Running to Stop the Stigma

As part of Her Campus Exeter's Mental & Physical Health Awareness Campaign we will be exploring the ways in which you can help stop the stigma. This campaign hopes to raise awareness of mental & physical illnesses within the student population and break the misconception that if you can't see it then it's not there.

Having studied in both Australia and Exeter, I am aware of the societal stigma facing mental health issues. Raising awareness about mental health is not something that needs to be only addressed in the UK. Many other countries face near-identical problems whereby students feel unable to speak out about their fears and troubles. We are here to smash that stigma and help encourage university students from around the world to promote mental health awareness and how there is nothing to ever be ashamed of!

These alarming statistics and the prevalence of mental health issues in our university communities are what prompted my best friend Olivia Campbell and I to raise funds and awareness by initiating a run from Palm Beach to Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia.

We called it Most of the Coast and did exactly that. We ran most of Sydney’s northern coast in relay formation with a team of Sydney University students who enthusiastically raised funds and awareness of mental health prior to the day.

Planning out the route with Olivia in 2014

Ran off the back of a similar initiative called Civic2Surf, which started three years earlier by students at the Australian National University. We organised ours for the same day so that both Sydney students and ANU students could run the length of Bondi Beach together and celebrate the huge feat with supporters and friends at the finish line.

Both of these runs originated to support the not for profit but for purpose charity Batyr, who run mental health awareness programs in schools and universities across Australia. The programs involve Batyr speakers who are relatable, young people (under 30 years), who share their personal stories of difficult times to educate students about the first hand benefits of reaching out and empowering students by letting them know that they are not alone.

Despite studying in Exeter, the run managed to continue in 2015 through the amazing efforts of Olivia and my sister Annabel, and is set to go ahead for its 3rd year, even bigger and better than ever!

The 2015 team ready to run!

Each year we continue to raise not only funds but more importantly awareness of the prevalence of mental health illness, all the while reducing the negative stigma that is unnecessarily associated with it. Students are often embarrassed by their mental health struggles and may think they are the only ones dealing with them when in reality, university students are 5 times more likely to experience mental health issues than the general Australian population. Whilst running the length of some of Sydney’s coast is a huge achievement in itself, the conversation starts within a community and the elimination of stigma prevalent with mental health issues is the real aim of the game.

Mental health is a just as common and concerning issue among UK university communities, with 1 in 5 students considering themselves to have a mental illness and 54% of students not seeking help to deal with their problem. Changing the stigma around mental health and speaking out about the ‘elephant in the room’ is necessary and achievable, and every thing from organized charity runs to listening or talking to a friend, are encouraging steps to smashing the stigma.