Thursday 01-03-2018 - 14:15
Today is University Mental Health Day, a day dedicated to promoting the mental health of those who study in higher education. Appropriately, the theme this year is community, which is important because to achieve publicly owned, well resourced, and high-quality mental health services we need to be working with all of our students’ unions, trade unions and local communities.
This year, one of my main campaigns has been to try and stop the rollout of a particular form of privatised youth mental health service, and to fight for the rights of service users in Birmingham where the pilot, Forward Thinking Birmingham (FTB), is already in place.
For the last 18 months, students in the Disability and Mental Health Students' Association (of which I am a former committee member) have been campaigning against further privatisation – collecting service user case studies, submitting FOIs and having meetings with the management in the service to relay our concerns.
We also encouraged and helped student service users to submit Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) complaints, which we have since discovered have prompted emergency measures to be introduced at FTB, including a monthly Quality Improvement Board.
When I was elected Disabled Students’ Officer, I pledged to continue the campaign. This year, myself and activists in Birmingham have reached out to local community groups and trade unions with whom to carry on the campaign.
As well as hugely increasing the number of people actively campaigning, it has massively broadened the experiences and expertise present in the campaign. From seasoned NHS campaigners, including NHS staff and former staff who know the ins and outs of privatisation, to trade unionists who can offer essential campaigns training and links to NHS workers, to groups such as Psychologists for Social Change who are reimagining what mental health services should look like in a more just society.
Our campaign would be so much less without all these essential and dedicated community groups and unions.
Solidarity is essential to both our mental health and our campaigns around mental health – and this is even more the case in further education and small and specialist unions who may have fewer resources with which to run a campaign.
In our struggles for better mental health provisions on campus, a key ally who are all too often forgotten is the staff trade unions – both the academics’ union (usually UCU), but also the trade unions representing support staff and counsellors. It is only together that we succeed in our aims for better funding and demands around cultural competency and other specialist forms of counselling.
Trade unions are essential in mental health prevention campaigns – debt is known to be one of the main causes of student mental distress, and it is campus trade unions on the front line of the fight to stop the further marketisation and privatisation of education, and who fight for the rights of both postgrads who teach, and student staff who work at institutions and students’ unions.
The strikes happening now are an excellent example of this solidarity and of campus communities coming together to win a fight which otherwise would be incredibly detrimental to good student mental health.
So this University Mental Health Day, it is time to start building those crucial campaigning communities – from other societies who also have an interest or stake in what you are campaigning for, to trade unions, to community activist groups.
If you can, try and spend some time on the picket lines with lecturers – it is important to show our solidarity in their struggles too, especially when they are fighting for the future of our education.
We can organise so much better, and be far more effective and sustainable in our campaigns when there is that community around us, and it is not just an individual or one group fighting on their own.
NUS Disabled Students’ Officer