An interview with WellSoc
Writing: Eilish Newmark
Illustration: Jess Cowie
CW: This article contains discussion of mental illness.
Hi, my name is Sandhya and I am a 2nd year studying biological sciences. I am the current Volunteer Co-ordinator for WellSoc.
Why was WellSoc created, what are your main aims as a society, and what purpose does it serve at Edinburgh University?
The aim of WellSoc is to support those suffering from mental health issues at university by creating a platform for speaking about mental health. The society was created to provide a safe space for university students to discuss and campaign for better mental health support. We aim to do this through providing people with signposting towards where they can seek support and resources. We also run events which aim to remind people that they are not alone in their mental health struggles. Most people at university have suffered or know someone who has suffered from mental illness.We want to empower people to speak about their experiences and learn more about what other people might be going through. We run workshops, panel discussions and collaborate with EUSA and other societies to highlight the importance of mental wellbeing for students.
What are the main mental health and wellbeing issues that you are tackling at the moment as a society?
As a society we aim to cover a wide range of different mental health and wellbeing issues as well as highlight other organisations which do the same. We try and focus on issues that may particularly affect students, such as stress, anxiety, and depression. We hold bi-weekly open meetings where we invite WellSoc members and other university students to give us suggestions for future events and to discuss what they would like to see the university do to best support them through mental ill health. We run workshops and panel discussions on a wide range of issues, from mental health in literature, to the relationship between men and mental health, in order to create discussion about a range of different issues. We are always open to talking about new and different issues and we welcome students to come forward with new ideas and topics to cover through our events.
How do you think we can raise the profile of not just mental health, but also the ongoing taboo around mental illnesses such as bipolar, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and OCD which may not have been addressed as much as anxiety and depression?
I think the best way to raise awareness is by talking more about the issues we face as students. This can be a very scary and vulnerable experience but when people attend panel discussions or talk about their own experiences with mental health, I believe this is a great way to raise the profile of less well-known mental health illnesses. Many people suffering from chronic mental health issues can often feel very alone and we are here to remind people that there is a community of individuals here to support them with their everyday struggles.
Expression is also not just about attending such events. We understand that not everyone has reached a place within themselves where they feel comfortable to speak about the issues they’re facing. However, writing for our blog, with the choice of being anonymous, or requesting us to run events on a specific mental illness that you or people you know might be struggling with, would allow us to accurately present a variety of different mental health illnesses that affect the wide range of students we aim to support. We want to make sure we are true to the real-life experiences of students suffering from mental health illness and we aim to do this by working with others to create events that support people in this way.
What do you think some of the stigmas around mental health at university and millennial mental health are?
There are definitely still substantial stigmas surrounding getting help for mental health illnesses. Though more people are talking about mental health, seeking help is something which people still struggle to do. There has also been a lot of uncertainty surrounding taking medication for mental health issues. Though this doesn’t work for everyone, it is always best to seek professional help if you are thinking about this. I would really encourage people who are struggling mental ill health to go a doctor to seek professional support with an open mind.
Men talking about mental health is also something which is very underrepresented and stigmatised in the current day and age. Men go through mental health illness too and it is much less common for men to speak out about their mental health experiences. In terms of stigmas surrounding millennial mental health, I think many people don’t realise there is a lot we can do to advise and help those who are suffering in a mental health crisis. You are not alone and there are lots of resources out there to help and support others.
As a society, do you do any work with the University of Edinburgh mental health and counselling services? The uni services are often written about in viral posts on The Edinburgh Tab as being inadequate and there was a large backlash to Mental Health Week with claims that all the funding went to trivial badges – how do you think we can solve this? Do you think there is such a big problem in the deficiencies of the Edinburgh mental health services as is being made out?
As a university society we are no way affiliated with the University of Edinburgh mental health and counselling service. We have previously worked with the VP Welfare to create and support events run by the Students Association, but we don’t actually work with the university itself. I think the university does need to do more work to give students what they want and need in terms of mental health services. Many students find the university counselling service highly useful but the time period or waiting time too long; others don’t find the service the university provides useful. I think this varies a lot and is dependent on the individual’s experience and interaction with the service. If people are having issues with the university’s mental health services, come talk to us or the VP Welfare to let us know what issues you are facing and then work can be done to make the changes that we need to see.
How can someone who is experiencing mental health problems, or just wants to become part of the community, get involved with WellSoc and keep up to date?
Come to our open meetings! Get involved with helping run our society events, we’re always looking for more volunteers to help support us. If you are experiencing mental health problems, we will be able to point you in the right direction to where you can get the professional mental health support you require. We also run an annual mental health first-aid course where you can learn to better support other people struggling with mental health issues. Our newly created website has a whole section on resources, numbers to ring, and places on campus that can give you the support you need. To keep updated with WellSoc make sure to follow our Facebook page to find out all about our upcoming events and our website also often has updates and new blog posts from other Edinburgh students ( https://edinburghwellsoc.wordpress.com/blog/ )
WellSoc has committee positions that still need to be filled! If you’re interested in becoming part of the WellSoc committee, please message the facebook page to get in touch - let’s keep this society going!
Do you have any upcoming events that you want to promote?
We are currently planning some more panel discussions, workshops on dealing with exam stress as well as our annual mental health first aid course (see the Facebook page for more details). Also follow our website and blog for useful resources and blog posts by fellow Edinburgh students!
Hope to see you at our events soon!