An interview with WellSoc

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!

Blog: https://edinburghwellsoc.wordpress.com/blog/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/edinwellsoc/

Hope to see you at our events soon!


*Illustration by Jess Cowie*

The regenerative power of protests

On January 21st 2017, the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency, I felt fortunate to take part in the Women’s March, which took place across the globe and attempted to tackle a variety of issues currently plaguing society, from gender inequality to racism to the environment. This was a united, intersectional, and powerful movement of people in over 20 countries who also felt marginalised and angry. My participation in the march increased my awareness of the feminist as well as the sexist behaviour happening around me everyday. Since the march, I have tried to find ways to educate myself on what it means to be an intersectional feminist and how to lead a more environmentally friendly life.

However, do protests like the Women’s March really have regenerative power on the long term political and social landscape? Or is it all too easy to feel satisfied by one day of activism? How can we harness the power of marches so that they have a lasting effect- and do we even need to?

In many ways, the Women’s March kick-started, or re-started, a wave of activism for women’s rights in the Western world, from the Women’s March in Washington D.C. to the local groups of activists making small but momentous actions. It is easy to feel that a protest expends a lot of emotional energy on a single day while perhaps not making any large, visible political changes. It’s true that the majority of the marchers will have come out for one day of activism, only to go back to their everyday life without much change. So, is the power of one day overestimated?

Across the United States, thousands of women were empowered by the first Women’s March in 2017 to make the decision to run for local elections and become involved with politics. A record number of women ran for political office in the US in 2018, which also saw an unprecedented surge in independent organisations, fundraising, activism, and supporters. In the UK, the profile of grassroots campaigns, such as Free the Nipple, have been raised. This support has extended to larger political decisions, like saying ‘Yes’ to vital abortion reform in Ireland. The Women’s March did spark many local and individual decisions for change, and was a catalyst for the revolution that we need.

Now in 2019, the annual Women’s March continues. This year, there have been fractures to the movement, with allegations of anti-Semitism, a lack of LGBT representation, and concerns over financial transparency. It is hard for such a rapid movement of this size, with huge media coverage, not to be overwhelmed with tensions.

Rather than no longer supporting and engaging with the Women’s March, I think that it needs our support now more than ever. In my view, we must keep willing each other to make small, personal, but significant decisions that will ultimately lead to large and systemic change. Equality is a long way off but, I think, the Women’s March is a necessary part of getting there. Whether you turn up for the day and make as much noise as possible to inspire others, or if you are one of ‘the others’ who get inspired, it is only as a unified group that we will bring about needed change. This does not mean turning away from the allegations made, but addressing them. There was, and is, positive and regenerative change coming from the Women’s March, and we must ensure it is this which prevails.


*Illustration by Paola Valentina*

How Important are Straws, Really?

Since David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 documentary series and the viral video that showed a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nostril, the danger of straws on the environment has become the soundbite of a new surge in attempts to reduce single-use plastics. It seems that, as ‘millennials’ and members of ‘Generation Z’, we are set on making a difference in the way we treat our planet, but have we become too hung up on so-called trivial matters such as plastic straws?

It takes up to 200 years for a plastic straw to decompose and in 2017, plastic straws were the 11th most commonly found ocean rubbish. Clearly, single use straws are a huge problem and honing in on one easy way to protect the planet from irreversible damage can be beneficial. Overall, about 80% of all litter in the oceans is made of plastic; however, straws only account for 4% of this. Whilst this doesn’t mean that cutting out straws is insignificant, it also means that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to single-use plastics.

Possibly the worst culprit for polluting the oceans is the fishing industry and their abandoned gear. This is particularly the case in the world’s largest collection of floating rubbish, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, that lies between Hawaii and California, where the majority of rubbish is made up not of straws and plastic bottles, but fishing nets. A new study in Scientific Reports has found that fishing nets account for 46% of the rubbish in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the majority of the rest is made up of fishing ropes, oyster spacers, eel traps, crates and baskets.

As individuals, it is hard to know how we can help to reduce this plastic pollution from the fishing industry. Nevertheless, the beauty of our obsession with banning straws is that it is an easily achieved change that has an impact. What we should now do is ensure that we are more ambitious and dedicated in cutting down our single-use plastic. Keep cups, reusable sanitary products, bamboo toothbrushes, reusable cotton pads, canvas bags, and reusable water bottles are just some of the quick ways that you can make a noticeable difference to the planet. As David Attenborough says: ‘Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet, and never before have we had the power to do something about that.’ So, whilst it may seem like a cliché and an embarrassment to whip out your metal straw, you are winning in the eyes of the environment and future generations. A zero-plastic, zero-waste life truly could be the future if we put our minds to it.

Check out these websites for more info or to order yourself some eco-friendly goodies that will last you forever:

https://www.earthwisegirlsuk.co.uk/

https://www.realfoods.co.uk/article/plastic-free-a...

https://www.newleafcoop.co.uk/

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2018/oct/...


*Illustration by Isobel Williams*

Uniforms

These days, I find myself wearing the University of Edinburgh uniform. Even though I don’t wear the classic puffer jackets and headbands, you’ll find Depop dungarees, an oversized shirt from Armstrong’s and floral Doc Martens amongst other delights in my wardrobe. I realised towards the end of my first year at Edinburgh that, whilst accepting and later enjoying the fact that I didn’t fit the multitude of Edinburgh stereotypes, I had diversified my tastes considerably to match those around me. Perhaps, as university students who are caught up in an all-encompassing world away from home, we embrace a uniform as a mark of comfort, unity and pride.

At primary school, I wore the crested school jumper whilst the majority of people around me flaunted (very desirable) Hannah Montana t-shirts or a GAP hand-me-down. I was frustrated that I couldn’t join my friends in wearing my favourite top for all to see and equally that they weren’t joining me in wearing the school jumper. As fashion was not working in my favour, I instead ended up channelling all of my creativity and personality into stationery.

However, as an 11 year old starting secondary school, our uniform was exciting and a welcome equaliser. As long as we kept our blazer on and our top button done up, we had a bit of freedom to wear jazzy socks or a badge. Everyone wore their uniform with a different flare. We were artificially brought together by school policies, and uniform was for us a silent but significant reminder of the community we were a part of as well as the common enemy to unite against.

Like almost everything else in this world, uniforms can have problematic and complex consequences. It can be argued that they instil compliance, conformity, old-fashioned gender roles, and that they can cover up social ills whilst costing absurd amounts. However, they can also encourage collaboration, cooperation, unity, and rebellion. I think that uniforms are an investment worth making, particularly since, at the 2013 Liberal Democrat party conference, the original Labour party idea to put restrictions on overpriced single supplier uniform shops was introduced.

In hindsight, the first few weeks of university were much like non-uniform-days at school. You can’t help but notice a few unspoken and often well-intentioned looks from everyone around you, trying to deduce who you are as a person. It seems that, whether consciously or not, we gravitate towards those who wear the same uniform as us. When the uniforms of others and ourselves are accepted, they bring out the best in our individuality and steer us towards unity and belonging.


*Illustration by Isi Williams*

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