The start of the new term marked the start of Mental Health Awareness Month. Though this was a January campaign, I'm keen for it not to end at the turn of the month. Mental health issues don't just dissappear because it's February - they affect people every single day.
The aim behind Mental Health Awareness month may have seemed obvious (to raise awareness!) but this doesn’t make it any easier to achieve. Though many people now acknowledge the seriousness of mental health conditions, and are supportive in the abstract, many students still struggle to speak about it, or even recognise it, when it creeps into their daily lives.
Stress, for example, is a thing which isn’t talked about nearly enough on campus. Or rather, it is, but it’s not talked about in the right ways. Towards the end of every semester, ‘stress’ as a word is thrown around like confetti – “I’m just stressed about this exam” or “I’m stressed about this coursework” – become quite normalised phrases.
Used in this way, ‘stress’ can become a dangerously large umbrella term. “I’m just stressed” can stand in for “I’m just a bit worried now, but I’ll be fine”, but can also mean “I can’t switch off”, “I’m struggling to relax in my spare time”, “I’m completely overwhelmed”, “I can’t concentrate”, “I think I might need help”, “My hair is starting to fall out”, “I feel really sick all of the time”, or even “I am thinking of hurting myself”. “I’m just stressed” is simply easier to say.
Mental Health Awareness Month is about changing that. This month, it’s not enough to simply support people in the abstract. This campaign is not just about asking students to sign petitions and support events. This month, it isn’t enough to say, “oh yes, students with depression deserve more support”. Real change starts here, in language, in the way we approach tiny, everyday moments and conversations.
So, even though it's February, you'll still see everyday objects branded with “Mental Health Matters”. Coffee cups and stress balls made an appearance in study spaces, and bookmarks, filled with self-care tips from students, are still cropping up in the library. So, as deadlines approach and stress worms its way into your life, so will these small reminders that it’s okay to talk about it, and it’s important to be honest with your friends and yourself about how you’re feeling.
UEA Nightline – 01603 597158 (8pm – 8am)
Student Support Service – book an appointment
Crisis information – what to do if there is immediate danger