This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, which is I think an important opportunity to remind ourselves that we *all* have mental health and that it’s OK/crucial to take care of ourselves.
In Cambridge, poor mental health can be normalised. I gave up caffeine in my second year on the basis that it made me feel anxious; starting the day at my desk in my room, I distinctly remember drinking my tea and feeling my heart-rate rise. But what I didn’t see was that this was also the moment I opened my laptop or book and tried to get on with the intangible task of ‘being good at academia.’ Now that I am living a very different life, I realise that caffeine only makes me more anxious, when I am already feeling anxious. I’m still steering clear of caffeine (stimulants are not the one for me), but I see now that the atmosphere around ‘doing my degree’ was not good for me, and it’s interesting that I didn’t recognise this so clearly at the time.
Student mental health is a problem across the UK (and maybe the world), for a set of complex reasons // reasons I don’t fully understand. Enough of my loved ones at this University have been through mental health-related issues that it has a very emotional importance to me. I guess part of this blog is about not just expressing my solidarity and love for all of you who are struggling with your mental health but also thinking about what we can (and do) do about it.
Micha (the CUSU-GU Welfare and Rights Officer) and Florence (the CUSU Disabled Students’ Officer – or DSO*) have done wonderful work this year. Micha has trained about a billion welfare officers, helping them feel prepared to support students in all areas of the University. Her training is apparently amazing [satisfaction scores]. On top of this, she has actually got the University to listen to her concerns about mental health provisions for BME students and act on them by hiring a BME counsellor in the UCS. This term is a busy one for Florence in working for the rights of disabled students. She is campaigning to get Homerton back on the route of the Uni 4, and also, the Disabled Students’ Campaign Healthcare and Services survey is out, so if you self-define as a Disabled Student then fill it in!
There’s kind of too much to write about for this blog, because mental health intersects across all the areas of CUSU’s work, from education to liberation campaigns. The university is currently looking to create a new mental health strategy. While I’m sure this has been said many times before, we’re still putting a lot of energy into trying to advise them on this. From my perspective, there are about three big themes I would like the University to address with regards to mental health. The first is workload and the workload culture in the University, there is so much pressure on students and that nagging feeling in the back of your mind definitely makes everything worse. The second is intersectionality and the way that the mental health of students from liberation backgrounds is impacted in complex and different ways. Feeling isolated in the University is part of this issue, and I believe the work of liberation campaigns is so valuable here. Finally, resources and training are so important here; the University Counselling Service and Disability Resource Centre need to be fully funded, and there needs to be funding for more staff to be trained on mental health sensitivity.
At some point in the future, I will do a blog about our work on intermission, but for now just to say that we had “intermission forum” last week and it was a really productive discussion. Intermission is such an important topic and the Senior Tutors present (event pictured below) seemed to really engage and appreciate sharing best practice with one another.
As always, if you have any thoughts, please do get in touch!
*Don’t forget that that long-term mental health problems are recognised as disabilities, and if you are facing anything like this you are entitled to the resources of the disability resource centre and the DSO.