Thursday 17 November 2016
We caught up with Zainab Shaikh, president of the Mental Health Awareness Society, to talk about the important work they do to promote openness and discussion around mental health among QMUL students, and to get her take on recent mental health trends.
What are the aims of the society?
The aims of our society are:
• to raise awareness of mental health disorders
• to increase knowledge about support pathways
• to reduce stigma within the university
• to help students understand the psychology behind mental health disorders
• to establish relationships with external organisations and charities (such as. Mind, Beat and YMCA) to further develop support for students.
• to advise students on how they can help someone suffering from mental health disorders.
What kind of events and activities do you run for members and students?
Our main events consist of talks provided by various speakers on different topics. We have previously organised talks titled:
• the wounded healer: mental health and medicine
• is life a disease?
• psychology and mental health: beyond nature and nurture
• stress and depression: an Islamic perspective
• the war on mental health: From Palestine to Syria.
We are in the process of organising socials for students which will help their mental health, such as yoga classes.
Are you involved with the ‘Study Well’ campaign?
Although we have not been involved with ‘Study Well’ as a society, we have seen its positive effects from a student perspective, especially at the Mile End Library. For example, the study bags are often a welcome, positive surprise during the stress of exam season.
How do you think we can help to combat the stigma that often surrounds mental health issues?
I feel that mental health is a topic that many people are embarrassed about. Even people who haven’t suffered don’t really want to speak about it. The most important way to reduce stigma around mental health is education. It is important to explain to non-sufferers how mental health disorders arise and the symptoms associated. It is also just as important to get sufferers to speak about their experience and recovery as this encourages discussion. I have encountered many people who think that people use mental health as an excuse to seek attention. We have to understand that people may seek attention because they need support to get through something. It is vital to reiterate that no one wants to have a mental health disorder. No one wants to have sleepless nights being anxious about the following day. No one wants to self-harm. No one wants to feel suicidal. No one likes to feel like they are seeking attention. These disorders come with a lot of emotional and physical stress, and what makes it worse is when you think you have no one to speak to.
There seems to be a rise in mental health issues among medical professionals in recent years – could you talk to us about that?
The rise in mental health among medical professionals can be due to many reasons. One could be the long hours, sleepless night and the stress. However, this is something that has always been consistent so it is not a new part of the medical profession. I think as time goes on, this field is getting more and more competitive. Although sometimes competition is healthy, I feel that this is to a level where colleagues put too much pressure on themselves and at the same time don’t feel that they can speak to anyone. I know several medical students and even graduates who feel that they have to be silent about their mental health because they have so much responsibility – some feel that if their patients find out, they will no longer be trusted while others worry about the questioning that may come from the General Dental Council or the General Medical Council.
Likewise, mental health is a big concern for postgraduates and academics – what’s your take on this?
With risk factors that affect postgraduates such as the stress of moving from the sheltered university life to being thrust into the open ‘real world’, as well as the intense work schedules required to stay competitive in the world of academia, it is of no surprise that many people from these groups are affected by mental health issues. However unlike many of the medical professionals in the previous question, they may not have benefited from a medical education that helps people to identify and understand mental issues. This in turn makes it even more important for us to ensure we raise awareness in these groups to ensure as many people as possible seek out the help that they need.
What advice would you give to any student who may be experiencing mental health issues?
It is very important to remind yourself that you are not alone in this. There is so much support available throughout the university and even externally. You may not feel like talking to friends about your problems so there are strangers who are willing to listen. You may find it difficult to explain to friends and family what you are going through – there are people who can help you have this difficult conversation. Please remember that your first priority is your health – everything else is secondary. Nothing is worth harming yourself – emotionally or physically.
Do you have any big plans for the society over the coming year?
Apart from the talks and socials we have, we are planning to host a Mental Health Week in May. This will include many things such as meditation classes, self-help sessions, barbecues, talks from different speakers, cakes and maybe even a bouncy castle!
For more information on how to access advice and support, please visit: