Last month I was asked to speak at the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) in London. After the initial panic I usually feel after being asked to do any form of public speaking, (not to mention the fact that the IoP is world renowned) I collected my thoughts and saw it as a brilliant opportunity and I sat down to look more closely at what I would be speaking on.
My brief: A one hour seminar delivered to PhD students for their module on stigma and discrimination.
Then I panicked again- how on earth do you convey the impact that stigma and discrimination has on those who are suffering with mental health problems in just one hour? I was going to have to be clever about this- I wanted the PhD students to understand how detrimental stigma is and how it stands in the way of people receiving the right support for their mental health problems, so much so that they would be inspired into action.
I started with the facts- how despite increases in the number of students suffering from depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders, less than 15% of them would be comfortable talking to a mental health professional. And how despite the fact that 90% of students questioned said they would turn to their friends to talk about their mental health problems, a huge proportion of them still wouldn’t feel comfortable about having that conversation.
Why? Well I put it to the PhD students that the reason for this lack of confidence in getting support was simple- stigma. People are afraid to talk because they’re afraid people won’t understand, that they’ll judge them and view them as different, as abnormal. I told them that stigma was standing in the way of individuals receiving the support they so desperately need, and that it was stopping friends and even trained professionals from being able to deliver the right kind of support due to a lack of understanding. Thankfully, there weren’t too many objections to this claim- they completely agreed.
Then the hard part- we embarked on a discussion around how to eradicate stigma. The obvious avenues were explored first, better education about mental health disorders, more campaigns to look after your mental health in the same way we look after our physical health, more people speaking out about their personal experiences. Then we got to the heart of our discussion and stumbled upon a more controversial way of tackling stigma…
What if we got rid of the labels and the language we’re so used to when speaking about these issues. What if there was no such thing as being mentally well or mentally unwell. What if we took mental health right out of it? What if, instead, every single one of us was somewhere along a spectrum? There would be no ‘us’ and ‘them’ no ‘healthy’ or ‘ill’. There would just be human beings living their lives all of us facing struggle of some kind along the way, some of them more similar to others. There would be no fear of not understanding someone’s particular circumstance and not being able to help, no fear of someone not understanding us because without labels we’re all equal.
How To Save a Life
Do you know anyone with an eating disorder? Do you feel confident in being supportive? We know that it is not easy to support someone with an eating disorder; it’s not easy to know what to say, it’s not easy to know how to help. Eating disorders affect all those around the sufferer as well as the individual themselves, and it can often be very difficult for loved ones to know how to deal with the situation. SRSH volunteers have been busy building the How to Save a Life workshops and matierals. We are now taking this 2 hour workshop on a road tour.
The workshops have been built by young people with experience of eating disorders to provide an interactive event, including personal stories and opportunity for questions and answers.
Manchester: 15th March, 5.30-7.30pm in the UMSU Council Chamber
Cardiff: 19th March, 5.30-7.30pm in CF10 on Cardiff University Campus
Leicester: 22nd March, 5.30-7.30pm in the Alumni room of the Student Union
If you would like us to run a workshop at your University, please get in touch with Elisabeth on firstname.lastname@example.org
Mind your Head
SRSH was delighted to attend the Launch for Mind your Head, Oxford! Mind your head is a mental health awareness campaign just launched by OUSU (oxford university student union). 1 in 4 of us will suffer from a mental illness at some point in our lives, and 60% of those who do say that the stigma of what they are going through is worse than the illness itself. Something has to change. Mental illness is a hugely misunderstood and stigmatised topic, let’s get talking about mental health and reduce the stigma. Follow the link below to find out more about the campaign and to read some inspiring stories from student’s learning to cope with their mental illness.
Body Gossip on Tour
SRSH has collaborated with Body Gossip- a national campaign which challenges common perceptions of body image and promoting the acceptance of natural beauty- to create Body Gossip on Tour. Body Gossip on Tour is a project encouraging University students to hold their own Body Gossip event. The event gives people the opportunity to enter a writing competition, writing stories/monologues/poems about their bodies. Some of these entries are then made into a stage performance, performed at your University! For more information on what Body Gossip on tour is and how to get involved, click on the link below http://studentrunselfhelp.weebly.com/body-gossip-on-tour.html
We have upcoming Body Gossip events at the following Universities- for more information regarding an event at a specific University, get in touch with the relevant contacts listed below…
Bristol: The writing competition is now open and drama workshops are being held, for more information contact UBUemail@example.com
UEA: The writing competition will be opening soon and performances will be in May. For more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Cardiff: For more information on when the event will be held, contact email@example.com
Psychotherapy, medication, and even re-feeding, are approaches regularly utilised to stimulate recovery from eating disorders. However there is another complementary approach which is often overlooked but can contribute significantly to the heeling process. It requires no professional authorisation, is accessible to everyone, and can be tailored to an individual’s specific needs. I’m referring to participation in voluntary work.
I have myself a history of eating disorders, and consider the voluntary schemes in which I engage a key component of my recovery. A significant number of the volunteers with whom I work also have personal experience of eating disorders or other psychological illnesses.
So how does volunteering stimulate benefits in emotional wellbeing? Firstly it provides opportunity for interaction with other people. Social occasions often revolve around food, and it’s not surprising that people suffering from eating disorders tend to avoid such situations. In fact the physical and psychological effects of these illnesses can result in ever wider social exclusion. Volunteering provides an opportunity to focus on specific activities whilst simultaneously interacting with other people.
Eating disorders can consume many years of a person’s life, potentially robbing them of opportunities and experiences. Voluntary work provides an effective way to gradually develop new skills. Schemes are generally very flexibility allowing individuals to tailor their contributions appropriately. I found that voluntary work directly boosted my motivation to recover by highlighting wonderful opportunities that would otherwise pass me by.
Many people find that voluntary work gives purpose and structure to their lives. A preoccupation with food and calories can easily dominate a person’s entire day, so adding new activities encourages more time looking outwards and less looking inwards. Of course the negative thoughts and behaviours don’t evaporate completely, but are balanced by new interests having meaning and importance.
Eating disorders often reflect a lack of confidence and low self esteem, and many people benefit from voluntary work through feeling valued by the community. Voluntary schemes can be highly rewarding as they are often targeted towards helping others and/or the environment. People who participate in voluntary work seem to benefit from what has been termed the ‘helper’s high’.
Despite all the benefits highlighted above, I’m under no false illusions. Voluntary work will not cure eating disorders - if only it was that simple! However it can help sufferers to form new relationships, find new passions, and to build a sense of self worth. Whilst services are available that support people with mental illness to engage in voluntary work, we need to do more to encourage participation by those with eating disorders.
Get volunteering today!