working with new people, performing presentations and maintaining relationships with family and old friends are just a few of the issues students face. So what happens when all of these things start to build up..?
The National Union of Students (NUS) completed a study of students’ mental health.
Here is what they found: 92% of respondents claimed to have experienced feelings of mental distress. 20% of students consider themselves to have a mental health problem. The most alarming statistic, however, is that 13% of students have experienced suicidal thoughts. This is amplified by data from the office for national statistics that has highlighted that within just four years, the number of student suicides has doubled in women and risen by over a third in men. Despite this, a mere 4% of students are currently accessing support for mental health issues. It’s fair to say that the number of students who are suffering from mental health problems is rising fast. Does this surprise you? What could be causing this? Heavy workloads, financial burdens, high tuition fees, homesickness, relationships, tough job markets – take your pick! So, what kind of mental health issues are we talking about exactly?
Don’t call me crazy
When you hear “mental illness”, what exactly comes to mind? Natalie Portman’s portrayal of a ballerina’s descent into madness? How about the horrific habits of Hannibal Lecter? And the infamous Jigsaw from the ‘Saw’ films, he must have been “crazy”, right? When portraying mental illness, the media usually hams it up. We must take this portrayal of mental illness with a pinch of salt. TV programmes and films are made to be much more dangerous, dramatic, frightening and bizarre than reality. There is also a lack of education about mental illness. Unfortunately, there are consequences of this. Inaccurate depictions and being poorly informed fuel stigma and can be a barrier to people seeking help. We can all help to challenge the stigma of mental illness. Together, we can create a mentally healthy community that supports recovery and social inclusion whilst reducing discrimination. Don’t label or judge people with a mental illness. Treat them with respect and dignity, and show them the support you would wish to receive yourself!
What’s the stigma? “stig•ma” [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][stig-muh] – a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”
Judging someone by the state of his or her mental health is never acceptable. Whether it’s a direct comment or a subtle dig, your judgment can so easily shatter someone’s self-confidence. Stigma can cause a lack of understanding from friends and family, discrimination and bullying at university or work. Worst of all, it can lead to the belief that improving the situation is impossible. Nine out of ten people with mental health problems say that stigma and discrimination have a negative effect on their lives. Having a mental health disorder really doesn’t mean you’re crazy, but it does mean you need treatment. Similar to if you had a medical disease. Would you be afraid of your family or friends judging you for having the flu? measles? cancer? No. So why would they think any less of you for having depression or anxiety?
It’s time to change Students with mental illnesses are one of the most marginalised groups in the country and it’s vital that we have more awareness events, in more cities, with more people getting involved every day. On the week of October 19th, I ran a Student Minds week, in collaboration with the Student Minds Society, and with a little extra help from Hannah Stewart (LGBT+ Women’s Officer), Ellie Pullen (Students with Disabilities Officer), Heather Wood (Women’s Officer) and Akousa Darko (NUS Wales Black Students Officer). The aim of the week was to raise awareness of mental health issues and tackle the stigma surrounding them. We were situated in the main foyer of Fulton House offering students information about different mental health issues, as well as doing some fun and engaging activities!
Drum roll, please…for Swansea Student Minds!
The Student Minds society is run by students, for students, as a complement to the support services currently provided by the university. The group was designed to offer further support, providing a comfortable, non-judgmental environment for students who want to discuss personal issues. However big or small your problem, be it a bad exam result, a fall out with your parents, or a serious anxiety attack, they are here to help you. They work with Student Minds UK to promote positive well-being amongst students. As young adults we really need to be aware of our own well being as well as that of our friends and families. If mental health issues are not addressed properly during university, it could result in leaving unprepared for life after graduation.
Get to know your Student Minds team
From L-R: Mia Smith, Rhydian Morris, Kate McKeown and Lydia MacDonald
KATE: Hello, I’m Kate, President of the Student Minds Society and also a second year psychology student. I believe the current stigma surrounding mental health needs to be broken down and instead a more compassionate and accepting view is needed. As president, I’m hoping to try and break down this stigma through raising more awareness and providing more education on the issues students face. Additionally, I hope we can promote a general positive view of people’s well-being and create an environment whereby individuals feel they can seek help if they need it.
