By George Watkins
On the 10th of October, Cardiff University’s mental health campaign ‘Mind Your Head Week’ returns, and there will be a variety of different events around campus to raise awarenss, engage students and encourage discussion, while letting everyone have a bit of fun at the same time. The event runs for four days, from Monday to Thursday, to coincide with World Mental Health Day (on the 10th).
Why do we need something like this? Mental health is the unspoken hardship for many students, including myself. When I came to university at the beginning of my first year I was in the middle of a period of severe anxiety and depression, to the point that I had been immensely agoraphobic, struggling to even leave the house at one point. Through help from the university and my friends I have been able to pull myself out of this bad patch, but it helped me realise just how hard it can be for many students to be able to open up about how they feel and admit that they might need help. Stigma can be a major barrier too, often making sufferers fearful of repercussions, if not being downright bullied for appearing to be different or somehow vulnerable.
A 2015 survey by the National Union of Students presented some really worrying facts. 78 per cent of students reported that they had experienced mental health issues in the last year, with a third of respondents admitting to experiencing suicidal thoughts (the figure rose to 55 per cent for non-heterosexual students). Over half of those who admitted to suffering said that they did not seek help to remedy their conditions, not to mention the third who said they did not know where to get help, or the 40 per cent being nervous about any support the university or other institution might be able to give them. With this in mind, the issue seems vital to be raised on campus. It is remarkable how much easier issues like this seem if there is already a thriving, positive conversation on the topic, with students being both open to sharing and to listen and engage.
Every year brings a different theme. The one for this year is ‘Let’s talk about the elephant in the room’, playing on the old saying of not noticing what’s clearly there. As part of Hollie Cooke’s (our new Vice President for Welfare) ideas, students in an elephant costume will tour the campus, entering lectures and abruptly leaving to bring the issue to the forefront of conversation on campus. As part of the elephant outfit will be the initiative for students to take photos of or with it, and share them on social media using the universal hashtag #MindYourHeadCSU.
Throughout the week will be various events, including a mental health fair on Monday, which will include speeches from various people who have experienced mental health problems, and are able to both shed light on the topic and hopefully inspire students to be more open about such common problems that often are brushed aside like they are minor. Tuesday is Inner Child Day, where you will be allowed, if not encouraged to enjoy yourself and forget about acting your age for a while. If nothing else, when was the last time you went on a bouncy castle? In the evening you will be able to watch the Oscar-winning Pixar film Inside Out in Y Plas. The final event will be the annual dodgeball tournament in the Great Hall, which, apart from being intensely competitive, will be laced with the message that exercise is positive for mental health.
Some of this may sound lighthearted, but with an issue as relevant and serious as mental health, it is important to create a positive community atmosphere to help everyone feel more comfortable. Until a conversation is started, mental health will continue to remain the elephant in the room on campus.