I have been saving this post for the time that the footage was out. So, last May, we were asked to participate in a short film on mental health on campus. The film was broadcasted on Channel 4 News on 11 October for the No Go Britain part of the programme.
Those who decided to participate, would get a lesson at Scropton Riding & Driving Centre and then sit down to have a nice conversation about the issues they face on campus because of their mental disorders and how equine therapy helps them.
Not a good lesson for me, by the way, since I had forgotten that 20 Celsius degrees in Nottingham feel like 35 in Crete. And, knowing that we would train in the outside arena, I thought it would be wise to wear 4 layers of clothes: a sweater, an equestrian polo, a show shirt and a black isothermic top (and a thick sports jacket was waiting in the coffee area)! I was riding Babs again, who suffered from my lack of common sense regarding clothes; my thoughts were focused mostly on when I would have the chance to get rid of all this excessive clothing!
After the class, I managed to take off everything except for my polo shirt (what a relief!) and joined the conversation. It was a quite nice one; I found it comforting to hear about others’ experiences with mental health issues and this was also my chance to realize that mental-health stigma does not only exist in small societies like the Greek islands.
Since the broadcast time was too short for all the issues to be highlighted, I would like to expose some here.
First of all, we do consider that, from the aspect of welfare, the university has a long way to go before we can claim that we get help in time and as much of it as we need. Instead, most counselling services work on long waiting lists. Now, this is serious especially in chronic depression issues; for example, what if the student with suicidal thoughts (don’t laugh, it’s very common) kills themselves before their turn for counselling comes? Who will be blamed for the loss? Who will compensate the family? And here let’s add that one with mental health issues needs to have the persuasion skills of an attorney to convince their GP that the worrying symptoms that they have suffered lately are not a product of their rich fantasy and that they in fact need to see a specialist. I don’t know, but I have reached the conclusion that GPs think that a student with a mental disease has nothing better to do than wait for ever in the clinic waiting room, while their classmates are catching deadlines (yes, the same deadlines that I have to catch). I don’t know, do they think we are there because we love the hospital smell or because we are in love with them, maybe? I don’t understand, but refusal to give us help and send us to a specialist when we desperately ask for it can actually result in severe deterioration of our condition. It’s not just the odyssey that I personally went through in the first year of my MA; I found that many home students faced the same problem as me. And do you know what the ultimate result is? More state spending on medication and surgeries. So yeah, when a chronically ill person persistently asks for your medical help, it’s not because they like your workplace or they fancy you; it’s because they need your help. Now. And think about it; when we say we are “fine”, we mean as fine as our condition permits; when we say we “don’t feel well”, we are in urgent need of medical help. It’s all about the difference of the word “fine” between the case of a person suffering from a chronic disease and the case of a healthy person. And we have learned how to distinguish between these two.
Academically, things are easier, from the aspect of the variety of arrangements that we can have with our faculties. The student services and the academic support staff of each school help with that. But, beyond the evidence that you bring, how do you persuade somebody that you work as hard as you can? A person suffering from a mental disease might need at two or more times longer to accomplish an intellectual task than a healthy classmate. This doesn’t mean they are stupid or lazy. It means they have to approach their work in a different way. During my time as a resident tutor in one of the halls, I met bright students who suffered from mental disabilities but had found a way to do very well at their studies. Each of them had a different approach and a different method and I could see that in the arrangement of their desks and the space around them. But how can you help your academic support officer understand that? So, here’s another challenge.
Socially, I didn’t see anyone bothering with the stigma too much. Most of us have the same mechanism with dealing with people who step on our issues offend us. We ask them to leave our life and we keep them as far from us as possible. We don’t want to be around persons who don’t value us, because we believe we have at least as much value as everyone else. We would be happy to ignore and exclude somebody from our social circle, even if they had been our best friends before our problem came to the surface. Everyone has problems anyway, some of us just happen to have mental health problems.
Here is the video from the broadcast. I hope you find it enlightening. Many bravos to our member Maz, whose story shows the impact that mental disease has on our sense of safety!
PS: For those who follow the blog, I plan to write a post about the value of equine therapy for our combat-mental-disease arsenal. Stay tuned!