The Glasgow University Students’ Representative Council (SRC) hosted a panel on 28 September comprising four professionals involved with organisations working in areas across mental health.
Speaking in this session were Angela Stewart from the Steve Retson Project, a specialised sexual health service for gay and bisexual men; Sarah Laverty, one of the 25 young ambassadors in Scotland for Beat, an organisation providing support for those suffering with eating disorders; Lisa Lee from Penumbra, providing a range of support facilities; and Alison Cairns from Bipolar Scotland.
The panel discussed the necessity to reduce stigma surrounding mental health issues and the importance of self management.
A repeated response discussion point was that of funding. Cairns admitted that Bipolar Scotland have the equivalent of 2.5 staff. She commented that the organisation “Haven’t had expertise to find it [funding], part of it down to Scottish government changing priorities. In the past 3 years they have cut 70% of it... we can’t deliver what we want to deliver if we’ve not got the resources. We know what’s needed because people tell us what’s needed, but unless we have the resources to back it up, we’re stuck.”
Lee followed, stating that her organisation has two crisis centres in Scotland. She was applauded after she addressed the audience directly: “If you guys are here as advocates of the future, of what our world’s going to look like and how our society is driven, then health and social care really, really, need to look at mental health being equitable with all these other health targets that we might have for cancer, or heart disease, or diabetes. We need to have the same kind of level of intervention for mental health.”
Lee complemented Glasgow University for its wide range of peer support available for students. A representative from Glasgow University Sports Association spoke about the Starfish Programme, an organisation on campus revolving around disordered eating and exercise, running buddy systems for those who are anxious in the gym and hosting drop in meetings. There are also counselling and psychological services as well as student support teams who are readily available to contact.
However, the panel agreed that stigma surrounding mental health prevents many students from seeking the help they might need. Laverty commented, “I can only speak from an eating disorder perspective, but it can happen to anyone, any mental health condition, and I don’t think people realise that until they find that a family member or friend has been in that situation... The quicker you are treated the less time it has to fester... I can honestly say that reducing the stigma will save lives drastically... If we can talk about it then people are more comfortable to go and get help, and if people can go and get help then the better the outcome.”
The panel discussed the strategies they would recommend for self care when you do not have much time. Laverty commented, “Make the time. If you’re mentally well you will be efficient in everything else you do. If you are busy and stressed then everything takes a lot longer... It could just be ten minutes out of your day to do exercise, or do something... If you get your head in a good place then you will be a lot more efficient, so making that time will be very beneficial.”
Stewart addressed the difficulty of speaking out, commenting, “Who is that normal person? Cause everyone’s got their own wee quirks, they way they are, their own personalities... We need to talk about these things more. We just need to be honest, people just need to be honest when they’re struggling. I might not need to speak to a professional... but these five thousand things that are happening, it’s all just a wee bit too much and actually, I should be able to talk to my friends about that... Being more open about these things helps bring it to the forefront and lets people feel more comfortable with themselves.”