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LUSU and the University have continued strides to improve student mental health services and support this term, taking part in the national University Mental health and Wellbeing Day which takes place on Wednesday Week 6. As well as continuing the successful ‘Happy To Talk’ sessions introduced to Lancaster this term, the Union have stated that they will be involved in the Mental Health and Wellbeing Day as well as putting on various events during Mental Health Awareness Week in May.
At the end of Lent term the University affirmed its commitment towards supporting student mental health support as Vice Chancellor Mark E. Smith signed the Time To Change pledge to reduce mental health discrimination, alongside VP (Welfare) Mia Scott. Scott told SCAN the Union is “passionate” about the issue of mental health and view it “as a huge priority within the Union.”
The Union have maintained their commitment to the problems surrounding mental health since signing the Time To Change pledge themselves in Lent Term 2014. However, the support from the University and its Vice-Chancellor in signing the pledge has given this campaign greater impotus. Scott said that since the pledge was signed in October, “LUSU have run a coffee morning on National ‘Time to Talk’ day, trained student volunteers to run ‘Happy to Talk’ sessions with Lancashire Mind and continued to provide information and support to students about mental health and where to get help.
“Some of the Equality, Welfare and Diversity team have also set up a working group who are aiming to promote the counselling service by offering support to students wishing to access it as well as gathering feedback to pass on to the staff in Student Based Services. As far as I’m aware, the university have also been doing lots of great things since signing the pledge including mental health first aid training for staff, disclosure workshops for students and other workshops for staff as well as giving out information leaflets to all departments.”
University Mental Health and Wellbeing Day is a national annual event to promote the mental health of those who live and work in higher education settings. The initiative was started by the University and Mental Health Awareness Network in 2012 as an opportunity to improve understanding and awareness of mental health issues across UK universities.
Scott confirmed to SCAN that the Union would be getting involved in University Mental Health and Wellbeing Day saying, “the Union is of course getting involved with University mental health and wellbeing day on 18th Feb, jointly with the university. We will also be running various events during mental health awareness week in May, such as the possibility of getting a celebrity guest speaker to come and do a talk for us! We’ll continue to run Happy to Talk sessions and will continue to support the volunteers who run these.
“We will also be trying to do some training for JCRs and officers on mental health first aid and mindfulness. Mental health is viewed as a huge priority within the Union, and is something we are all very passionate about. There will be many more things in the pipeline for the future, and we certainly aren’t going to let the university forget that they signed that pledge!”
Signing the pledge in Week 10 of Lent Term the University Vice-Chancellor Mark E. Smith told SCAN of the University’s intention to take action against mental health discrimination. “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.” Smith continued, “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.”
Scott also spoke to SCAN about the University’s fledgling mental health support project in collaboration with Lancashire Mind, Happy To Talk, which allows people to come together in a casual social situation and build strong healthy relationships that go further than just small talk. She said, “Happy to Talk has really only just kicked off last week, with a few volunteers running a couple of sessions. So far, it’s been received really positively by students, volunteers and staff. If it goes well, I believe the university are interested in branching the opportunity out to staff as well as students. It is my hope that by this time next year, the initiative will be extremely popular and that a culture will have developed amongst our students whereby there is an openness to talk- not necessarily about mental health and wellbeing, but about their day, how it made them feel, what’s going well for them.”
Despite the birth of the Happy To Talk, Scott was also keen to state that welfare is an integral part of students’ lives that needs support from University management addressing the University’s need for counsellors. “As much as I can think of many ways in which LUSU could utilise money from the university for welfare resources, I would personally rather see them invest it into expanding and improving the services that they offer. One new counsellor is amazing, and took years of lobbying, but there is still a waiting list of three weeks and there is still a lack of counsellors with expert knowledge in certain areas, and I strongly believe this is something we should keep lobbying on.
“One in four people experience a mental health problem in any given year, and this in addition to all the other possible reasons in which a student might wish to access counselling should be shouting out to university management as not just something to be looked at, but something which needs to urgently be addressed. The counselling service is just one small part of this.”