Two members of the Students’ Union sabbatical team have resigned due to mental health issues, Gair Rhydd can confirm.
Both VP Welfare Kate Delaney and VP Heath Katey Beggan have stated that they will not return to their roles as student representatives after taking extended sick leave. However despite the news the Students’ Union has not released a public statement to students explaining the situation at the time of print.
Speaking to Gair Rhydd, Delaney and Beggan have openly discussed their decisions to step down following a personal struggle with mental health. When asked why students were not informed of the resignations, Delaney explained: “I don’t know why [the SU] haven’t put anything out.”
According to a Students’ Union spokesperson, students and staff “who work closely with Kate and Katey” have been made aware, although there was no mention of informing the wider student population.
It was also stated that “as a matter of policy” the Students’ Union does not comment about current or former employees.
The former VP Welfare has attributed her decision to resign to “ongoing mental health problems”, as she explained: “I reached a point in January where both my depression and anxiety were quite severe. After help and support from the SU, my GP, counsellor and friends and family I started to improve but decided I was not ever going to be ready to return to my role before my term finished.
“I needed to prioritise my own mental wellbeing and I will be using the next few months to look after myself.”
Delaney and Beggan resigned at the end of March after being voted in for the role during the student elections last year.
According to a spokesperson, the work of VP Welfare and Heath will now be shared between the remaining sabbatical officers, in order to ensure “student representation within their areas is fully maintained and students continue to receive the same levels of support.”
Like Delaney, outgoing VP Heath Katey Beggan also described a similar experience in previous months as she confirmed: “it is with a very heavy heart that I have had to resign from my role as Vice President Heath Park campus.
Beggan continued: “The choice I made to resign is not a decision that I have made lightly and there are numerous reasons why I thought it was best. However the overarching factor is my mental health, as I have been diagnosed with depression. It took a little while to come to terms with the reality that I may need to resign as I did not want to let my fellow students, who elected me into this role, down.”
For Beggan, stepping down early will ensure that she is fit to practice and able to return to her course as a third-year medic in September.
By making their own problems public, Delaney and Beggan hope to raise awareness of mental health. In the interview Delaney stressed that: “I hope that being honest and open about this can further the awareness of mental health and self care. Sometimes you have to put yourself first.”
In a recent study made by the National Union of Students, it was revealed that 78 per cent – nearly eight out of ten students – have experienced mental health issues whilst more than half have not sought help.
Earlier this year a Gair Rhydd investigation suggested that this rise has also been mirrored in the number of Cardiff students seeking counselling, with support services both at Park Place and Heath campuses reportedly under strain.
According to the Delaney, the intense nature of work as a sabbatical officer was a contributing factor to her decision to step down. Delaney explained: “The pressure and the nature of being a sabb is so intense for a recent graduate that with my underlying mental health problems, it did make me worse. I think VP Welfare is a tough role in itself as well.”
The VP Heath also added: “I think that the role of being a sabbatical officer is naturally going to come with a certain amount of pressure as your actions are responsible to the student body. It is a public facing role where there are methods of scrutinising your work.”
All sabbatical officers start their positions during the summer and work for a large amount of hours. On many occassions this involves working beyond a typical 9-5 workday and responding to emails and communications whilst outside the office.
Talking about her typical week, VP Societies Hannah Sterritt clarified: “It varies massively depending on what’s on really, but I do the hours I do because I want to, not because I have any obligation to.” This includes attending society events every week.
When asked about the support facilities offered by the Students’ Union Kate Delaney stressed “I’m not the only one who could use more staff support, but I really felt quite overloaded with no one to directly go to. Although it didn’t help, it wasn’t the root cause of my problems, it just brought out some underlying ones and made it almost impossible for me to get better once I’d slipped back down.”
The VP Welfare suggested that the role receives the “least direct staff support”, as it was noted that other positions such as VP Education and VP Postgraduate benefit from the help of the Student Voice Team. For VP Societies and Sport the Activities department also provide information and support.
Although there is a Welfare executive team consisting of volunteer students, the lack of a budget specifically for welfare matters was stressed during the student elections. Future VP Welfare Hollie Cooke has pledged to look at this matter.
Overall though, Delaney did commend the Students’ Union’s behaviour as she described them as “better than I expect other organisations to be in terms of their support when I was signed off sick, and I am grateful for that.”
Indeed, Beggan also stressed that sabbatical officers receive substantial training during induction and throughout the supper period to help with the “stresses of the job and to make sure that you have the tools to do the job well”.
This was confirmed by the Students’ Union, who stated that “support is provided for all employees as part of their employment within the organisation.”
It was also confirmed that “reasonable adjustments are made for physical and mental health, and occupational health advice is available.” In addition, for employees who are also counted as students then facilities such as support services and counselling services are available.
However, despite the training provided, it appears as if stigma towards mental health remains a problem. The VP Welfare told Gair Rhydd that “there’s still unconscious stigma surrounding mental health in all situations. People often just don’t know what to do or how to act still and tends to result in stigma. People mean well but we still need a lot more education for mental health, even in the SU.”
The interview concluded with the VPs thanking those who have supported them during this time and reassuring students that support will be available.
For matters concerning students in Heath park campus both Claire Blakeway and Neil Alexander will be available for support.
Both officers expressed that they would like to apologise to students for their resignation. Whilst Delaney stated that “I feel very sorry for those students who voted for me and I’m sorry that I couldn’t achieve what I was voted in for”, Beggan continued: “I would like to apologise for not being able to complete everything that I was elected to do and complete my year.”
However she also added that despite leaving early the VP Heath has been able to complete the majority of her manifesto pledges during her nine months in the role.
Normally sabbatical officers earn £20,000 during a one year period, however it remains unsure whether both VPs will be paid for a full year.