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18th February 2021

Where’s the support when we need it most?

Laura Thompson argues that an official University of Manchester Instagram Post telling students to treat the pandemic like a retreat misrepresents their mental health support provision
Where’s the support when we need it most?
Photo: GDJ / 6784 images @Pixabay

The public face of the University of Manchester’s support services has been ruined by one post on Instagram. One thoughtless, hurtful post that has caused outrage amongst the student population.

After speaking to a few second and third years at the university, the general reaction to the University of Manchester’s social media at the moment is not overly positive.

The University’s Instagram page suggesting that we “don’t see this as a lockdown, but as a retreat”, in early January particularly sparked anger amongst students. How can we treat lockdown as a retreat when it can be more easily equated to a prison sentence?

Unfortunately, it’s posts like this that can have serious effects on student mental wellbeing during this already stressful time. Additionally showing a lack of communication between those at the helm of the university’s public image and the real support workers from the counselling services. 

What I find most heart-breaking about this PR failure is the effect it will now have on the image of the University’s support service. My experience of the support and counselling provided by the University of Manchester has been surprisingly good, and I use the word surprisingly as I did not have high hopes for such a poorly advertised service at the beginning of lockdown. I understand others will have different experiences of counselling and require other kinds of support, but I found the quick and easily accessed service a real benefit early on in lockdown. 

There are those who now, after seeing the careless message spread by the official University Instagram page, no longer trust the university’s support system. The offer of help with their mental health may be lost and will continue to suffer in silence because of this misrepresentation.

There is a clear lack of communication between the professional mental health experts and whoever is posting on the University’s social media. While the heavily criticised message now appears to have been removed, the effects of insensitive advice may last a lot longer.

I don’t want to entirely disregard the outreach the university has provided, as there have been efforts made to connect students to the necessary help. This is with email links and social media posts about both university and external support services – such as the Samaritans and Manchester’s Nightline which is run specially for students. 

The main issue that is often overlooked is the lack of support for the services themselves. Underfunding of mental health services is ongoing and is not a new phenomenon.

Surprisingly, of the people I spoke to, many think the mental health support available at the university is not being promoted, but it’s on emails, websites and all over social media at the moment. There is a limited amount the university can do and we have to respect that as they cannot end lockdown and bring life back to normality just like that. It’s simply not possible, and if that is all we are asking for, we will keep being disappointed.

Instead, perhaps what we should be doing as students is finding out what kind of help we want and if the University can provide it for us or not. One useful element of the University’s counselling I experienced was them offering to find external help for me if need be as there is only so much a university support service can offer.

I understand asking for help is one of the hardest parts when it comes to dealing with mental health problems. We all want to just wish away the pandemic and return to our normal life but unfortunately we cannot.

Instead, I would like to suggest that we start a more open conversation about the troubles of dealing with mental health remotely. Then perhaps we can avoid such terrible mistakes as the insensitive Instagram post, and work our way towards a less stigmatised view of asking for help when we need it most.

If you are struggling with mental health, there are services available locally as well as nationally. It is their job to help you and many are open 24/7 to help as many people as possible.

Some relevant pages can be found here:

Manchester Nightline or email [email protected] 

Samaritans or call 116 123

UoM Counselling services

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