The Mancunion

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A student life: Don’t Give a Damn

Meet Bethan Turner-Harrod, the student seeking to put an end to mental health stigma with her community blog

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Though taking the leap to decide to go to university for most will bring some of the best years of our lives, that is not to say it doesn’t come without its issues. I spoke to one University of Manchester student taking an alternative approach to dealing with this stress which studying can cause.

What began back in the summer of 2015 for final year French and Spanish undergraduate, Bethan Turner-Harrod, as a project calling for people to be more true to themselves, has since developed into its very own online community blog: Don’t Give a Damn. The blog seeks to break down the stigma of mental health “one post at a time.”

For someone who personally lives with mental health problems, she came to the realisation that “to be myself I had to be truthful to everyone — that was what my first article was about: “Does my mental health make me who I am?”

“I’ve been through a lot of the support systems but they’re all just lacking in what they can offer, which is mainly down to funding. It was something no one was talking about and I couldn’t be quiet about it anymore.”

In light of Theresa May’s recent pledge to improve mental healthcare, which received much media attention, I asked Bethan whether she thought it actually got to the root of the issue.

“She talks about pumping money into the problem once it’s already occurred but I think more should be done for prevention. The government could do with funding things like Don’t Give a Damn — which are filling in those gaps!”

As soon as Bethan launched the website with a story about her own experience of anxiety, she received endless messages from people telling her that they felt the same way. This was the leg up she needed to drive forward what she was doing — “I felt like I’d made myself quite vulnerable but the response that I got made it a lot less daunting.”

Her key focus on Instagram, where the most mental health activism is currently taking place, sees posts varying from contributors’ pictures, to personal stories, to anonymous testimonies. She makes clear that the blog tries to avoid any presumptuous or unrealistic guidance, with the most recent examples including suggestions of plants and doodling as positive pick-me-ups for one’s mental wellbeing.

“I wanted to keep the optimistic aspect. So many mental health blogs I read online are informative but a bit too heavy. I want mine to be a bit more uplifting, not to be taken light-heartedly, but easier to read.”

One of Bethan’s fundamental focuses is highlighting the recognition of all mental health disorders, not just anxiety and depression, of which we are most aware, so as to keep readers informed that symptoms come in all shapes and sizes.

Hence equally, as much as Bethan wants Don’t Give a Damn to be for those with previous or ongoing experience, another prime target of hers are the friends and family of those living with mental health problems — “people often lose friends when trying to deal with their mental health issues, and that’s partly down to the fact that their loved ones don’t know how to support them through it.”

When asked how she strikes a balance between university work and the blog Bethan says apprehensively, “I don’t — I’ll go through spurts where I just want to post loads and my followers will rocket but then I won’t do anything for weeks and I’m just back at square one again.”

But, with the helping hand of another friend, Sarah McKeating, who helps run the Facebook and Twitter accounts, Don’t Give a Damn has big plans to advertise for more website contributors in the coming months. If you’re looking to get involved Bethan encourages anyone to just drop her a message — “you don’t have to have personally experienced mental health yourself, even if it’s that you’re just interested in expanding your own knowledge then I won’t say no to any input.”

Where from: Nottingham
Course: French and Spanish Undergraduate (BA Joint Honours)
Balance: 70 study/30 blog on a good week, but can be 80/20 with lots of work.

Best part: “The response I’ve had from other people who feel like they can finally relate to someone else.”

Worst part: “When my own mental health stops me from working on the blog — if I’m having a down day I don’t feel like telling everyone else to be happy, but that’s something I want to work on because promoting that it’s ok to feel rubbish sometimes is good too.”

Where she sees herself in 15 years: “I would like to pursue Don’t Give a Damn not as a full-time career but as something into which I can invest a lot more time. I’d like to go into schools and discuss mental health issues with teenagers, because that’s when I first started having problems, along with organising events and workshops in other cities.”