13-19th May 2013 is Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation’s annual campaign. The Students’ Union and the Disability Team at Goldsmiths have organised a series of events around this, including an information stand in the Loafers café and a movie night, showing Lars and the Real Girl. Prior to the film screening there will be a Q&A panel on mental health issues. I’ll be one of the panellists, talking openly about my role as a departmental Senior Tutor, my own experiences as a mental health service user (I have bipolar disorder), and the problems and practicalities of being a student with mental illness (my husband is an undergraduate student at a different university and also has bipolar disorder). Everyone is welcome to attend.
Academic life and mental illness is not a smooth ride but it can be done. For me, academic life with bipolar disorder is both a blessing (when my mood is elevated I am incredibly productive and creative) and a curse (if I’m too high or low I can’t focus or concentrate). I know I can do my job and I can do it well – I just sometimes need a little more time or a different way of working. From a student perspective the same applies. My husband is now in his second year of his degree after two previous attempts at undergraduate studies prior to his diagnosis left him burnt out and on antipsychotics. This time round he has support in place. Goldsmiths offers the same support for any student with a disability: there are reasonable adjustments for assessments, we can help with your application for Disabled Student Allowance to fund further support, we strive to raise awareness and understanding amongst staff and fellow students, there is a counselling service on campus, and where we can’t help we’ll refer you to someone who can.
I’m the Senior Tutor in the Department of Computing, which means that any student with a non-academic issue such as illness, personal problems, welfare, etc., can come and see me so that we can plan a solution. That solution may be as straightforward as arranging extra time for courseworks, through to more complex strategies like taking a break from studies for a while, or helping people get access to the right services. For my students, I hope that I can offer not just advice and adjustments but empathy and understanding. I know what it’s like to hang on to normality by the fingertips. It’s not always easy and sometimes it can be downright awful but I also know that it’s possible, and that a life often turned upside down by mental health problems needn’t be a barrier to a successful journey through university. Help is there. We want to see people succeed. From my own experience, the best advice I can offer anyone facing mental health problems is “talk to someone”.
Kate Devlin, Senior Tutor
For more info about the film screening and Q+A on Thursday please see the SU website here.