This year, Student Officers have been busy working on It's OK, a campaign that aims to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health, promote and improve support services at Manchester Met, and remind every student that It's OK to talk.
We caught up with Lewis Bartlett, The Union's President, to find out more about the campaign, it's achievements so far, and MMU Mind Festival – a day of workshops and events on Thursday 2 March to mark University Mental Health Day.
Where did you get the idea for It’s OK?
"It came from my time as an officer last year. I saw students who were battling with mental health, I was battling with mental health, and so were close friends; this really moved me to want to do something, because of the empathy I felt towards people I care about. I was learning a lot about mental health through my degree but I wanted to know a bit more, so I did some research into it.
I saw there had been a huge increase in mental health issues over the last few years, and realised if that’s happening in society it’s definitely happening in universities as well, because of the amount of pressures students face. The campaign came from that initial idea as I wanted to try to help people."
What have the successes of the campaign been so far?
"We’ve had some really good It’s OK to Talk events, with Andy’s Man Club starting it off, and they’ve got bigger and bigger since then, with a lot of student involvement. The engagement with this event has been a great success.
Through working with the University's Student Support Services, to highlight the need for extra resource to support student mental health issues, we've helped to secure significant extra resources for the University's Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Service, including a new senior counsellor post, 3 extra counsellors / cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) specialists, a drug and alcohol worker, and five new mental health and wellbeing mentors. Some of them are already in post, with others joining them before the start of the new academic year. These new additions will really make a difference, and we're also working with the University to deliver a new Student Wellbeing Strategy in 2017/18.
We’ve also worked with the Student Case Management Team to include mental health issues as an exceptional factor; we hope that this will help show students that their mental health challenges are recognised and taken seriously.
Although it might not seem a success, the amount of appeals for mental health has increased slightly in the last few months, showing that what we’re doing and talking about it is helping students think about themselves and go through those channels and access support. For me, although the end goal is to get the amount of appeals to reduce, it’s really good to see it go up in the first instance because it shows we’re doing something that actually matters to students."
Why should students come along to the MMU Mind Festival?
"I think the beauty of this event is we’ve tried to cater to everyone, we’ve not done things just in the interest of one kind of student. We’ve got the obstacle course for people wanting to let off steam and have fun, stalls about support services for people who want information and education. We’ve also got workshops where students can really understand how to help themselves – whether that’s an hour meditating, or with MetMUnch looking at food and mood.
The diversity of what we’ve got planned is great, and hopefully that’ll come across to students. It’s easy to label mental health as one thing but it’s not – there are so many arms to it. It’s not just the labels of anxiety, depression, bi-polar or stress, it’s all of the other things it makes you feel – not wanting to go to work, get out of bed or eat. It’s the little things that you may not class as a mental health issue, but when you look a bit deeper, you can class it as that. I hope that this will make students aware of some of the issues they are going through and how to combat them."
What do you hope the long-term impact of It’s OK will be?
"I’m quite blue sky thinking, so long term I’d love for all students to know about counselling and what MMU provides: the Counselling Service, the Advice Centre, Residential Life, MetMUnch, MMU Sport and the Academic Appeals service. Bringing all of that together under one umbrella is the end goal. Although you may never remove the stigma of mental health, if we can get a couple of people to open up that counts. We have 38,000 students, but if we can help one then that is a success."
Information and support
See what's happening at the MMU Mind Festival here.
Visit the website to find out more about the It’s OK campaign and share your story.
If you need support or want to find out more about mental health, there are loads of places where you can find help, including The Union's Advice Centre, Manchester Mind, SelfHelp, Student Minds and Samaritans.