Mind The Gap tackles stigma

The third annual Mind the Gap event took place in the Students’ Union on Saturday. The conference, organised by Newcastle students, aims to raise awareness of mental health and to start a discussion around its taboo status in modern society. Over 100 people attended the keynote speeches and events.

The conference featured two keynote speakers in its nearly seven-hour programme of mental health related activities. Ged Flynn, the Chief Executive of the charity for prevention of youth suicide PAPYRUS and Bridget Hamilton, Newcastle alumni and founder of North-East based production company Verbal Remedy, discussed their own experience with mental health in both a personal and professional capacity. Both talks were well attended and included a Q&A afterwards.

Ged Flynn discussed the work that PAPYRUS does towards preventing youth suicide. He pointed out that all of us should be on the lookout for telling signs that someone might be unwell and also advised everyone present to make a note of PAPYRUS’ hotline number.

In an interview with The Courier afterwards, Ged said: “I feel really privileged to be in Newcastle today, even more so because I used to live here. I’m now travelling the country, sharing a very simple message: You can save young lives. Friends, colleagues, students, lecturers, caretakers – you can make it a priority to save these lives.

Prevalence of suicide in this country among people between 10 and 34 is hugely worrying and that’s not said to scare, it’s just to make the point that this is real and we can do something about it.”

Bridget Hamilton’s talk, delivered right after the lunch break, focused on the prominent issue of the mental issues in the millenial generation.

“My talk is called Are Millenials Miserable or is it just me? So it’s just thinking about the sorts of things that typically make millenials miserable and enhances their mental health issues. So it’s anything from jobs, finance, housing, social media, all of that,” Bridget explained before her talk. “Also, what we can do about it and whether it’s good or bad to think of us as this homogenous group whether or not it’s doing more harm than good. Hopefully it won’t be too depressing for everyone, it’ll just be a bit of fun.”

Bridget’s talk directly targeted cross-generational prejudice towards millenials and she concluded with her “millenialfesto”, encouraging all of her peers to keep tackling mental health stigma.

The conference kicked off with a brief introduction by Mind the Gap society President Alex Duncan briefly explaining the history of the conference. Alex has been involved with Mind the Gap since the very first event in 2013.

“I really love how it’s grown over the past few years,” she later told The Courier. “We’ve really refined what we initially set out to do. It’s running a lot smoother than it has done in previous years, which is really great.”

Andrew Lister, the society’s Treasurer, followed up with a sobering story about his own experiences with mental illness, urging everyone present to consider their own involvement in tackling prejudice and stigma.

The day also involved numerous stalls with useful information from local charities and other University societies, many interactive activities and talks, as well as an all-day Quiet Room to provide guests with the opportunity to relax if they need to.

The importance and impact of the annual Mind the Gap conference was outlined by all keynote speakers.

“It’s great to be here in the Students’ Union, where so many young people are passionate about it and can learn about organisations like PAPYRUS to stop this terrifying surge of suicide,” Ged Flynn pointed out. “The emphasis is that we all need to take this much more seriously. It’s really encouraging to come on a Saturday morning, when people could be out doing football and rugby. Seeing young people sitting there, in great numbers. We care so much about this that we’ve given up our day to think about mental health and to save lives.”

The additional talks included discussions on sport and mental health, history of mental illness, eating disorders, mental health in ethnic minority communities, addiction and mental health. and mental health in media.

Interactive activities included guided meditation and muscle relaxation. Additionally, a workshop called The Lived Experience gave an opportunity to conference-goers to receive an array of perspectives from people, who have used mental health services. The workshop was led by LAUNCHPAD Team Leader Alistair Cameron.

Mind the Gap has been working throughout the three years of its existence to counter all prejudice relating to mental health and their work has been defined as hugely important and lifechanging.

“Based off the NUS’ data, the number of students that report having mental health issues is about 20% of all,” Alex Duncan explained. “The NHS believes that three quarters of people with mental health issues are not getting treatment. That means that roughly 3,450 students at Newcastle University have a mental health condition that they’re not in treatment for. That’s a massive deal.

“One of the things that we can do is talk about it. And we can make sure people know that you’re not lazy, you’re not useless, you’re not pathetic – that’s not why you’re feeling this way. You might just be ill. And if you are ill, you need to talk to someone, even if it’s just your friends and family, or to your doctor, or reach out to the University services. There are many people that can help you and it’s not your fault. That’s what we can do, as students.”

First year Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Zoe Godden led the talk on mental health in the media, along with Haaris Qureshi. She told The Courier about her experiences with her first Mind the Gap conference: “As a fresher, it’s so great to actually have a society that deals with such a taboo subject, especially as someone who deals with mental health difficulties myself.

The society is honestly like a family unit and to be a part of it is such a fantastic feeling. The commitment that’s gone into making this conference possible is outstanding and everyone gives 110%.”

“I think mental health in university is really really important,” Bridget Hamilton added.

“I think it’s so great to have a conference and see all sorts of different people telling their professional and personal stories. It’s good to see that our University has made a really concerted effort to show that they are really positive about mental health. “

Image: Antonia Velikova

Image: Antonia Velikova

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