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Here is an article I have just written for Young Minds magazine (due out in Ocotber)-

I arrived at Leeds University in September 2005 to begin my degree with the usual combination of excitement and nerves.

However, what made both my excitement and nerves more palpable was my pre-existing mental health condition.

In the summer of 2004, I had an acute stress induced psychotic episode whilst on holiday in Rome. I returned to the UK and spent a week in a psychiatric ward. Although I was discharged I started to feel depressed. After being prescribed anti-depressant medication, my mood picked up and a few months later my application to study Spanish at Leeds was accepted.

I settled in to uni life reasonably well. I had friends in my accommodation and was enjoying the course. However, something was missing. I was still healing from what happened in Rome, and really needed support. What I needed was someone who had been through what I had, a student or group of students who could help me back on to my feet and vice versa.

I had the idea in the back of my mind to start up a group but didn’t have the confidence to step up and organise it. For the first two years at Leeds, I relied solely on CBT. It was only in the final year of the course that I felt strong enough to take the plunge and get something started. I mentioned the idea to my best friend who thought It could really work. “If you don’t do it now, you’ll regret it,” he said. I thought these were wise words and started to act.

I started off by producing some posters saying that I wanted to form a mental health society in the university, and put them up around campus. I got about 10 emails back, including an especially enthusiastic one from a guy called Eddy.

Eddy had been thinking of doing something similar, having been affected by mental ill health in his family. Together we planned how the society would operate, when our first meeting would be etc. It was a very exciting time getting everything together and figuring out how to get people to join up. We decided we wanted to get as many people on board as possible, from medical students to those passionate about campaigning. It was going to be quite a challenge getting mentally ill students to sign up to the society, but we persevered. Emails went out all across the uni and we soon had our first meeting.

At the first meeting, people interested in sitting on the committee were asked to submit an application. With the committee in place, we could start planning our first big event, The Mind Matters Day.

Set to take place in the university’s Healthy Week, The Mind Matters Day would be a unique opportunity to promote positive mental health within the university. Society members were delegated various tasks and regular committee meetings were held to get everything in place. The event turned out to be a huge success. More than 200 people came and we had everything from free massages to how to cook good brain food. It was enormously satisfying seeing it all come together and a real team bonding experience for the committee.

The Mind Matters Day set the wheels in motion and we had a couple of successful events afterwards. Rufus May, an experimental psychologist, came to speak to the society. We also had a talk from a local writer, Jean Davison who has written a book about her experiences in a psychiatric hospital.

The Mind Matters Society gave me a huge confidence boost and got me engaged with mental health. I loved every minute of it and know that next year, it’ll continue to grow. Eddy is currently travelling round the country encouraging students at other universities to set up similar societies.

Although I initially just wanted to be part of a support group, acting as president of The Mind Matters proved to be something which empowered me to feel comfortable with my problems and much more able to talk about them openly.

However, I realise there is a silent majority of students who choose not to talk about their problems. We carried out a survey which found that 16.6% of students would not even seek help if they had a mental illness. More worryingly, 48.8% of students were unsure or did not know where to get help for mental health problems on campus. It is evident that more needs to be done throughout UK universities to promote university counselling services. Over 50% of Leeds’ students still felt there was a stigma attached to mental health. It is societies like The Mind Matters that will help to reduce this figure and enable students with mental health problems to come forward and not be embarrassed about their problems.

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