Mental health and wellbeing are obviously of the upmost importance for everyone, yet in some instances they are still a rather taboo topic. It is important that we work to be rid of any stigma surrounding mental health and encourage the development of wider support networks. In light of this, and the 10th of October marking the 25th anniversary of World Mental Health Day, I spoke to Abbie Jessop, Chair of the newly established Wellbeing Network. Her evident hard work and compassion left me feeling very hopeful; a marked reminder that there is support out there, and it will only continue to grow as we work towards gaining a greater understanding of mental health and wellbeing.
To begin with, tell us about the launch of the Wellbeing Network and what direction you see it going in.
The Wellbeing Network is new to the Students’ Union this year, along with the other Networks, which aim to reach out and ensure that all students can feel included as part of an equal community here in Bristol. I see the Wellbeing Network becoming the support system for all student activity, by using campaigns to raise awareness, events to build a community and by creating a wider network of links between all support systems already in place.
What motivates you to lead the network and make it work?
Wellbeing is the most important part of life. Without it, everything else can seem impossible. When wellbeing is difficult to maintain and manage, the rest of student life can become intimidating and overwhelming. I feel that with a strong support network at the Union that is led by students, we can create a stronger community in which wellbeing is the primary concern. The Network aims to pull together support schemes already in place so that they are easier to find and better to use, and work with the Union and the university to create a more open student community. Before the Network was created, I feel there was a gap in communication between students, the Union and the university regarding Wellbeing; the network aims to fill that gap and begin the dialogue.
The university has pledged to improve their mental health support services. What changes do you hope to see?
With the new Wellbeing Tutors arriving in January, I hope to see an increase of students able to talk to university staff about the support they need. I would like the university to continue to monitor and improve the Student Health Service, and create greater awareness of the work of the Student Counselling service, including workshops, group sessions and Talk and Plan sessions. I also want to see university staff who have a role in student wellbeing developing greater trust between themselves and students, so that more of us feel able to open conversations with our Personal Tutors, Senior Tutors, course administrators in departments, and Wardens, Senior Residents and Student Support Advisors in halls. The more approachable these university staff become, the more we as students can openly discuss our wellbeing and mental health and get the support we need.
The 10th of October marks the 25th anniversary of World Mental Health Day. What does this day mean to you?
The day is about awareness and showing that times are changing. The fact that there is a World Mental Health Day emphasises a commitment to tackling the taboo and working on ending the discrimination. It also highlights there is still a long way to go and the commitment to continuing to fight to bring about change.
However, every day is a world mental health day. Our days are shaped by our wellbeing and mental health which is why it’s at the heart of what we aim to do as a Network. I hope that more people feel able to engage in the dialogue around mental health and that the 10th October itself starts the conversations which have the power to change lives.
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with their mental health?
You aren’t alone, and your mental health does not define you. Speak to someone you trust and open up about your struggle. Admitting you are struggling with mental health does not make you any less of who you are; rather it shows how strong you are to be able to talk about it. Mental health is not a taboo; everyone has mental health and it is a struggle to cope with maintaining wellbeing. That’s ok to admit and you will ride the wave, but you don’t have to go the journey alone.
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