MIA: Hi, I’m Mia and I am the vice president of Student Minds. I am a second year psychology student, so I know about the many issues surrounding mental health and about the stigma surrounding the subject which I have learned from the experiences of my friends. I feel by drawing attention to the issues and educating people about different disorders that not only we can change people’s perspectives, but by doing this become a more aware and informed society. It is my hope that we as a society can make it easier for people to receive the necessary help and reduce the feeling of isolation that many people with mental disorders feel. We aim to do this by holding different events, such as the Student Minds week, throughout the year.
RHYDIAN: We want to raise awareness of the most common mental health conditions that affect students, and to break down the stigma attached to these conditions. I personally have struggled with depression and anxiety throughout my time at university so I have first hand knowledge of how difficult it is to seek help and speak out over the social pressures students face, and the stigma attached to struggling. What we want to achieve as a society is to get as many students as possible to learn more about mental health and to trigger discussion around the topic.”
LYDIA: I’m a second year Psychology student and Secretary for Student Minds Society, so naturally mental wellbeing is high on my list of priorities. I find it odd how stigmatised mental illness can be—when you break an arm, do you walk around in pain until it cripples you? No. So it seems odd that we are almost expected to do the same with depression, anxiety, bipolar and the many other conditions we can suffer from. I want a world that allows someone to say “I have depression” without having to suffer alone or risk losing their job or credibility, and that’s why I’m dedicating not only my time but my career to the cause of ending stigma. Sometimes people just need a little help—let’s give it to them.
Find the society on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swanseastudentminds
Student Minds Week What went on?
The week was a massive success! On Monday, students wrote down a positive message, picked one up, and passed it to a friend. We got students to write down their anxieties on Tuesday, and then we tore them up! Students knowledge of schizophrenia was tested on Wednesday, where we gave students home made cakes for correct answers to questions. Thursday, students wrote down what they loved about their bodies. For the last day on Friday, we talked to students about general well-being tips, and provided free tea, coffee and hot chocolate! Further to these fun activities, we also had some wonderful conversations with students, whilst also distributing a wide range of informative booklets/leaflets/flyers, as well as useful workbooks.
How did it go down?
Amazingly, every student we spoke to during the week was positive towards the cause. Breaking the stigma of mental health issues is something that many students are now trying to achieve. Conducting a campaign like this is so important because students need to know that Swansea University is a safe place to talk about mental health. It was also important to offer such useful workbooks and leaflets to students. Unfortunately, I don’t feel as though there’s enough support for students suffering with mental health in the UK. In Swansea University, we are lucky to have a fantastic Wellbeing Centre. Highly trained and friendly staff continuously help our students every single day. Sometimes however, the waiting time to see someone in the Wellbeing centre can be quite lengthy, and I would like to see more resources given to the Wellbeing centre. I’m planning on running another campaign in collaboration with the Student Minds society early next year. Hopefully we’ll be able to help out some students suffering from exam stress!
You can help
Learn about mental health and illness and share the knowledge! Get to know people with personal experiences of mental illness. Speak up when friends, family, colleagues or the media mock or discriminate against the mentally ill. Talk openly of your own experiences of mental illness. The more open we can be, the more confident people will be when asking for help when they need it. If you’d like to help out or campaign for this cause, please get in touch with the Student Minds society!
What do you think?
“Uni life is hard! We’re expected to excel in our studies but I think most people overlook the difficulties we face whilst studying. My student loan came through very late this year which caused me a load of problems.” Richard, 20
“It’s absolutely terrible that student suicides are on the rise. Student’s should always have someone to talk to about their problems.” Emily, 23
“Nearly all of the films I’ve watched with portrayals of mental illnesses in them are centered around violence and crime, and the outcome of the story is almost always negative.” Jess, 21
“When my close friend told me they thought they had an eating disorder, I didn’t know what to say. I was obviously supportive, but I didn’t know the best way to show this support.” Sarah, 19
“There needs to be more promotion for mental well-being. Students’ need to know that it’s okay to talk about their mental health.” James, 19
“You don’t need to be an expert Psychiatrist to help people. Everyone is capable of offering a hug and a nice cup of tea.” Sian, 21[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]