One of the things I do slightly regret about my first year of university is not taking full advantage of how many societies and sports the university offers. I mean, I did attend the odd GIAG event now and then, but I never really stuck with anything consistently. I think this might have been because I was still adapting to university life and trying to settle into things. I feel like this year, however, in my second year, I’ve been able to experiment more with new things and try out different activities, such as radio presenting (which I 100% recommend you try!). To be honest though, I do think I went a little overboard on the whole society-experimenting thing in my first week back…My date diary was literally full to the brim with ‘meet and greets’ and various other socials. (It was exhausting. I love people, but in small doses.) Anyway, this year I’m part of the Mental Health Matters Society committee after getting involved in the society in my first year. I’m only four months into the role of Web Officer, but I absolutely adore it and everyone on the committee.
I’ve always held an interest in mental health, both through personal experiences and the want to understand how the mind works; it’s an inescapable, though profoundly complex issue that can affect anybody at all. You only have to watch Sue Bourne’s beautiful documentary The Age of Loneliness to understand the impact of this silent epidemic. I’m saddened by the debilitating stigma that surrounds mental health, and hurt by the lack of adequate support that is available. No one should be made to feel worthless simply because what they’re experiencing might not manifest itself as a physical symptom. I think it’s heartbreaking, and I really just wanted to contribute in any way I could to help raise awareness of this issue, in the hope that it might make a difference somehow.
So that’s why I decided to run for the position of Web Officer. In this role, I control the society’s Facebook and Twitter pages, posting regular updates about our progress, meeting times/locations and just general articles related to mental health. I love it! It’s so flexible too, which means I’m not compromising my studies by undertaking the role. At first it was a little daunting, and I was incredibly self-conscious about everything I posted. There is definitely a significant degree of responsibility in my role, which I am aware of and know I must respect. The term ‘mental health’ is a hugely oversimplified phrase that encompasses hundreds of different illnesses, so it’s vital that whatever I do post, I make sure I’ve proofread it beforehand and added a ‘trigger warning’ note if necessary just in case it may cause offence or harm. It has become second nature to me now, though. Sometimes when I post things I like to add a little bit of my personal ‘voice’, just to keep things relaxed and informal. I think it’s nice to mix things up a bit. On the odd occasion, for instance, I post a sneaky Charlie Brown comic strips. They always seem to attract the most activity, strangely.
Despite only being in the role for less than four months, I’ve watched our Facebook page grow from 800 likes to over 1,400! Mind-blowing or what? (It must be the Peanuts comics…) Not just that, but one picture I posted, which portrayed just some of the myriad of emotions a person may feel if they suffer from depression, reached over 170,000 people in the space of 2 days. Incredible. I love reflecting on milestones like these, it makes me feel so proud of what we’ve achieved as a committee.
As a predominantly ‘campaigning’ society, we work to raise awareness of mental health through organising different events and holding weekly meetings on different topics related to mental health. During semester one, we created a campaign focusing on freshers’ week, which we termed ‘#YouAreNotAlone’. Our aim with this campaign was to highlight the fact that there is no ‘standard’ framework in how university life works and you shouldn’t feel pressured to live the way others choose. We wanted to emphasise that it’s absolutely fine not to want to participate in freshers’ activities if you didn’t want to; everyone experiences a myriad of different emotions in their first week at university. In the light of this campaign, we organised a number of different fundraising events, such as a poetry open mic night, in collaboration with Sheffield University’s poetry society. It was a huge success!
What I love about my committee is that we’re all so collaborative. Our current campaign is centred on mental health in young men. We came up with this idea together, and are working on ways we might want to explore this and raise awareness of it as an issue with a focus group, which you can join here if you’re interested, or would like a say in how we approach this topic.
I feel so lucky to be able to work with such a lovely bunch. They really are brilliant. And we have the best president in the world. I’m not even biased when I say that: it’s the honest truth. Anna is such a kind, compassionate, person who just seems to fit the role of president with ease and flair. I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. (We love you Anna!)
If you’re a member of a society and you feel like you’d like to get more involved in how it operates, running for a committee role might be something you should definitely consider. You’ll love it! The skills you’ll develop will be invaluable to you in your future career and you’ll make some of your closest friends in doing so.