Tayaba Nicholson has been making a major difference in mental health since her student days.
For Tayaba Nicholson, building awareness of mental health wasn’t just part of her nursing degree - it was about making a real difference for all the students at the University of Manchester, where she was studying.
Last year she won the Endsleigh NUS Student of the Year Award, presented at the University of Leeds, for setting up the Mental Wealth Matters student union society.She established the society at the end of her second year after the suicide of a fellow student. “The death was shocking; however, it spurred me on, as I knew the student was trying to set up something similar,” she says.
The aims were to promote positive wellbeing and encourage students to talk about mental health. Ms Nicholson organised campaigns and events in and around the university, choosing aspects of life that students could relate to, such as stress and depression.
“There are so many pressures like writing essays, living with people you don’t know and cooking for yourself. It is about making people think about mental health and how you look after it,” she says.
Ms Nicholson stresses that sometimes students just feel down in the dumps and need a boost. She got students to write upbeat messages on luggage tags and attach them around the campus. If someone was feeling down, they could pick one up. “My favourite was ‘You think I ain’t worth the dollar but I feel like a millionaire’,” she says.
The society’s team of around 10 motivated members also ran film nights, gardening projects and discussions.
“The creativity and innovative projects that we could run on a small budget with a big impact gave us a platform to raise awareness,” she says. “Discussions allowed some honesty and interesting stories to emerge, which made me and the other attendees think about mental health.”
When Ms Nicholson decided to specialise in mental health, she was working on an acute ward at North Manchester General Hospital with patients who had been sectioned. It was difficult for her to understand why they were locked up. However, as the course progressed, she recognised that it was appropriate in some circumstances.
“There are aspects of mental health that are challenging, where you feel you are taking someone’s basic human rights away, but you have to weigh this up with their protection and safety,” she says.
“Prior to the course, I had no insight into it and while studying I realised how our mental health system is hidden from the public.”
Ms Nicholson originally wanted to go into adult or children’s nursing but realised during lectures she was more interested in mental health. “I’m glad I didn’t go into adult nursing because I don’t like blood,” she adds.
Since January, she has been working as a staff nurse on a rehabilitation ward at Greater Manchester West Mental Health Foundation Trust in Prestwich.
“I have become a practitioner with responsibility and making decisions about someone’s health can be daunting,” she says. “The changeover from student to staff nurse is a steep learning curve and should not be underestimated.”
When some patients are ready to go back into the community, it is a big step for them. Probably one of the most rewarding parts of Ms Nicholson’s job is to see them leave and go back to their lives.
Ms Nicholson hopes to do more campaigning. “I built a good relationship with PAPYRUS [which works to prevent suicide in young people] while running Mental Wealth Matters and hope to continue working with them.”