University signs the Time to Change pledge

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This morning (Thursday Week 10), the University Vice Chancellor Mark E. Smith signed the Time to Change pledge alongside VP (Welfare and Community) Mia Scott as part of the national Time to Change campaign. During his speech at the event, Smith said “By signing this we are publicly reaffirming a commitment to continuing to develop our policies and our support so that people can get the most out of their lives.” He also highlighted that “It’s great that it’s a collaboration and a kind of partnership with the Students’ Union and the University, because it doesn’t only affect one part of our University.”

Through signing the pledge, the University have promised to take action to reduce mental health discrimination. Speaking to SCAN, Smith said “Mental health is a kind of all-pervasive societal issue which doesn’t get the profile that it should and universities should take the thought leadership in many social issues and I think that this is a key one. We know it affects many of our students and our staff so I think for us an organisation, it’s the right thing to do.”

Regarding fighting the stigma of mental health, Smith said “it’s about recognising first of all that people do have these problems, and then it’s up to the organisations to be a supportive environment to overcome these problems. It’s getting that whole kind of ethos in place that people recognise that we are a positive environment. By signing the pledge we’re saying, look, we realise there’s this almost hidden problem out there, but it shouldn’t be something you’re ashamed of, we want to help you deal with these problems and create and environment to do that.”

Student Well-Being Services Manager Fay Sherrington said “I think that the university has always been really keen on the stamping out the stigma associated with stamping out the stigma associated with mental health so within the student well-being services we’ve been working for a long time training staff and helping students in that and I think that the pledge is just the next step in that process and putting it down on paper and making a public statement about what we already have believed and have been working towards for a long time.”

Lent Term of last year saw LUSU sign the Time to Change pledge themselves in a ‘Time to Talk’ event and they have since been lobbying the University to do the same. Speaking about the Time to Change movement in her speech, Scott said she is a strong supporter of the campaign because “it aims to get the statistics out there to destroy the stigma and discrimination faced by those with mental health problems.

“Signing such a significant pledge that explicitly states we are committed to challenging this stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental health makes me feel proud to be a Students’ Union officer and a Lancaster University Alumni member.”

Speaking to SCAN, Scott said: “There’s still such a stigma around mental health and it’s really good that the VC has acknowledged that and is willing to support the cause and put things in place so that we can try and reduce it.”

In her speech Scott emphasised that singing the pledge is just the start and that what comes after this is important. “I look forward to working with the university staff members to get started on what I hope will be an ongoing priority to support those with mental health problems and challenge the stigma that comes with it. I hope that through this work our staff and students will always remember the message of Time to Change and will never be the cause of stigma in society once they leave.”

In terms of future plans to continue their work on tackling the stigma surrounding mental health, Scott told SCAN that LUSU have written an action plan as part of Time to Change. On Wednesday Week 6, Lent Term, the University will hold a ‘Mental Health and Well-being’ day and Scott also mentioned that the student group LUSU Gives will be taking part in the National Time to Talk day, which was successful when held last year. LUSU also have plans to do mental health checks, workshops and set up some peer support groups and Scott said they would also like to run a ‘Healthy Body Healthy Mind’ campaign as well. She also mentioned that by making links with the mental health charity Lancashire Mind they created a volunteering opportunity called the Happy to Talk Initiative, which “aims to get people, social groups and communities to promote and create places for people to make time to connect and talk and boost mental well-being on campus.”

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