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Why Mental Health Awareness Week needs more than just awareness

Tuesday 09-05-2017 - 15:00

This week across the country, universities, colleges and students' unions will be hosting events to mark Mental Health Awareness Week. Rachel O'Brien (Disabled Students' Officer-Elect tells us why it's so important we continue the good work this week does.

This is especially the case in the run up to exams within both further and higher education – which research shows is one of the main causes of mental distress in students.

But is it enough to just raise awareness of student mental health? The answer is no – and the Disabled Students’ Campaign has active policy on this. We need to move beyond just raising awareness to causing change. It is time our universities and colleges start to take student mental health and cases of student suicide seriously, rather than brushing those of us that do experience mental distress aside and labelling us as “snowflakes” and telling us to “grow a thicker skin.”

We need institutional change on our campuses, and we need it now.

From well-funded professional counselling services, to cheaper rent in university and private halls. From flexible assessments to living grants so that no student in HE or FE has to pick between paying for rent or food. And from fighting for our NHS services to remain un-privatised to campaigning to scrap prescription fees.

These changes will improve student mental health more generally, and will provide support to those students experiencing mental distress.

And this year the Disabled Students’ Campaign, has been doing just that.I have been fighting for service users’ rights in Birmingham with local groups in the aftermath of the privatisation of our youth psychiatry and mental health services – ensuring the huge student population in the city can still access mental healthcare even in the face of devastating Tory cuts. James Elliott, the Disabled Students’ Officer, has had mental health and suicide prevention as his priority for the year, commissioning and writing reports on FE mental health services, and developing an app to help students’ unions calculate the student: counsellor ratio needed on their campus.

Awareness raising is an essential component of any campaign – but considering the rate of poor student mental health from FE through to post-graduate – it is not enough to rely on awareness campaigns alone. We must be fighting for the rights of students to be able to access the counselling and mental health services they need on and off campus, and for their rights as service users.

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