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Leeds University: Setting an example for campuses across the country when it comes to mental health

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Festivities have been taking place in student houses, bars and clubs over the last few months as people welcomed the end of assessment season, the academic year and the wait for results. But some students will have little cause for celebration this summer.

Leeds Mind MattersExam season is a stressful time of year for everyone, but for some the stress becomes overwhelming, and anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other mental illnesses take their toll. In these instances, the counselling services and academic concessions provided by universities can be life savers.

But with cases of mental illness in the student population on the rise, university counselling services experiencing long waiting lists, and greater social and economic pressure on students to get high grades, universities can and should be doing more to address mental health issues.

Fortunately for those attending at Leeds University, students there have taken a proactive stance towards mental health, exemplified by the Union’s Mind Matters society.

MM was set up in 2008 by former students Dominic Martin and Edward Pinkney. Edward, who went on to found Mental Wealth UK, said the original aim of the society was “to bring mental health out of the shadows”. The idea for the society came about after a meeting with the head of the counselling service alerted him “to how pressing the issue of student mental health was”.  

“University is a really stressful time for anyone, and it can be such a lonely time for students who may think that they are the only ones who are experiencing mental health problems” says current society president and mental health nursing student Cassie Moseley.

“Mind Matters aims to give these students a voice, and let them know that they are not alone and that there is support available for them”.

Student engagement with mental health issues on campus does not end with Mind Matters. International relations student and society member Lucy Bailey has taken the initiative to set up a peer-led support group for students. Lucy was inspired to set up the group by her own experience of mental health difficulties whilst studying at university, and in response to the three week waiting list for the overwhelmed university counselling service.

“We aim to create a supportive and confidential space where students can talk about any issues they may be facing and meet other students who may be going through similar experiences” Lucy says, “it also offers students somewhere to turn while they are on waiting lists for services or to get information about services they might not be aware of”.

An unprecedented model, the group has been 18 months in the making. Lucy has worked closely with the Student Union Welfare Officer and Mind Matters’ Development Coordinator to get permission, funding and training for group facilitators. The group officially launched in April of this year, in time to start providing support during the gruelling trials of exam season.

Both Cassie and Lucy are optimistic about the future of student mental health at Leeds, with the knowledge that an expanding support network exists for students should they need it. They are also in agreement on the next steps that they would like to see taken in order to further improve matters. As they see it, more can and should be done to increase staff education on student mental health.

 “I think that personal tutors and academic staff within each school need to be made more aware of the support there is for students” says Cassie.

“They could support their students better and signpost them to the appropriate support if necessary.

Universities should take note of the work being done by Leeds students, and use it as inspiration for making some progress of their own in maintaining the well-being of their students.

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