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Conscious Edinburgh: In conversation with Voices

Conscious Edinburgh is a student-led mental health charity at the University of Edinburgh. Their main focus to provide students with a safe-space on campus to support their mental health. The Student spoke to Co-Presidents Aiyana Tandon and Iain Choyce, and Secretary David Bourne about how lockdown is impacting student mental health and ways we can get involved with this incredible initiative.

 What are Conscious Edinburgh’s goals for 2021? 

Conscious Edinburgh are still doing our best to stay true to our charity’s goals! We really want to connect students and help everybody find positive moments in daily life. We aim to keep creating more conversations and spaces which promote wellbeing. Conscious also hope to continue to advance the education of the student population and provide safe and encouraging environments for students to talk about their mental health.

Like everyone else, we hope we can bring back in-person wellbeing events like yoga, sports days and other activities by the end of 2021, as well as some in-person fundraisers. Rumours of the infamous Conscious Ball returning next winter have even been heard, fingers crossed!

Can you tell us about some of the services that Conscious Edinburgh provide?

We have been very excited to start our peer support groups this year! We had the idea over lockdown as a way to provide more outlets for students to talk about their struggles. We really hope this supportive, confidential online space will be beneficial for any students who may be feeling isolated or alone at uni, especially with the current barriers to socialisation. 

We now have 3 weekly peer support groups on zoom: 

First year students on Tuesdays at 6pm, BAME students on Wednesday at 5pm, and a group for any students experiencing general low mood on Thursdays at 6pm. We welcome anyone to come along to the sessions, the sign up link is on the Conscious instagram bio (linktr.ee/consciousedinburgh). These come with thanks to the counsellors at the Joshua Nolan Foundation for helping us to plan these sessions.

We are extremely proud to have continued offering Conscious Conversations this year. This is a 2-hour interactive session condensing the most important information from the Scottish Mental Health first aid course and delivered to groups of students. Shanna and Anusan, founders of Conscious and both Scottish Mental Health first aid trained, have been delivering this vital, life-saving knowledge online. Several sessions have run so far, and we’d love to offer this workshop to more students, especially those new to Edinburgh University or looking to expand their mental health knowledge. Societes interested can sign up here (Conscious Conversations | Consciousedinburgh).

Alongside lockdown, are there any other problems affecting Edinburgh students’ mental health and do you have any tips on how to cope with them?

Anyone who has been watching the news will know that it’s been a pretty tough year for students, particularly those in student accommodation. Without in-person teaching, it can be hard to continue to find motivation to study. Not being able to socialise, join clubs and societies has definitely made it so tough to get out and meet new people, or even catch up with friends.

Everybody has a different way of looking after their own mental health and there is no quick fix, and no one is ever going to feel 100% all the time. We at Conscious Edinburgh have some tips to help beat the student lockdown blues: 

  • Manage your media intake – we hate to say it, but the news is pretty negative at the moment. Setting some personal boundaries can help manage the amount of negative or overwhelming stories you see. For students in particular, finding ways to disconnect from social media like a media free weekend, might help bring everything back into focus.
  • Exercise – try a home workout, some yoga, or even just a walk outside. There are loads of free online classes, try one out and you could grab a flatmate to join in! Exercising is one of the best proven ways to boost your mood even when you don’t feel like it!
  • Be mindful – Take time to notice your surroundings and feel grateful for the things that you have. Edinburgh is beautiful, and there are usually dogs on the meadows!
  • And finally, be kind – We need to be looking out for each other. Have conversations with people who might be struggling right now; make a cup of tea, sit down, and have a chat.

If you are in need of help, we really recommend reaching out. This can feel like such a big and scary step to take, but could be the first to change your situation for the better. Nightline (0131 557 4444) offers confidential and supportive listening, and if you’re in crisis, please reach out to the Samaritans (116 123) or check out other resources on the Conscious website. 

Inclusivity is clearly an integral part of Conscious Edinburgh’s ethos, do you take any measures to ensure this?

We want to make sure that all students feel included and that our services allow for that. When setting up our support groups this year, we wanted to ensure that students who might be feeling marginalised have their chance to be welcomed into safe and supportive spaces. We also aim to offer Conscious Conversation sessions to a diverse range of clubs and societies to try to spread support as widely as possible. We have a diverse committee made up of students from different backgrounds and faculties, who each bring a different perspective to how we run Conscious Edinburgh.

What are ways that we can get involved with Conscious Edinburgh and help?

Everyone can get involved with Conscious by helping us share the information we post on social media platforms about resources, support groups, events etc! This helps us support students all over the university and with our fundraising efforts. 

The most important thing you could do is to take good care of your own mental wellbeing and to talk to friends and families about how they’re doing and supporting them. 

We will soon be looking for new students to join the committee for next year to help us promote mental health and to create wellbeing and fundraising events such as the ball! We will post applications forms online in the next couple months so be sure to follow our social media pages to keep up to date.

Is there a particular activity or ritual that makes you feel better during lockdown?

Eating some homemade pizzas whilst watching a thriller movie on the weekend – David 

A jigsaw puzzle and a disney movie – Aiyana

Getting a takeaway on the weekend with my flat – Iain 

Obviously, lockdown does not have to be productive or involve learning a new skill every week, but is there anything new that you have picked up over the past few months? any knitting or sourdough making?!

Slowly learning some spanish using the app Duolingo, which I would definitely recommend using! – David 

I’ve learnt how to navigate zoom dance classes, which means flipping all the rights to left and all the lefts to right – Aiyana

No knitting but I did get really into Yoga with Adrienne over Summer and have been trying to keep it up since – Iain 

What do you miss the most about pre-Covid and lockdown that you never thought you would miss? 

Just getting to see people actually in person for classes, sports and prees etc. and not having everything online with my wifi cutting out at the worst of times – David 

I miss hugging my friends hello rather than the awkward socially distanced wave – Aiyana

I definitely miss having a change of scene by working in a cafe or seeing more of Edinburgh – Iain

Lastly, is there anything specific coming up that ConsciousEd is excited about?

We’re excited for the event in collaboration with The Student this Friday 5th February at 6pm. This will feature Dr. Domencia Coxon, a psychotherapist and lecturer at Edinburgh University speaking about mental health, followed by a Q+A with students about their mental health experiences over lockdown. 

Our Valentine’s fundraiser is also underway! This gives people the opportunity to send their friends and loved ones a wellbeing hamper full of thoughtful items, whilst donating to Conscious. We hope that it will spread a little joyfulness and compassion this February.

A shortened version of this interview was printed in The Student on 2 February 2021.

Image: ConsciousEd Logo