Zack Rose, the student who facilitated Bristol’s signing of the Time to Change pledge discusses the reasons behind the idea and how the event came about.
I was extremely pleased to have introduced Jonny Benjamin MBE and Neil Laybourn, together with Sue Baker from Time to Change, to the Director of Student Services at the University of Bristol.
My idea to have Neil and Jonny talk to students, staff and members of the public in the Great Hall of the Wills Memorial Building culminated in the formal signing of the Time to Change pledge by Professor Hugh Brady at the University on 6th October 2017, which is a tremendous step forward for mental health awareness at the University.
There is a huge gap in the UK between psychological knowledge, support and care and demand for psychological services.
Back in December 2016, I was horrified by the tragic suicides of three first year students in as many months. There were further suicides to follow in subsequent months, although these were not first year students. I had been helping to facilitate mental health charities including Mind, Rethink and other charities under the Heads Together trust, raising money for Jonny and Neil’s marathon effort.
Through this work and the devastating suicides that had taken place, I could see the dire need to improve mental health services at our university, as I know that even when people attempt to get help and not suffer alone, more often than not the services are either not available or are totally inadequate to meet the needs of the people requiring them.
There is a huge gap in the UK between psychological knowledge, support and care and demand for psychological services. At least 25% of people at University are struggling with mental health issues of one kind or another, but there are nowhere near enough personnel, expertise or facilities to support them with their struggles. No one should ever get to the point where they feel they have to take their own life.
I was so saddened by the tragic deaths of our students, I felt I had to do what I could to make a positive change in the University I was attending to support students facing difficulties with their mental health. I decided to introduce Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn to the University, and my idea, as said, was to hold a big event in the Great Hall, which would be the perfect way to raise attention and awareness to an issue that is so desperately in need of time, attention and resources.
Attitudes need to change – simply having a 45 minute consultation and sticking a patient on medication without any psychological support isn’t going to help anybody
Following an email to the Chancellor’s Office and the Director of Student Services, I went to Bristol with Jonny and Neil to have a meeting with the Director. I also contacted the CEO of Mind, Paul Farmer, who put me in touch with Sue Baker. It was suggested that the University sign the Time to Change Pledge, which shows a groundbreaking commitment to mental health within the University.
I was so pleased that this decision was reached and I hope that by doing this we can move towards a University where not only do fatalities not occur, but students can access the help and support they need. There certainly needs to be more and better quality training for therapists, and there needs to be more therapeutic help available for students. Therapists delivering support to students need to be aware of how mental health might impact their ability to access help and be willing to accommodate.
— Time to Change (@TimetoChange) October 10, 2017
Attitudes need to change – simply having a 45 minute consultation and sticking a patient on medication without any psychological support isn’t going to help anybody – it is only going to suppress the real issues driving the symptoms or even worse create a whole new set of symptoms which weren’t even present before.
By improving mental health services and attitudes towards mental health, suicide can be prevented. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK, though not all the suicides at Bristol were male. We must advance to meet the needs of sufferers of mental health conditions, not simply let this tragedy unfold.
By bringing Jonny and Neil to the University specifically, I wanted to give hope to sufferers of mental health disorders in the student community that there is another way. Jonny was on the brink of committing suicide when a stranger – Neil – stepped in and saved his life. I felt the message was one of hope and saying that even in the darkest of places, there is a way forward – don’t give up, and allow the possibility of someone else helping you.
Jonny went from almost jumping off Waterloo bridge to becoming a leading spokesperson in the UK about mental health and recovery and managed to run the London marathon for Heads Together, the Royal Foundation’s mental health trust. I felt they were particularly appropriate as they are young people themselves and they could help young people realise that there is hope when you have a mental health problem.
I certainly hope that this event was just the beginning, and not the end, of moving towards genuine and adequate care for those who are affected by mental illness. I hope anyone who is suffering is inspired to realise that there are many people out there suffering from mental health challenges and it is okay. I hope this gives courage to anyone suffering to reach out for support. I also hope that by the University signing this pledge, mental health will become a priority at the University and mental health care can be better provided and accommodations made for those who are suffering.
Finally, I hope that this sets an example to society as a whole to realise that we do have a significant problem, and not only should stop discriminating against it but actually be actively working towards finding effective solutions.
Do you think the university’s signing of the Time to Change pledge will make a difference to student wellbeing? Get in touch or comment below!