Last year at Imperial College Union a landmark piece of research was published. The Mentality Report is a stunning piece of work led by Bethany Davison and a team of students which yielded some shocking results and forced Imperial to face up to some serious home truths. Diagnoses of mental illness and experiences of mental distress at Imperial far outstrip the national average as found by a National Union of Students survey.
After fighting my own very lengthy battle with mental illness, this is a campaign that I am truly passionate about. A few years ago I had an extremely difficult time accessing the sort of services I needed to get myself back into good health. In some ways I’m grateful for the experience as it’s put me where I am today and given me confidence, resilience and drive I never thought I would find. That said, it’s not an experience I would wish on anyone; seeing it become a norm at Imperial angers and alarms me. This is why Mentality is so important.
Mentality has had a seismic impact on the College; I have yet to attend a meeting in the Faculty Building where Mentality is not mentioned and many of the recommendations given in the report have already been met by College and the Union. We’ve compiled a list of the things Mentality has achieved in less than 6 months.
1. Stimulated open discussion
Over 1000 students engaged with the survey, opening up avenues to talking openly about mental health, something which is evidenced to be highly beneficial to people experiencing mental distress and of which I am a very strong advocate.
2. Commitment from College
In the College’s 2015-2020 Strategy there is an explicit commitment to support and improve the mental wellbeing of students as a direct result of the Mentality report. This includes setting up a Mental Health Steering Group of which I am proud to be a member.
3. Wellbeing website
As per one of Mentality’s recommendations, the College has entirely redone its wellbeing website. It now takes the form of Student Space which allows students to find the right services for them more easily.
4. Future Student Services
This is a widespread, total review of all student services and something else which I am proud to be heavily involved with. The FSS review promises to shake up student services, greatly improving accessibility and capacity. Watch this space – we are due to publish our recommendations before Christmas.
5. Expansion of the Student Counselling Service
Since the Mentality report, the counselling service has been given funding to hire 2 new counsellors, a clinically experienced mental health advisor and a study mentor. This again something I’m incredibly glad to be part of, the head of counselling and I have already chosen the 2 counsellors and will be interviewing for the study mentor and mental health advisor very soon!
6. The return of StressLess
Unfortunately StressLess didn’t happen last year; however I’m determined to bring it back to life this year. Myself, the Constituent Union Welfare Officers, the Liberation Officers and the staff at the Union are committed to making sure campaigns like StressLess, Treat Yourself and Mental Health Awareness weeks are the best we’ve ever done.
7. Review of wardening training
This was also a recommendation in the Mentality report. Over the summer I have persuaded the Director of Student Support to fund Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training to all wardens and assistant wardens in halls, as well as MHFA Lite to all subwardens as detailed in one of my previous blogs.
8. Union volunteers to receive MHFA Lite training
So far we’ve trained 21 volunteers in mental health first aid. This includes liberation officers, CU welfare officers and club officers to name but a few. I’m also off on MHFA training myself in November.
9. Review of personal tutor training
This is a core objective for both me and the Deputy President (Education), Cyin. Already the College is working on new training manuals for personal tutors and Cyin and I will be pushing for a minimum standard for personal tutor competency over the coming year.
So that’s 9 very good reasons why Mentality won Campaign of the Year last year and 9 positive changes for student mental health and wellbeing. It’s tempting to call it 9 massive wins but that would imply that the fight is over. There is still a huge amount of work to be done around this issue and I can’t wait to see what Bethany and her team have in store next and I’ll be fighting in their corner all the way.