University Mental Health Day is an annual awareness day run by student mental health charity Student Minds and the University Mental Health Advisors Network, bringing together university communities to make mental health a sector-wide priority.
At MDX, Vice Chancellor Professor Nic Beech has established as key objectives compassionate leadership and encouraging people to be open about their mental health.
It takes strength to admit that you're having difficulties, Nic says, and he emphasises that everyone in the MDX community from the Library to the University Executive Team has a role to play in promoting good mental health.
“The pandemic has presented us with so many challenges but it has also helped lift the lid on mental health. Let’s keep that lid open and be more compassionate and kind. It’s a strength to admit you’re struggling and ask for help – in higher education we should recognise that and all support our communities.”
Vice Chancellor, Professor Nic Beech.
The prompt came when he got a free haircut on campus at a very difficult moment in his life, by a barber working for men's mental health and bereavement support charity The Hermes Project.
"I started to open up to them and that led me to go to a drop-in session with the [university] counsellors, which made me feel so much better," he said.
"I learned from this experience and have used this technique more recently, by just speaking about my problems and life, which helps me unload some of the burden".
Andres (pictured above) has done interviews and spoken on panels, gone on a fundraising walk from Croydon to Brighton, and reached out to men facing mental health struggles via social media.
He has thrown himself into MDX life as captain of the men's rugby team and in his role on the committee of the Enactus entrepreneurship society. He's a reservist in the Royal Engineers who hopes to develop his career in the military after graduation by taking Explosive Ordnance Disposal courses.
During the lockdowns, he tried to make sure he was doing activity at least once a day (whether that was a walk or a High Intensity Training workout), he bought and experimented with a 3D printer and he volunteered at a homeless shelter.
MDX mental health nursing graduate and weightlifting Olympian Cyrille Tchatchet sought asylum in the UK after the 2014 Commonwealth Games. He contemplated suicide at his lowest point, but reached out to a Samaritans hotline in time. Later, he battled depression while rehoused in Birmingham and waiting for his asylum application to be processed.
Advised by his GP to keep busy, he turned back to the sport he loved, joining weightlifting clubs and entering competitions.
At MDX he was Sportsman of the Year four years running and earned First Class Honours in his degree.
Cyrille says: “I wanted to work in the mental health profession to give back to the community that supported me after going through what I call scary things. I was looked after by my GP and some nurses who showed compassion, care and listened to me.
"Hope will not only give you the courage to fight, but also promote your mental wellbeing.”
As Physical Health Lead Nurse for Harrow Inpatient and Community Mental Health Teams, Cyrille ensures patients suffering with a severe mental illness have a comprehensive annual physical health check so they feel healthy and have a greater sense of self-esteem.
His MDX tutor Lawrence Dadzie says that Cyrille's mental health struggles and refugee background have made him a good listener. “He’s able to understand people who suffer from [depression]. And he also feels that he can give something back," Lawrence says.
"Going to seek help does not make you a weaker person, and trust me, you will feel much better after talking about it," says Cyrille.
MDX has championed giving more visibility to mental health in teaching, research and within the University community.
An Expansive Learning module for all BSc Nursing students has been co-created by Associate Professor in Mental Health Nicky Lambert and colleagues, to equip those entering the profession to deal with health impacts of socio-economic issues from poor housing to racial inequality.
The module, highlighted as a case study in a 2021 Royal College of Nursing report, now also includes an element on green health and sustainability, looking at the importance of green spaces for mental wellbeing.
Mental health charity Think Ahead has been awarded £27 million by government to put towards social work PGDip programmes at MDX, recruiting and training 480 mental health social workers over the course of two to three years. 160 new trainees attended last year's Summer Institute, 97% of them giving positive feedback.
Over the course of the pandemic, MDX partnered mental fitness App Fika on a nationwide study of the impact of COVID-19 on HE staff and students, and on a personal tutoring pilot aimed at starting conversations around mental health and boosting students' skills development and self-care.
Psychology Research Fellow Ruth Spence published her first children's book as a practical mental health resource for children. Mental health videocast #mhTV, launched by Nicky Lambert, mental health nurse Vanessa Garrity and Unite the union’s Mental Health Nursing Association in May 2020, has featured MDX staff and students as guests, and was a finalist in the RCN Nursing awards. And MDX Associate Professor in Psychology Lisa Marzano advised Samaritans on the relaunch of the national Small Talk Saves Live campaign, with Network Rail, to prevent suicide on the railways by encouraging the public to engage potentially vulnerable people in conversation.
Anastasia Calin, Vice-President of Science and Technology Faculty, Middlesex University Students' Union, said the subject of mental health support is "close to her heart".
"I’ve had my own difficulties that the University has been able to support me through; and it’s something that we take very seriously at your Students’ Union," added Anastasia.
"There is a need to refocus on student wellbeing, and with 23% of students mental health reported to have worsened, there are clear signs that we all need to do better."
She advises people to "look out for each other and yourself" and never be afraid to ask for help "because the support is here for you".
Several Student Support and Wellbeing projects have progressed in the past year: including building greater inclusion of cultures and different identities into service design and delivery, and the development of deeper partnerships with the NHS. Most recently, NHS funding has been secured to support a Health Promotion initiative and the creation of a Wellbeing Toolkit that will be co-created and delivered with students.
"Support services continue to work closely with external NHS and charitable providers, and the Students’ Union, to make holistic support available, including through on-site GP provision and sexual health support, peer to peer webinars and training, in-person and online mental wellbeing sessions," says Deputy Head of Student Support and Wellbeing Janette Nhangaba. "Students are encouraged to explore the wide variety of support available to them both through the University and the Students’ Union".
Rob McDonough, MDX Occupational Health & Wellbeing Manager, says the University has taken steps to address mental health resources, policy and training in light of the pandemic including reviewing HR processes to ensure the appropriate support for people with long term conditions or experiencing short term issues.
"Middlesex has been steadily investing in mental health resources to support staff and appreciates that staff wellbeing is directly linked to performance and student experience," he said.
"We are continuing to work to break down the stigma associated with mental health through training and development for staff and managers and will be launching a new training programme for staff in the coming months., The hope is that this training will help staff to have a greater understanding of their own wellbeing and what they need to thrive at work."
Nicky Lambert says: "Organisations like Student Minds are working to empower university communities to prioritise mental health, support others and create change. As part of that drive, the University Mental Health Charter has been created to help change the way we work in HE so we can all thrive.
"Part of learning and growing is being challenged - but everyone has times in their life when they need a hand. If this is true for you, we have a range of services to support you.
"We are one learning and teaching community, even though the way we all work has changed. Every person that makes up Middlesex University is a valuable part of the whole. Let’s use special days like University Mental Health Day as a reminder to take care of ourselves and each other."