First Person: Mental health issues must not be ignored
When did you last have a conversation with someone about a mental health issue? Not everyone is comfortable talking about this topic, but I believe strongly that everyone has a right to positive mental health.
On Monday afternoon, I met with students to discuss running a mental health awareness event at De Montfort University (DMU), inspired by the Government's Time to Change campaign.
We decided we wanted DMU to celebrate University Mental Health and Wellbeing Day, which was being held on Wednesday.
Within 24 hours, nearly 30 students had volunteered to start what would be a whistle-stop tour of Leicester for DMU's new Ask Me About campaign, which aimed to start a conversation with students, staff and the wider community about mental health.
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Students created placards with their own personal messages about mental health – including "ask me about… staying positive" and "ask me about… my anxiety" – and contacted people from all over the city to ask them to take part.
The students who could not make it to the event were able to follow the campaign on Twitter, as updates were posted at each stop on the tour.
I am grateful to Chief Constable Simon Cole, Geoff Rowe, director of the Leicester Comedy Festival, assistant city mayor Manjula Sood, Leicester Tigers, Leicester City ambassador Alan Birchenall and former England and Leicestershire cricketer Paul Nixon – now a DMU Square Mile ambassador – for giving up their time so generously to help.
Mental health is an issue not just for universities, but for society as a whole. One in four people will experience a mental health problem in any one year. Statistically, in our university community of 24,000, that means 6,000 staff and students will be affected.
Talking about mental health can help challenge the stigma which sadly still surrounds it. If you know someone who has had problems, talk to them. Send them an e-mail, a text, or even an e-card. We would not be in the slightest bit bothered about discussing a broken arm or a leg, so why should depression or panic attacks be any different?
Talking to students taking part in Wednesday's event who have experienced anxiety, panic attacks and depression, they all said knowing there was help and support there for them was vital. Our students never fail to impress me with their determination to make a difference – and their amazing work this week is a case in point.
Professor Dominic Shellard is vice-chancellor of De Montfort University.