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By Newsdesk

 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013.

As the World Mental Health Day is marked this Thursday, the National Union of Students (NUS), the mental health charity, Mind, and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are raising awareness on issues surrounding the mental health of all British students.

On October 10, 2013, representatives from student services, mental health agencies and students are gathering for the first time in central London to discuss student mental health and the role of education in relation to this.

Figures released by NUS in May this year found that almost all respondents (92 per cent) identified as having had feelings of mental distress, 20 per cent of students consider themselves to have a mental health problem, while 13 per cent have suicidal thoughts.

Rhiannon Hedge, NUS Wales Womens’ Officer has been suffering from abnormally high levels of anxiety as long as she can remember, and during her time at university her anxiety gradually increased and she began to develop depression.

“I never sought any help for my mental illness until a short while after I’d graduated, when I reached a crisis point of having several uncontrollable, severe panic attacks a day and my depression took me to a very dark place,” she said. “I didn’t do well in my degree academically because I had no idea what was happening to me and I didn’t know how to get help, or that I could. I was dismissed as lazy by my department when my attendance suffered because walking into a crowded lecture room terrified me and every small task felt like a mountain to climb. As I’d never really heard people talk about depression or anxiety disorders I didn’t know how to explain what was really going on. I know I’d have been able to succeed academically if the culture of my university had been different.”

The NUS says it is committed to changing institutional attitudes on mental illness and this conference, the first of its kind to be held, is the next step in examining current student support and increasing the understanding of mental health on campus.

Each attendee is sending a postcard to David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, for World Mental Health Day to alert him that the discussion on student mental health is open, and that NUS is starting to take action.

 One of two keynote speakers, former Defence Minister Kevan Jones MP said:

 “I am very pleased to be able to address the NUS Conference on Student Mental Health. I know from my own experience how important it is to talk about mental health. Great progress has been made in combating the stigma attached to mental illness, but much more needs to be done to educate people to improve the support available.

 “Nowhere is that more true than amongst students. Student life, whilst of course very exciting, can be very challenging. It is vital that the right support is in place to help them, and I commend NUS for the work they are doing in this area.”  

The conference will also feature a keynote speech from actress Naomi Bentley, who recently opened up about her own struggles with borderline personality disorder and clinical depression. Ms Bentley points outs that it is important to educate young people to understand that there is no stigma in mental health problems. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean that it’s not valid.

“I have a mental health illness. It is not catching and people need to talk about the problem,” she said.

 Mind’s Head of Policy and Campaigns Vicki Nash said:

 “With World Mental Health Day approaching, it is great to see NUS taking a lead on the very important issue of student mental health. We know that one in four people will develop a mental health problem and for many the symptoms will appear in their late teens or early twenties.

 “Being able to spot the signs and seek help early is really important which is why we need to encourage universities and colleges to raise awareness of mental health problems. We need to make sure that we break down the taboos that still exist about mental health so that no student is too embarrassed to talk about it.”

 

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