Nearly all of us have been touched by mental health problems in one way or another. Our best estimates suggest that around 1 in 4 people will suffer from mental health problems in their lifetime. It could be anything from a family member suffering from bipolar disorder to a friend suffering a depressive episode and needing therapy.
Mental Health Week was supposed to take place from September 26th – 28th in UCD but nothing ever came of it. According to the UCDSU Welfare Officer Eoghan MacDomhnaill, there were a number of reasons for this including the state of the quad where it would have taken place. However, in the statement that we received the reason that stuck out to me was “primarily though due to the massive media presence at the time I felt that any attempt to host a Mental Health week would be overshadowed by those events.”
The media presence he is referring to is of course, due to the Winging It reprint controversy that surrounds UCDSU President Katie Ascough and the subsequent impeachment petition. I don’t envy the position of any of the SU officers at the current time. I cannot imagine what it is like to have the eyes of everyone including the national press watching you like a hawk.
That being said, there is no reason why the welfare of the students should be overlooked. We can argue back and forth about how effective ‘Mental Health Week’ actually is but given that our SU is supposed to be caring for our welfare, don’t we deserve to have one anyway? Surely the best response to the media presence and pressure is to carry on as normal as best to your ability. Have mental health week anyway and show people that the SU can carry on even under pressure.
Now is the time to be talking about mental health, particularly for students. Yesterday the USI released a statement which said that students are waiting up to 6 weeks for third level counselling services. Anyone who has suffered mental health difficulties knows that 6 weeks is a very, very long time to wait for help. I myself went to use the UCD counselling services when I was in 2nd year and was told the waiting time would be 6 weeks. I was in the midst of a breakdown and suffering from undiagnosed generalised anxiety disorder and depression. I was lucky enough to be able to seek help privately, be put on medication and see a counsellor. I don’t blame the UCD Counselling services for what happened because they were and still are stretched to the limit.
What I went through and what other students are going through now was not going to be fixed by a Mental Health Week. However, some days set aside to highlight the different aspects of mental health and encourage us to break the stigma and look after ourselves a bit more can only be a good thing. Impeachment referendum or no impeachment referendum, media presence or no media presence the welfare of students cannot be deferred.
According to Eoghan MacDomhnaill “Plans are now in place to host the events of the week spread throughout the semester as a continuous look at mental health. Our information campaign is also being rolled out this week with information about mental health services inside and outside of UCD being advertised”.
I sincerely hope that the SU hasn’t missed an opportunity to reach out to students who are suffering.
Rachel O’Neill – Editor