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Investigating University of Edinburgh mental health: Review of EUTV’s first documentary

5 Stars

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CW: mental health issues

Whilst preserving our physical health is being broadcasted everywhere from radio stations to bus-stops right now, there is another health crisis ongoing too – a crisis in mental health. The pandemic has been mentally exhausting for us all. Even those practicing mindfulness and meditation in the first lockdown began to struggle when forced into isolation again for the third time. The statistics are appalling: The International Labour Organisation found that 50% of young people are now suffering from symptoms of depression and anxiety. Yet the numbers are not unbelievable, 18-24 are the years when we are normally at our most social, transitioning between our old family unit of our parents and forming new connections with friends and partners.

Students fall into this vulnerable category. Mental health disorders had been growing in the student population in the last decade even before the pandemic took hold. The situation only worsened when students were forced to self-isolate in their halls of residence after coronavirus spread like wildfire around the student population in the autumn and into the winter. In Edinburgh, there were weeks when hundreds of students were having to quarantine. Edinburgh had already been voted as one of the worst universities for student support – did it step up amidst this crisis?

This is the crucial question that the Edinburgh University Television society (EUTV) asks in their first ever investigative documentary. Produced by Cerys Maidment, the society’s president, it is a high-quality production, ingeniously combining time-lapse shots of Edinburgh with Zoom interview footage. Many large production companies have struggled to create interesting TV at this time due to the constraints of the pandemic, but this production succeeds even on a limited student budget. The interviewees are what makes the documentary. EUTV always knew that they wanted to have a student focus and speak to two students that the university’s mental health system has failed. Their stories detail an utterly disappointmenting response from the university. Morgan, one of the interviewees, was told she was “too well to be given counselling”. She then ended up dropping out of university due to her mental health issues. Along with narrated student testimonies, these voices give an authentic yet tragic picture of the mental health crisis

The interviewer is Kate Woraker, a first year new to the society but who possesses a natural empathy when talking to her student interviewees. Despite this being her first in-front of camera role, she exudes warmth and compassion. Yet this doesn’t mean she is eager to shy away from challenging authority figures. Interviewing Andrew Shanks, the head of the university’s mental health service, she demands answers and repeatedly stands up for herself and others. Even if he shies away from some of the questions, Shanks does provide some of the most shocking statistics in the documentary film and his inclusion is needed. Importantly, he is not the only university executive to be interviewed. Colm Harmon, the Vice President of Students, is also featured in the documentary. To give scientific weight to the documentary, GP and mental health expert Dominique Thomson is interviewed. She explains the increase in mental health cases for students at the start of the documentary but is clipped again at the end of the programme providing useful advice and humour, lightening the tone in a way that feels sincere and important.

Despite the lighter concluding note, the documentary ensures viewers are left feeling that the university must do more. Yes, the institution may have big plans for the future, but it is failing to implement its services effectively right now. EUTV’s piercing production makes this painfully obvious. It is a vitally important example of student journalism at its very best and deserves attention from students and staff alike.

By Alexa Sambrook

Alexa Sambrook is a second year French and German student. After joining The Student at the start of Semester 2 of her first year, she wrote for the Features and TV and Film section. She was made TV and Film editor in May 2020 and works alongside Aron Rosenthal. She is passionate about building community in the section at this time.