New mental health officer role rejected

The Students Union Council’s meeting in progress
Image: Valentina EgorovaThe Students Union Council’s meeting in progress Image: Valentina Egorova

The Students’ Union Council has voted not to create a new “Students with Mental Health Difficulties” part-time officer position on the grounds that it could undermine the current system.

The motion proposed by Andrew Lister called for a better “representation of those with mental health difficulties at an institutional level” through creating a new position.

It maintained that Newcastle University Students’ Union (NUSU) “could do more to ensure that they are promoting and supporting good mental health”.

But the motion was defeated by the council, with 57% voting against it and only 33% in favour.

Jack Taylor, president of the NUSU, speaking against the motion at the council, said:

“It’s a welfare issue, and the remit of a Welfare officer is to represent these issues to the university.

“I am very cautious this will be stepping on the Welfare and Equalities Officer’s remit.”

He added: “Whilst the importance of tackling mental health issues is absolutely paramount, the current representation structures ensure the Welfare and Equality Officer is there to represent students’ welfare issues, including students with mental health difficulties.

“I don’t feel the introduction of a specific part-time officer for students with mental health difficulties would achieve the aims set out in the job description as it would divide a responsibility and arguably reduce accountability of the Welfare and Equality Officer.”

During his speech, Taylor reportedly stressed that he was not trying to undermine the “mental health importance” and pointed to various mental health related campaigns run by the Students’ Union.

He noted: “It’s without a doubt on our remit.”

The motion comes at a time when 27% of students suffer from mental health problems, YouGov’s research revealed.

According to YouGov, depression and anxiety are “commonplace” among students – 77% and 74% correspondingly reported to suffer from it.

Lister pointed to the statistics, claiming that it amounted to almost 5,500 students from Newcastle University.

At first the motion was seconded by Rachael Kitching, Welfare and Equality Officer, and Errol Kerr and Daniel Wood, Students with Disabilities Officers, who all later removed their seconding.

Kerr explained what drove them to change his mind:

“Initially, not only had I seconded this motion, but had also assisted in its writing, but after discussing it in length with Daniel Wood as well as the other part-time and sabbatical officers, we found ourselves very conflicted.

“The requirement for support is desperately needed, however it was felt that the job described was either already covered through the Welfare and Equality Officer position or other part-time officers, or that it was too in-depth to be suitable for an individual who would still be studying alongside the work.”

A list of prerequisites for a part-time job included: convening a Mental Health Forum at least once per term; being a member of the University’s Diversity Consultative Group and of Mind the Gap society; liaising with the Student Wellbeing service; being in a regular contact with the Administration Office; and attending all relevant events and meetings.

Speaking after the council, Lister told The Courier that this motion was only a stepping stone toward his objective and he was not going to give up.

He said:

“This does not change anything in the way that I am working towards things and what I am trying to do.

“It’s been shown by the popular vote that this is not the way people want to go about it.

“There are different ways we can approach it and there are different things that we can change.”

He said he considered redrafting the motion or collaborating with Welfare and Equality Officer to find a new solution.   

“What matters from this point forwards is that six thousand people with mental health problems at Newcastle University are supported, and they get the help that they need and are represented.”

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