Universities across the country will be holding a Mental Health and Wellbeing Day on 20 February. UEA’s Mental Health Co-Ordinator Lydia Pell told us some more.
“It is on the 20th, and it’s going to be from 11am to 3pm in the Hive. Mental health advisers who work in higher education, like me, decided that we needed to do more about campaigning, raising awareness and reducing stigma. It’s our day to make a concerted effort to raise awareness.” However, it’s not just students with mental health problems that they expect to see.
“We also see a lot of students who don’t really know how to look after themselves. They might not have a mental health problem, but might just need a little help, such as sleep hygiene or reducing stress around exams.”
There will be plenty of stalls in the Hive from student-led groups to external organisations, including the UEA Counselling Service, UEA Headucate, The Matthew Project Youth Team, UEA Wellb eing Team and Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, amongst others. Lydia comments that the stigma of a mental health diagnosis being a permanant issue needs to be dispelled.
“In society we often see a diagnosis as a fixed thing, where it’s not. You aren’t necessarily born with a mental health diagnosis and that’s it – you might have a problem and so you learn strategies to cope with it, or you might be fine until you are 32 and then your mental health deteriorates.
“This view that it is us and them, and that you either have it or you don’t is not true. We all have our culpabilities and could all have mental health difficulties, which is why I feel so strongly about reducing stigma.”
Lydia also spoke about the effect that the media has on the perpetuation of these stereotypes.
“I think the media has a huge part. Admittedly, they do sometimes do positive things, but it is far and few between.” She offers an example: “If there were an incident in the community and they had a mental health diagnosis, they report it. Of course, some people with mental health do bad things, but people without mental health issues do equally bad things.
“It scares people, and it also puts people off from disclosing information about themselves.”
It’s easy to accept that the negative stigma surrounding mental health can often put off those suffering from reporting any issues they may be having, a problem that can be potentially dangerous. Lydia feels, however, we can break through this barrier.
“The more it is talked about, and the more successful people that come forward and say ‘yes, I’ve got a great life, but I’ve got mental health issues as well’, the better.
“I think in the health professions it’s a really big thing. It’s important to support students and people generally who work in them. Also, there are barriers for what is expected of students while on placement – having adjustments made for students with mental health should be as easy as making adjustments for a wheelchair.”
Although the Mental Health and Wellbeing Day is a special event, Lydia offers a wealth of help for students around campus.
“One of our roles is to raise awareness, and another is one-to-one work with students who may have difficulties. That could be through self-refferal, GP refferal or friends referral. We also see people who are supporting a friend or housemate who may have stuff going on.
“I also support the student run self help group for eating disorders and am starting to work with the NHS about better transitions for students in their services. We also manage the Disabled Student Allowance process, communicate with schools and advisers and help with exam arrangements.”
There is plenty of help available on campus, but Lydia believes the problem is students actually making use of what is open to them.
“We do see a lot of homesick students where it does just become more than missing home. Managing money, managing lectures, self-directed study and being away from your usual support network are parts of a transition that sees many struggle.”
Lydia advises that if you feel you need help, visiting her or going to the UEA Medical Centre is the best move.
“Our GP practice here does have an urgent doctor system, which means you can be seen within an hour or two, and an out of hours system. Our GPs on campus are the best GPs I’ve ever worked with around mental health.
“I would really encourage students them to see a doctor ASAP – even if they don’t do anything in the first session, they are getting to know the student.”
If you feel like you need any help or advice, or you have a friend who you are concerned about, don’t hesitate to contact Lydia at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Medical Centre on 01603 251600. Or you can pop in to the Mental Health and Wellbeing Day in the Hive on the 20th for more information.