SU’s ‘Dare to Care’ campaign was a success, but we can’t stop there

By Lauren Thomson, English, second year

Shame still surrounds many mental health issues, and when swept under the rug, it can thrive. It is important that universities have structures in place to help dismantle these harmful trends.

From February 28 to March 4, the University of Bristol ran its “Dare to Care” campaign in a conscious effort to challenge the stigma surrounding conversations about mental health and suicide.

For its students, the week has created a space to speak openly about the University’s shortcomings and to expand its welfare reach and engagement with its students. There was the opportunity to share personal concerns, take online suicide covenant training, and be part of a wellness network forum.

And I, like many students, appreciate the importance of these events. My first few weeks at college affected my own mental health in ways I had never felt before. I was isolated in one apartment, then transferred to another where I was the victim of another person’s mental struggle. When I contacted the University, I received minimal support in my moment of trauma.

For many years now, the University of Bristol has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons surrounding mental health. A freedom of information request found Bristol students’ wait for advice is three times the national average (52 days compared to 15).

Our vulnerable students are not listened to. We are facing the longest wait in Britain. For some, seeing that number alone may discourage them from reaching out; whether it is for fear of not being heard or that their cause will be depreciated.

By intentionally designing an open space to listen to and accept criticism, the Dare to Care campaign was a positive step in the right direction.

According to the University Student Wellbeing Survey last year, 53% of students perceived their biggest barriers to seeking help as ‘feeling problems aren’t big enough’, ‘worries no one will understand’ and ‘fear of academic consequences “.

By attending discussions this week with senior executives, students had the opportunity to build a support system based on transparency.

The University is trying to change its ways. But there is still a long way to go.

A reform of the University support system is long overdue. This week was the first step on the road to change.

Simply too many students spent too much time without adequate support, reflected in an annual increase in depression and anxiety levels of 37-47% and 28-41% respectively compared to the pre- pandemic.

Dramatic changes in student life over the past 18 months have also increased inequalities in mental health. This campaign was an opportunity to tackle these trends and receive support from the University.

Obviously, the University is trying to change its ways. But there is still a long way to go.

The Wellbeing Survey also found that more students this year (7%) found it more difficult to seek help at university. The most accessible support available is always provided by non-specialists, such as residential life counsellors, tutors and the student union.

With growing demand, it’s no surprise that student counseling, disability services, and student healthcare professionals are seen as the most difficult to access.

To create lasting change, this week needs to be just the first of many similar events to come.

I remain hopeful that this institution strives to be a place where vulnerable people are prioritized and listened to.

By taking responsibility for supporting students, the University empowers itself and relieves its students. Putting yourself forward can be intimidating, especially on an intensely personal topic.

By choosing to participate, students had the opportunity to reshape conversations about a topic that is and should be increasingly on the University agenda.

Traditional barriers to seeking support are finally being overcome on campus. This campaign week has been a great example of Bristol University’s conscious efforts to create a functioning student support system, but we cannot rest on our laurels.

To create lasting change, this week needs to be just the first of many similar events to come.

Featured Image: Marcel Strauss | Unsplash

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About Antoine L. Cassell

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