Many conferences which purport to tackle student mental health issues are more concerned with making money than helping those in higher education
A few days ago, I was invited to speak about my campaign to Raise Awareness of Mental Health in Higher Education (RAMHHE) at the ProudToBeDifferent conference at Middlesex University.
This was a free conference and it was well attended by staff members, students, mental health service providers and NHS professionals.
I was amazed at how many students attended the conference and it reminded me of the 2017 RAMHHE conference which had similar numbers of students in attendance.
However, this is not about free conferences that recognise the importance of the student voice, rather, I want to bring under the spotlight those conferences that claim to represent the interest of higher education students with mental health problems, but where there are hardly any students in attendance.
Increasingly, this type of conference will put out messages on student mental health, student welfare, mental health issues at universities and so on.
The problem is these conferences will charge the delegates a fee – some fees can be as high as £250 per delegate. No matter how much it costs, surely the organisers could spare a few tickets for the very people that they claim to represent?
It makes me want to scream. I do not understand how it is possible for people to claim they are hosting a conference that aims to support students when most students are excluded because of the cost of attending the conference or are simply not invited.
“Surely the organisers could spare a few tickets for the very people that they claim to represent?”
What ever happened to the Department of Health (2011) policy; No Decision about me, without me? I have simply adapted that to No decisions about us, without us.
Seriously, is it just me or is there something inherently wrong with these special interest (their interest) groups organising conferences and claiming that they are about student’s mental health when there are hardly any students among the delegates? These are special interest groups who are simply putting themselves first.
My question is, when are they going to put the mental health of higher education students first? If you must host conferences to discuss the mental health of students, please let us know about it and give us some free tickets so that we may attend and contribute to the debate, which is after all, about OUR mental health. Otherwise, you are clearly not representing us.
Fundamentally, the call to Raise Awareness of Mental Health in Higher Education (RAMHHE) is advocating for the student voice to be included in decision making on mental health care provision in higher education settings, for the inclusion of mental health modules and the development of an anti-stigma campaign to make it acceptable for higher education students to talk openly about mental health.
Clearly, if we wait for these special interest groups to speak up for us, we will have to pay for that service, but we can do this ourselves by raising awareness of mental health in higher education within universities.
Therefore, @RAMHHE – founded in June 2016 and managed by student volunteers – is appealing to university authorities to promote the RAMHHE campaign selfie postcard on TV screens around the university, to promote the anti-stigma message that ‘it is OK to talk about mental health” among students.
Universities can download the selfie postcard here, and add their logo on the top right or top left, before displaying it on their TV screens, hopper bus screens or computer displays around campuses.
In the absence of a stable mental health, the student experience is hindered and education attainment may be limited.
Josephine NwaAmaka Bardi
RMN, ESRC PhD Student, University of Nottingham