The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Interview: Izzy Gurbuz – Wellbeing Officer

We spoke to Izzy about mental health and Food on Campus

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As Wellbeing Officer, one of Izzy’s main focuses is mental health. In October, she worked with Open Mind Network to put on “a health fair outside University Place, a coffee morning and a panel discussion in the evening” for World Mental Health Day.

Last semester she worked on improving “LGBTQ accessibility to the counselling service”. “I’ve been working on getting a training day on LGBTQ issues, varying from language used to the societal prejudices that people face, for the staff there… and that should hopefully happen sometime this semester.”

This semester Izzy hopes to do the same for BAME students: “I’ll be working with some students with a professor from Psychology and the counselling service to look at currently what training is in place and what more we can do there,” she told us.

She is also working to organise mental health training for the security staff, although there is currently “a logistical issue with organising it, because the counselling service are going to deliver it to them. So, everyone’s on board, it’s another one of those things that’s ongoing in terms of getting it actually sorted and in place.”

One of Izzy’s key manifesto pledges was to expand the university counselling service, although she has had to change this slightly. “Waiting times in the counselling service are still a big issue. The university is currently looking at how they tackle that issue. So, when I was writing the manifesto I was just thinking, ‘Yeah we need more funding’ but the university are looking at doing different things such as potentially having the wellbeing support in schools strengthened.”

Her priorities now are “essentially trying to make sure that only people who need to go to the counselling service actually do, and our lower level support is strengthened in other areas. That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about funding — I’m still hoping at least in the short term to increase funding so whilst these bigger plans are happening that gap’s still being plugged.”

Izzy also believes that “there is currently an issue around expectations” within the counselling service, and that “they are not meant to be a long-term therapy kind of treatment. Their service is meant to be maybe three appointments and it’s about setting up an action plan and doing more first line intervention, but it’s not meant to be long-term support — that’s really something the NHS is meant to be doing. And that’s really a problem as Manchester NHS services have been slashed, so people are finding it really hard to access treatment that way as well.”

Another manifesto pledge was to tackle the Food on Campus prices and end their monopoly, although she has had to change her plans on this pledge as well. “I think the biggest issue is probably the meal deals really, because we’ve seen with the new stuff in Uni Place that the quality of food has been getting better, and then perhaps the pricing isn’t such an issue. The problem is when you have to pay in excess of four pounds for a crap sandwich a drink and crisps, and that’s something I’m hoping to tackle this semester.”

And is this huge task achievable? “I think it’s very difficult, and I think lots of people have tried in previous years, and the pricing is the hardest part. But it doesn’t mean I’m not going to try, it might not work but I’m going to try my best and see what happens.”

Izzy has also aimed to increase awareness of available support in general, and has had some success. “I worked with the advice service in terms of how they advertise in the welcome week pack, so we included things like STI testing, pregnancy tests and panic alarms in the advertising that weren’t there before, so I’m hoping that’s increased peoples’ knowledge of it. I’ve also had on my part of the website the wellbeing timetables all there together, so I’m hoping that’s been useful for people to see everything all together in one place as well.”

A successful year so far then, and with a lot of changes hopefully coming through for all these issues, as well as potentially reforming the mitigating circumstances system, Izzy’s success should hopefully continue. With the elections coming up, why does Izzy think students should stand to be Wellbeing Officer?

“Wellbeing really makes an impact on pretty much everyone at university — everyone gets stressed during exams, everyone needs to be in a good place mentally to achieve academically. So I think it’s a really key area that goes through all areas of academic life!”

To see all of our interview with Izzy, head to Fuse TV’s YouTube channel.