Keira Talks Mental Health

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This is a blog post written by Keira Rounsley, VP Welfare and Community at De Montfort Students’ Union (DSU).

On the November 26 my campaign Stamp Out Stigma launched and I have been overwhelmed by the response from staff and students.

Mental health is so important; everyone has it, whether it’s good or bad. There’s absolutely no shame in feeling anxious, stressed or depressed, there’s always someone you can talk to! It’s not unknown that there is a stigma surrounding mental health that can be a barrier to people seeking professional help or just confiding in their friends or family for support – but together  we can break down that stigma by talking about it!

The National Union of Students did some research and of 92% of respondents who claimed to have experienced feelings of mental distress, only 4% of students are currently accessing support for mental health issues.

‘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’ – NUS

So ask yourself, does this surprise you? What could be causing this?

Heavy workloads, financial burdens, high tuition fees, homesickness, relationships, tough job markets – take your pick!

This is why I wanted to get people talking about mental health and for that openness to have a positive impact on students and staffs lives.

Coming to university is guaranteed to change your life in one way or another, hopefully for the better, but we can’t ignore the fact that university can be hard work too. Not only are you moving away from home, under pressure to make friends for life, living independently without your parents cleaning up after you’ve left your plate on the sofa and empty packets in the fridge (or was that just me?), but you are also facing deadlines and financial strain which could possibly lead you to feeling very stressed.

There are many different types of mental illness – many that aren’t visible to the eye like physical illnesses, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems, however there are a lot more out there including eating disorders and drug abuse. Here is a really interesting site where you can learn more about the different forms of mental illness.

Okay – you’re probably thinking 'why have I come to uni with all these stresses?' But university is so much fun and you will learn a lot about yourself – trust me, I’ve done it. Just a bit of advice – try and find a balance between work and play, it can be difficult I know, and all of these stresses can start to build up.

So what happens when they do? Well that’s why we’re here. I’ve put together my very own #StampOutStigma guide book which gives you top tips on what you can do to look after your own mental health, how to study healthy and where all our support services are if it gets all a bit too much - just pop into the exec office to pick one up.

University is amazing and with the right work/play balance, knowing where you can access support if needed, just try and make the most of it whilst you can! There’s something about speaking to or hearing familiar stories from people who have or are going through a similar problem as you.

That’s why I have set up a Stamp Out Stigma blog page where students and staff can tell stories about their experiences with mental health problems. Sharing stories can make others not feel alone. Here our very own Vice Chancellor, Dominic Shellard, speaks about his experiences with mental health here.

Suffering with a mental health problem is difficult but so is having to be a companion and support someone who is dealing with a mental health problem. Myself and Amie Chapman, your Deputy President Education, will be releasing our own blogs in the coming weeks about our own experiences with mental health, specifically around supporting those with mental health problems.

Not only do I want to just talk about mental health, I want to make real change! That’s why we successfully passed policy at Activities Council to make it compulsory for the Vice President Welfare and Community officer to offer Mental Illness Awareness training to committees of Sports Teams, Societies, and Course Reps.

The campaign so far has been a huge success – I have spoken to over 500 individual students personally about mental health through my mental health road show which ran throughout the week, and you know what was really great? Staff were getting involved too – yep, they get stressed too. On the Monday we also had the Guide Dogs in, a chance to de-stress with arts and crafts, free tea and cake, Fridge Raiders, Thrive and Richmond Fellowship all here in the Students Union. We also made a pretty awesome hanging tapestry for our Students Union where students and staff united together by printing our painted hands onto the canvas signing it with our names and what we do to de-stress. There will be a lot more events happening throughout the year – so keep your eyes peeled!

In the meantime, stay happy and healthy!

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