The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Panel Discussion for World Mental Health Day

A look into the panel discussion event held by Manchester Open Mind Network for World Mental Health Day

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The events of World Mental Health Day kicked off the newly founded Manchester Open Mind Network’s big plans for the year. Co-founder Sakib Moghal shares what the society hope to achieve, “Our two goals are to support those students dealing with mental health issues and to educate all students on keeping a healthy and happy lifestyle.” They want to create a diverse student community at any point in their mental health journey.  “…we just want to do justice to all of our members who are keen and keep coming to these events and are seeking our support”, says Moghal.

“I don’t know a lot about mental health.” Exchange student Siyu Chen explains why she came to the panel discussion on mental health at university, “We all know about physical health, but because mental health is abstract it’s more difficult to think about.” This view is not uncommon and was reflected in the personal stories of the panellists. Manchester student and committee member Irum Islam opens up about her experience with bipolar disorder, raising issues surrounding the cultural effects on lack of understanding of mental health, “I feel like a lot of people don’t know enough about mental health. My own father before me thought depression was just an excuse.” Kel O’Neill, eating disorder counsellor and activist also finds that there is an absence of knowledge in professionals with regard to eating disorders, which is especially worrying in these often life threatening cases.

Duncan Craig of Survivors Manchester highlights the important issue of men’s mental health, having been through mental trauma himself. Craig called for Universities to get behind his campaign to improve support for men going through sexual abuse trauma, “Not a single university representative came back [to my challenge]… What does that mean? What messages are we sending out to men about their mental health? …I think we need to stand up for everybody’s mental health. We need to make sure we’re finding the right support and that means men too.”

It seems however that the professional support needed for everyone is just not there. NUS disabled students’ officer James Elliott shared some eye-opening statistics, “…as many as 4 in 5 students experience a mental health problem at some point during their time at university, a huge number, less than half of those actually get a diagnosis, and only 12% end up seeing a counsellor…” largely due to under-funding of mental health services. Elliot also raises the issue of over-dependence on peer support services, such as Nightline, “…we just need to be really clear in our minds that these are two separate things. They both have a function, they’re both really important, but peer support can’t really replace professional things like counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy”.

It is not all doom and gloom however; many of the panellists also highlight the human potential for resilience and recovery. Clinical Psychologist Azza Aglan, who takes a special interest in trauma, says she’s a firm believer in human strength, “I’ve worked with asylum seekers and in refugee camps around the world for a number of years, and they’re so resilient.” O’Neill also feels it’s important to share survival and recovery stories, “otherwise what we see of eating disorders, is that people die of eating disorders.”

The panellists each gave one piece of parting advice on how to maintain good mental health as students:

“Mindful balance” — Azza Aglan

“Environment; if your environment is good you’re gonna feel good” — Duncan Craig

“Exercise…I personally feel great after doing exercise” — Irum Islam

“I would echo what has been said…one more thing I would add is being able to seek support…and we have to make sure that these services are there” — James Elliott

“I’d say be honest, be honest with yourself…be honest when you’re approaching someone” — Kel  O’Neill

Manchester Open Mind Network are planning more events like this as well as relaxed socials, film nights and bigger policy campaigns. Islam hopes to integrate the arts into their mental health work, knowing that art is a common coping mechanism in people with Bipolar, “Maybe get involved with some art students… It’s just a case of finding them. Sometimes art can speak to us in a way that words can’t.”

If you’d like to get involved head over to their Facebook page, they’re open to any ideas and welcome any amount of time that you can give.