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Stephen Le Fanu, Student Living Officer at Bristol Students’ Union, talks about breaking down stigma, campaigning for mental wellbeing and the Mind Your Head campaign.
When I was younger I didn’t realise mental health would affect so many people, but most people are affected at some point. It’s one of the things we hear about most from the student body; they want to be talking about it and want the university to be talking about it.
Big campaigns like Be Mankind make it engaging and relatable to speak openly about mental health, as do those common statistics, such as one in four people being affected by mental illness.
I think that the stigma is decreasing, but there’s a whole range of students, and different groups with different perspectives. From the whole idea of masculinity and a ‘stiff upper lip’ to cultural differences with our international students. It is getting better. Hopefully one day we’ll just talk about health, not mental health or physical health.
Role models are also helping to normalise the conversation – when people put on a pedestal by the media come out and say: “I’m a human too, like anybody else”, that helps. We’ve got to keep talking about it.
I find it’s so important to take time out from work or study to do something completely different, like going on a long cycle ride. I keep a diary, writing down things I’m worried about. Often expressing yourself in some way can support mental wellbeing; it could be writing, sport or art.
The Mind Your Head campaign aims to take steps in normalising these discussions. We’ve got a bunch of activities on, excuses for people to get out the library and sit in the sun or do something fun.
The campaign will continue throughout the exam period, and we’ll be looking at next year too. It’s so integral to people’s lives, we want there to be opportunities to talk about mental health from the start of Welcome Week all the way through to their finals.
We’ve heard from loads of students about the need for community, the importance of having people you know around; and the importance of continued investment and commitment for professional support.
Find out more about Mind Your Head on the Bristol Students’ Union website and Facebook page: www.bristolsu.org.uk/mindyourhead.