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Award-winning mental health campaigners Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn have shared their inspirational and incredible story with Bristol students and staff, to honour the University making its commitment to the Time to Change pledge.

The event on Friday (6th October) was completely sold-out, demonstrating the support for mental health awareness within the university community.

The pair shared the moving tale of their first encounter on a cold winter’s morning in 2008, when Neil’s simple act of reaching out and starting a conversation convinced Jonny not to take his life by jumping off London’s waterloo bridge.

Giving this talk almost ten years on, the importance of simply reaching out to others was still at the focus of their message. The audience were shown that through talking and opening up as they did at the event, Time to Change aims to end cultures of stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health by normalising conversations and discussion around the issue.

‘It is a message to students and parents that we are going to take mental health seriously’

In conversation with Epigram, Jonny expressed how he hopes the campaign will help achieve further parity between attitudes towards physical and mental health.

He explained ‘I think mental health has to be a priority in terms of education. Physical health education has always been a priority. There has always been a focus on obesity and other physical health problems amongst young people. Yet, mental health has never had that spotlight. Time to Change will absolutely help with that.’

‘We know a number of schools who have signed the pledge and it has completely changed the culture in terms of mental health. It really does change an organisation. Particularly when an educational organisation signs the pledge, it is a message to students and parents that we are going to take mental health seriously and we are going to address it.’

The Time to Change pledge was signed by Vice-Chancellor Hugh Brady to demonstrate the University’s committment to mental health awareness and change.

The University is now one of over 600 organisations who have committed to sign the pledge nationwide. With research by the Mental Health Foundation suggesting that 75% of mental health problems are established by the age of 24, this is an especially important step for higher education institutions.

At the event, Vice-Chancellor Hugh Brady introduced the practical changes being made at the University this year to support the wellbeing of its staff and students. Brady told the audience that with positive progression and research, he hopes to ‘establish our University as a beacon of best practice.’

The University’s plans includes a scale up of the Student Services and investment into support with university residences. 28 full-time mental health advisers and managers have also been appointed and will be embedded in to academic departments to provide personal and tailored support.

Mark Ames, Director of Student Services at the University, told Epigram: ‘This will provide another port of call for students. The wellbeing advisors will spend time in their respective schools and faculties, getting to know staff and students.’ He also explained that Time to Change is a whole institution approach to wellbeing, which includes increasing investment into staff mental health support in addition to student support.

Did you attend the talk? What do you think about the Time to Change pledge? Share your experience with Epigram:

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