President of the new QM Student Minds movement on the importance of establishing a safe place and igniting honest, sincere discussion about mental health
When discussing the first year of university, people usually pump you up about all the fun you will definitely have during Fresher’s Week, all the beautiful friendships you will find and memorable experiences you will collect. With this same spirit, I started my university life at Queen Mary. However, this is how I remember myself two years ago: a socially awkward Fresher from Italy, with issues in socialising and even bigger issues when taken out of the university environment. After a couple of years spent in a dark place, away from the standard linear path of scholastic obligations, I had expected my life to suddenly improve, almost as if university could cast a magic spell on my mood. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so.
First year equated to chaos, loneliness and stress. I clearly remember the struggle of looking around for friendly faces, while dealing with assignments I had never done and on top of this, pretending that everything was fine and under control. I timidly joined a Facebook group of a society dedicated to Mental Health, which at the time used to organise tea-sessions to deal with academic related stress and give support. I had always really wanted to attend their sessions, but during my first year, I really never had the courage.
Second year came, and while I felt ready to admit that ‘I do have problems at times’, the society I had always wanted to join disappeared. I finished my second year with the future aim of seeking another society which would offer me the kind of support I secretly wanted during first year, and that I could not find during the second.
The opportunity came whilst working at the QMSU Reception; there I got to know Miranda Black (VP of Welfare). One of her goals is to increase awareness about mental health, and in order to do so she expressed to me the need for a peer-support society, which would help in creating a more communicative environment within the university to share angsts and anxieties. She pointed out a charity called Student Minds to me, which targets university associations and supports them in their choice to talk about mental health. This was a great chance for me to put my five years of mental health experience in service to other people, as well as to help myself gain more and more confidence in talking about my emotions. In fact, in my opinion, people are often stuck in a loop of ‘pretending’; a standard ‘I am fine’ façade which students are often forced to put on by social circumstances. In my case, this pretence has always been a way of suppression, which never led to a positive outcome.
For this reason, I would like the society Queen Mary Student Minds to be a place to meet, play, relax and chat in an environment in which, for once, there is no need to feel ashamed when providing an honest answer to the question ‘How are you?’
Queen Mary Student Minds will be shortly organising themed meetings with games, activities, internet culture (where the bunchie – the image of our logo – has been taken from) and food. My hope is that Queen Mary will finally have a place where students can feel part of a community in which feelings are not stereotyped, stigmas do not exist and where social pressure is lifted. In order for this to become a reality, one last thing is needed: you!
Image: Considered – the Faculty of Education blog at Canterbury Christ Church University