Georgina Hayes encourages members of the Glasgow University community to come forward with their experiences of mental health
When trawling through the Glasgow Guardian’s archive to find past coverage on mental health, I found an embarrassing lack of material for someone whose expectations were already desperately low. Other than the pleasant surprise of stumbling across a double-spread from 1965 on student mental health and what can be done to help, the issue of mental health on campus has remained shamefully untouched until relatively recently.
In 85 years, the Glasgow Guardian has evolved considerably in its coverage, and seemingly all at once. From having a gaping vacancy in mental health coverage that stretches across decades, to referring to the mentally ill in one 1930s issue as “the Nuts”, the paper now has editors and contributors alike openly discussing their struggles with mental health issues in every edition. In stark contrast to the lack of representation from only a handful of years ago, the Views section in particular has pledged to include at least one article in each print edition that discusses mental health.
The Glasgow Guardian isn’t the only publication to substantially increase its coverage of mental health in recent years: almost every major newspaper now seems to be jumping on the mental health bandwagon, and rightly so. What was frightfully lacking only a number of years ago has now, thanks in part to the media, been pushed into the spotlight of national conversation.
Just this month, the nation watched as something once unimaginable happened: the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom publicly acknowledged mental health, and promised a “review” of disgracefully poor services. Of course, any promise made by the Tories to “revolutionise” mental health is at best playing lip-service to a nation increasingly conscious of issues surrounding mental health and at worst a shameful lie to recapture their dwindling support.
Still, the fact that even the most cynical politicians are now feeling obliged to play any kind of lip-service to mental health shows how far we’ve come as a society. One of the key prime movers in shaping both public, political and personal conversations has always been the media; from deciding elections to dismantling (or too-often encouraging) stigma, the media has historically been a crucial tool in changing minds and giving a voice to the voiceless.
That’s why it’s more critical than ever to encourage and increase stories, perspectives and experiences of mental health. The media might be winning the stigma battle, but society at large is losing the war. Despite mental health coverage being at an all-time high, the services that both our country and university provide are horrendously lacking. Young people are still waiting months to get even an initial assessment with a mental health professional, Glasgow University still has no mandatory lecture recording policy, and the University’s Barclay Medical Practice continues to notoriously let down students that seek help for mental health problems.
It’s fitting that the 85th anniversary of the Glasgow Guardian coincides with World Mental Health Awareness Day: it exemplifies how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go. Despite all its past failings and faults, the media has and always will be a key instigator of public opinion and policy. That’s why, as this year’s co-Views Editor, I encourage any member of the University of Glasgow community to approach us with any experiences you have with mental health.
Now that the battle of stigma is slowly being won, the media must put pressure on governments, politicians and society at large, and win the war.