GUSA look to reduce mental health stigma on campus

Published

Selena Jackson
GUSA Correspondent 

Mental health, whether good or poor, is something that affects us all, and it is estimated that 1 in 4 of us will be diagnosed with a mental health issue at some point in our lives.

With women most likely to suffer from mental health issues between the ages of 16-24 and young men more likely to be affected between the ages of 25-34, it rings true that awareness of our own mental health is becoming increasingly important.

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Ill mental health has been the centre of much heated debate in recent months, with numerous celebrities opening up about their own personal struggles. But the most troubling concern is how we as a society view mental health, and particularly how it is all too often portrayed in the media. I myself have read countless superficial articles, in which mental health has been glamourised and unashamedly portrayed as “a beautiful tragedy”. This offhand approach does nothing but brush off the idea of mental health problems as a temporary inconvenience. It’s time to come to terms with the fact that there is nothing at all “beautiful” about the crippling effects of mental health issues, not only on those who are suffering, but on those around them too.

While the long-lasting effects of depression, anxiety etc. will need to be treated by specialists, there are some things that we can do ourselves, both to reduce the risk of being affected, as well as to pick ourselves up on a daily basis, as inevitably we all feel like we need sometimes.

With exams fast approaching and applications for placements and graduate schemes looming, its no wonder that many of us are feeling temporarily stressed and overwhelmed. This year, GUSA has directed much of its focus towards raising awareness of mental health problems, and introducing various support programmes in an attempt to get students talking about their mental health, in order to prevent these temporary worries manifesting themselves into something much more serious.

It comes as no surprise that exercise and a healthy lifestyle is beneficial to our physical wellbeing, but what about the psychological benefits? A report published recently by HealthScotland indicated a correlation between increased participation in physical activity and improved mental wellbeing. In the short term, high levels of mood-boosting endorphins are released into our bodies during and after exercise, as well as exercise acting as a temporary distraction from everyday stress and anxiety. However, the social benefits of exercise are what can really make a difference in the long term. Interaction in club sports in particular allows people who may not usually feel noticed or appreciated achieve a sense of belonging and self-worth.

Of course, there are many reasons why some people may not feel confident enough to take up sport at university such as disability, lack of motivation, low self esteem, embarrassment and indeed existing mental health issues. This is why in 2012 GUSA’s welfare committee introduced a buddy scheme to offer support and guidance to students feeling wary and self-conscious. 23 students have been trained as buddies to offer a block of one-to-one support each semester, meaning that there is the opportunity for 46 students to benefit from this scheme every year. This first intake has seen all 23 spaces filled, with 10 students already on the waiting list for next semester.

However, while there’s no doubt that sport is one of the best ways to ensure a balanced lifestyle, obsessive eating habits and exercise can actually be at the core of some psychological issues. The Starfish Group was launched in recognition of this, and offers a secure environment where people can talk to others and receive advice and support from others going through the same difficulties as themselves, whether it be that they are struggling with eating disorders and excessive exercise, or are worried about a friend. There are 39 students currently saved on the Starfish database, with 15-20 in regular attendance at weekly meetings, but these numbers are not a true reflection of how many students are currently struggling and unsure of where to look for support, so GUSA is keen to reach out and appeal to all those affected, or who are worried about a friend.

On Friday 14th November, GUSA council members will be participating in an 18-hour static cycle outside the Stevenson Building in partnership with the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) in order to raise awareness of mental health and the help that is available to students, so whether you are personally affected or not, encourage as many people as possible to come along, after all, the help provided to just one person who needs it can make a huge difference to their life.

It’s time to not only stamp out the stigma attached to mental health, but to identify it for what it actually is. Mental illness is just as devastating as any physical ailment, and it’s so important that people feel confident enough in the support systems around them to discuss how they’re feeling.

Let’s get talking about mental health.

More information about the buddy scheme and Starfish Group can be found online www.gla.ac.uk/services/sport/gusa/support or in the 2014 Healthy Body Healthy Mind report, also published online.

For help and advice, or if you just need someone to talk to, the SRC’s Nightline is available every night, 7 days a week. More information can be found at www.glasgowstudent.net/services/nightline.