Join the conversation.
This was the tagline for Wellbeing Week (12-18 November), a programme of events organised by the Edinburgh University Students’ Association to “raise awareness of mental health and well-being among students and staff.”
This week is well timed. Every November, the Movember Foundation asks people to help change the face of men’s health – specifically men’s mental health – by donating time, money (and, if you can, by growing a moustache). Movember gets people talking about men’s mental health and, in a society where men’s emotional openness has been heavily stigmatised, raising awareness is crucial.
The Mental Health Foundation makes a valuable comparison to the fight against smoking, saying “We need to reach the stage where us men feel comfortable to discuss our mental health. As we know from the progress made in stopping people smoking, change only happens when cultural narratives and values start to shift too.”
Some students have shared their story on Twitter using #letstalk. We should take inspiration from them; by just talking about their experience, they are increasing the visibility of ways to get help and fighting to minimise stigma.
It’s clear then that the university has got it right with “Join the conversation” and #letstalk, but are they really doing enough?
The university has many programs advocating for the mental health and wellbeing of its students. During Wellbeing Week, the Student’s Association organised almost one hundred extra sessions to support students. Free yoga, free access to the gym at off-peak hours, destress workshops, and even specific sessions to learn and receive guidance like “How to be a better ally to Sexual Assault Survivors,” “Experiences of Mental Health in Black and Minority Ethnic Communities,” and “Disordered Eating and Recovery,” to name just a few.
During the rest of the year, the university offers valuable resources as well. There are individual counselling services offered to all staff and students (though it should be noted that it only offers short-term counselling and then students are referred to someone outside of the university). There are also weekly workshops on topics like perfectionism, confidence, and other healthy strategies for wellbeing, and the Support for Physical Activities programme offering five free appointments to promote and teach exercises that are individually tailored to a student’s interests and goals.
The university counselling service website also has a multitude of resources outside of the university: Nightline (a call in line led by students run every day of term from 8pm to 8am for “listening, emotional support, and information”), Big White Wall (an online support service), Support Groups, Readings, Online Courses, and much more.
However, a sad fact is, the majority of students aren’t using the counselling service. In 2009, the Records Management Section reported that only around 900 people approached the Student Counselling Service with mental health issues. That’s roughly three per cent of the student body. In the 2015/2016 academic year this more than quadrupled to over 2,800, but still represents a fraction of all students at the university, especially as the student intake continues to grow. As the Students’ Association states website, “1 in 4 of us will struggle with our mental health each year,” so you would expect then that the percentage of students using these services would be much higher.
Perhaps the problem then is visibility. Edinburgh wants its students to be healthy, but maybe it should take a more personalised approach in spreading the word. If personal tutors or Residence Assistants spoke directly to their students about some of the available resources, maybe more students would use them. During Welcome Week – a time when lots of people are checking what events are happening – the Students’ Association or the counselling service could have info sessions or meetings about the resources that are available to students when in need.
Please remember that you don’t have to suffer alone. The resources mentioned above can all be found on the university of Edinburgh website. The Samaritans run a telephone line that offers 24-hour help, 365 days; the NHS offers free counselling. If you are struggling, please reach out. Ask for help.
Image: Let the People Speak! via Flickr