Why do students care so much about mental health? An interview with the CEO of Mental Health North East

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Back in February, a group of friends and I organised the Castle Charity Fashion Show, raising over £2,700 for Mental Health North East; the same charity that St Chads also chose to sponsor for their show.

A few weeks earlier, Durham’s main university fashion show raised a staggering £106,000 for the mental health charity, Mind, leading Iona Cameron, President of DUCFS 2018, to assert that, ‘mental health is an issue taken seriously at universities in the UK.’

Speaking to Lyn Boyd, CEO of Mental Health North East, about what nearly £3,000 can do for the charity, I took the opportunity to ask her why students seem to care so much about mental health.

Without hesitation she said that it was a ‘real growing concern’ among students. She highlighted ‘increasing suicide figures in central Durham’, and described a number of troubling situations (such as a house of five students where only one was not suffering from poor mental heath).

Without hesitation she said that it was a ‘real growing concern’ among students.

In September, The Times reported a five-fold increase in the number of students disclosing mental health conditions over the last decade, rising to 50,000 undergraduates, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. Last year, The Guardian also reported that the number of suicides among full-time students in England and Wales almost doubled from 75 in 2007 to 134 in 2015.

In Durham specifically, The Tab carried out a 2017 survey revealing that more than half of those who participated had suffered a mental health condition.

Boyd likened the current state of student mental heath to ‘lemmings falling off a cliff into a mental health abyss’. The pressure to succeed with half the country going to university, paired with high education costs, and the much talked about modern pressures of social media seem to have driven student mental health to breaking point.

Boyd also pointed out that university comes at a time when people tend to develop mental health problems.

Boyd also pointed out that university comes at a time when people tend to develop mental health problems. Conditions like bipolar disorder most commonly develop at around twenty-one. Indeed, other more socially common causes, such as cancer and heart disease charities, deal with conditions that statistically afflict a slightly older age bracket, whereas most students will likely know someone with poor mental health at their university — making the cause much more tangible.

People are just ‘talking about it more’.

On top of that, Boyd suggests, people are just ‘talking about it more’. In 2017, Prince William, Prince Harry and Kate Middleton’s charity Heads Together sponsored the London Marathon, and it has only really been in the last couple of years that high profile figures have been breaking stigmas surrounding mental health disclosure.

Positive change can be made, however, and when asking Boyd about what the money we raised will do, she said it will, ‘allow us to continue, fullstop’. Mental Health North East, a unique network of over 450 voluntary and community organisations in the north east, has been considering closure. But, ‘three grand is massive for a non-profit.’

As we look ahead to next year, the charity hopes to start up a programme working with students and teachers who suffer mental health issues, launch work with the distribution centre on Durham Industrial Estate, and to restart their ‘Green in the Gap’ project for people struggling with mental health in rural communities.

It’s good to know that even in a small way, events like a college charity fashion show do make a real difference.

It’s good to know that, even in a small way, events like a college charity fashion show do make a real difference. Mental health issues may be hitting students hard, but that should spark a passion which can be channelled into the work we do.

Photograph by Gregor Petrikovič

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