Opinion | The SU’s ‘Dare to Care’ campaign was a success, but we can’t stop there

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By Lauren Thomson, English, Second Year

Shame still surrounds many mental health issues and, when swept under the carpet, it can thrive. It is important for universities to have structures in place to help dismantle these damaging tendencies.

From the 28th of February until the 4th of March, Bristol University ran its ‘Dare to Care’ campaign in a conscious effort to combat the stigma surrounding conversations about mental health and suicide.

For its students, the week created a space to talk openly about the University’s shortcomings, and to widen its wellbeing scope and engagement with its students. There was the opportunity to share personal concerns, gain online suicide alliance training and become part of a wellbeing network forum.

And I, like many students, appreciate the importance of these events. My first weeks at university affected my own mental health in a way I’d never previously experienced. I was isolated in a flat, then moved to one where I was on the receiving end of another person’s mental struggle. When I reached out to the University, I was provided with a minimum of support in my moment of trauma.

For many years now, the University of Bristol has appeared in headlines for all the wrong reasons surrounding mental health. A Freedom of Information request revealed that Bristol students’ wait for counselling is three times the national average, (52 days versus 15).

Our vulnerable students are not listened to. We face the longest wait in Britain. For some, seeing this figure alone can discourage them to reach out; be it due to fear of not being heard, or of their case being belittled.

By intentionally crafting an open space to listen and to accept criticism, the ‘Dare to Care’ campaign was a positive step in the right direction.

According to the University’s Student Wellbeing Survey last year, 53 per cent of students perceived their biggest barriers to seeking help as ‘Feeling problems aren’t important enough’, ‘Concerns that no one will understand’ and a ‘Fear of academic consequences’.

By attending talks this week with senior staff, students had the opportunity to build a support system based upon transparency.

The University is trying to change its ways. But there is still a long way to go.

A reform of the University’s support system is long overdue. This week provided the first step in the road to change.

Simply too many students have gone too long without adequate support, mirrored in an annual rise in levels of depression and anxiety up from 37 to 47 percent and from 28 to 41 per cent respectively compared to pre-pandemic.

Considerable changes to student life over the past 18 months have also increased mental health inequalities. This campaign offered an opportunity to tackle these trends and to receive support from the University.

Clearly, the University is trying to change its ways. But there is still a long way to go.

The Wellbeing Survey also revealed that a greater number of students this year (7 per cent) found it harder to seek help from the University. The most accessible support available is still provided by non-specialists, such as residential life advisors, tutors, and the Student Union.

With an increasing demand, it is unsurprising that student counselling, disability services and student health professionals are perceived as hardest to access.

To create lasting change, this week must be only the first of many similar events in the future.

I remain hopeful that this institution strives to be a place where those who are vulnerable are prioritised and listened to.

By taking responsibility for supporting students, the University places the onus on itself, taking pressure off its students. Putting yourself forward can be daunting, especially concerning an intensely personal topic.

By choosing to take part, students had the opportunity to reshape conversations about a topic which is and should be increasingly at the top of the University’s agenda.

The traditional barriers to seeking support are finally being tackled on campus. This campaign week was a great example of Bristol University’s conscious efforts to create a functioning student support system, but we cannot rest on our laurels.

To create lasting change, this week must be only the first of many similar events in the future.

Featured Image: Marcel Strauss | Unsplash


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