Psychiatry Society tackle stigma with ‘Open Your Mind’ event

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A successful ‘Open Your Mind’ event was hosted by Lancaster Psychiatry Society, a new society set up by students who are passionate about mental health education and tackling stigma. A group of medics including Sam Mills, a 4th year medic, and Reem Ibrahim, a 3rd year medic, were inspired to set up the society whilst on psychiatry placements. However, they stressed how important it is for non-medics to get involved and welcome anyone who is passionate or interested about mental health to contact them. Mills and Ibrahim aim to help educate students and raise awareness about mental health conditions. They also hope to provide a safe space for students to discuss this topic, a topic said to affect everyone.

The event attracted many students, as did the free pizza, and encouraged a more open and frank discussion surrounding this difficult topic. Presentations including facts, statistics and educational videos were given by various speakers who spoke about specific mental health conditions. One speaker spoke about anxiety and debunked many misunderstandings about the condition.

Anxiety, alongside depression, is the most common form of mental health condition, documented to affect women disproportionately. It was informed that predictors can include poverty and traumatic childhood events although it was stressed that in some cases, there are no predictors. The attendees were informed that there are 3 main forms of anxiety: panic disorders, phobias and General Anxiety Disorders (GADs).

Panic disorders are recurrent and spontaneous, phobias are often triggered by irrational fears and specific anxieties around one thing, for example, spiders (arachnophobia) whereas with GAD, the suffer is often in a constant state of high anxiety. The speaker also discussed the importance of addressing Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The symptoms of PTSD usually include intrusive thoughts, reminders of trauma, nightmares, flashbacks of past events, hyper-vigilance and sleep disturbance.

The next speaker focussed his presentation on depression. Common symptoms of depression include feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, lack of interest in friends, activities and thoughts of self-harm. The attendees were reminder, however, that depression is often stigmatised and trivialised and were reminded that the mass media is partly responsible for this. Notorious and sensationalist headlines such as The Sun’s ‘Bonkers Bruno’ when reporting on Frank Bruno’s mental health and ‘Madman in Cockpit’ when reporting on the Germanwings Flight 9525 disaster are some prime examples.

What I found the most interesting about this presentation was the ‘Science of Depression’ part. Being enlightened about the scientific angle of mental health study was something I found invaluable. The speaker noted that the hippocampus is smaller in people with depression. They experience a decrease in neurones and may inherit the condition from family members. Depression was subsequently described as a ‘disease with biological processes and social implications’.

1 in 4 people in the U.K. will experience some form of mental health problem each year. The Psychiatry Society’s efforts to help raise awareness of this can only be applauded. They will also be hosting an upcoming ‘MedFest’ and are looking for people to help with ideas, presentations and other future events to follow. You can contact them here: https://www.facebook.com/Lancspsychsoc/?fref=ts

For more information about mental health conditions, the Psychiatry Society recommends the National Library of Medicine, the World Health Organisation and charity websites such as Mind.

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