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Off the Record: Let’s Talk About Mental Health

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.

Almost 80% of students have reportedly had mental health problems in the past year. Is this reflective of the increasing hardships of student life? The endemic of anxiety and depression amongst the students of today needs to be addressed.

Off the Record is a mental health charity based on St. Michael’s Hill, that focuses on supporting young people. I spoke to Dr. Simon Newitt, the Chief Executive at the organisation, about OTR, mental health in general and how to deal with the pressures of student life.

(Photo Credit: Twitter @otrbristol)

Can you explain to our readers who may not be aware, what is Off the Record and what sort of work do you do?

OTR is a mental health charity that offers anyone aged 11-25 in Bristol and South Gloucestershire free, confidential, self-referral mental health support, information, and guidance. We offer all kinds of one-to-one and group based therapeutic and practical support, mental health education, youth work, social action campaigns and training.

It has recently been Mental Health Awareness week. Why do you think it’s important to start conversations about mental health, especially amongst young people? 

On a basic level, it’s important to know how to look after yourself. It’s a stressful world out there and some tough times are inevitable. We all know that we should eat five portions of fruit and veg a day and that we should exercise if we want to be physically healthy. Well, the same should be true for our mental wellbeing. It’s important to know how stress affects us, how we respond to it and what good self-care looks like. Sadly, there’s still a lot of stigmatised attitudes about mental health, which historically has meant there is very little education or openness about it, all of which make conversations the basis for good mental health and less stigma.

University can be a challenging time. Can you give any advice to students who might be struggling with their mental health?

It’s important to recognise that university can be a difficult as well as brilliant time. For lots of us it’s the point at which we leave home, move to a new city, make a whole set of new relationships, manage our own money, figure out our futures, oh, and study! My advice would be to recognise that there can be a lot going on and to look after yourself. I’m not going to say “practice mindfulness” or “see a therapist” because to be honest, it’s about what works for you. What I would say is that in the end, you are bound to see a deterioration in your mental state if you over do it on the studying as well as the partying. It’s all about balance. 

(Photo Credit: Clipartkid)

Practice good self-care (good sleep, a healthy diet and some exercise are super-important), talk to your friends about how you feel and go see the student health service if things are feeling bad. Anyone struggling can also come to see us at no cost up to their 25th birthday. The most important thing is to do what you can to look after yourself, and if that’s not working, go and talk to someone. Despite what the media would have you believe, there is actually a lot of good support in Bristol.

Do you think that society’s expectations of gender can have a negative impact on mental health? For example the assumption that girls are “emotional” and boys should “man up”. 

Yes, I think societal expectations about constructs like age, gender, class, sexuality, race and disability are almost always at the route of mental health problems. Gender is the greatest organising principle we deploy in society – one that administers massive structural (and actual) violence on girls and women, including those identifying as transgender. But it also traps boys and men in a narrow band of expectations that are also deeply unhealthy and can be toxic for our mental health.

How do you think we can start to tackle this issue?

Recognising that mental health is a social justice issue and not just a medical one is a good start. Imagine if, instead of thinking what we need are more and more mental health services to solve these issues, we invested instead in tackling societal inequalities and discrimination in gender, race, social class, age and so on.

I’m also encouraged when I visit our LGBTQ project called Freedom. The young people there are doing a fantastic job of deconstructing gender in a way that gives me real hope future generations won’t be so shackled to these ideas. 

One thing that Off the Record want to teach people is that “everyone has mental health”. Can you explain what this means?

It means that we all have mental health so look after it! Too often we associate mental health with mental illness – and so we’re on a mission to get young people talking and learning about it in a more positive sense. That includes recognising that lots of what we experience as individuals is driven by a social and economic context that we can change; it’s not inevitable and it’s not about you being “ill”, broken or failing at life in some way. Most definitely you are not alone, and we believe that if we work and act together we can actually create a healthier society, not just a society full of individuals struggling to be mindful or remember what their counsellor or GP said.

What is the best way to get in touch with Off the Record if you’re feeling like you need mental health support?

Give us a call for free on 0808 808 9120 or email confidential@otrbristol.org.uk

You can also keep up to date with our work and find out about some of our new sessions and workshops at otrbristol.org.uk@otrbristol and facebook.com/otrbristol.


Abbie is Lifestyle Editor for HC Bristol, currently studying English at the University of Bristol.
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