So the UJS Reclaim campaign is officially over for another year. This year saw more engagement from more campuses and more online engagement with our website (www.reclaimtheconversation.com) that last year. We had three times the number of campus events this year than last year which is incredible in itself.
The week was launched at Birmingham J-Soc Friday Night Dinner with Jonny Benjamin MBE and the man that saved his life; Neil Laybourn. (Selfie on the right!)
After the event, Neil said: 'I attended the Friday Night Dinner to speak with my campaigning partner Jonny Benjamin. We were overwhelmed with positive response from people wanting to engage with us personally after the talk - we had some very meaningful conversations and many people that came forward to talk about themselves or their friend's mental health - this was inspiring, to know that this generation are taking the topic seriously and will impact the future of mental health around the UK when they go into their chosen careers. Also, I want to add a huge gratitude from us to the organisers of [Reclaim and the FND], for bringing this topic to the UJS.' The event went fantastically, with students staying for two hours after the dinner to speak to both Jonny and Neil.
Gemma Adams, the President of Birmingham J-Soc, said: 'It was a truly moving experience to have Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn join us at our JSOC Friday Night, speaking to over 120 Jewish and non-Jewish students about Jonny's journey tackling mental health issues. It was an incredibly important event, which we hope will help in continuing to break the stigma against mental health on University campuses and beyond.'
The week also saw me giving my first ever talks about my Mental Health journey, something I had written about at length, but never spoken about in depth to a group of people. These sessions were received incredibly, well with many insightful and important questions following and sparking further conversations. I hope that in some way I may have been able to inspire others to start speaking out about Mental Health and Mental Illness, or at the very least to help those who may have been suffering in silence to start to get the help they may need.
Online, our website featured blogs and vlogs by students who wanted to speak out about their experiences with Mental Health and Mental Illness. The reception from people was incredible with so many students emailing us to inquire about writing blogs or getting involved, to thank us for speaking about mental health and those that wanted to remain anonymous so did not feel right writing blogs, but were so happy that the campaign had come around.
Another feature this year was our partnership with the Jewish Association for Mental Illness (Jami). We ran a ‘Get together’ event with them at their Headroom Café in Golders Green and attended the Leeds J-Soc ball that raised £10,000 for Jami (right). Co-chairs Gabi Mendelsohn and Boaz Goldwater, who organised the event along with a committee of 7 volunteers, said: ‘We’re thrilled that we managed to organise the largest J-Soc Ball that Leeds has seen in a few years. It was a fantastic opportunity to gather our whole Jewish student community for a fun night together, whilst also raising funds and awareness for a really important cause.’ Students really are more prepared now more than ever to start talking about Mental Health and Mental Illness.
When I designed the campaign last year, I wanted it to be student run and Jewish focussed. When I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, it was something that wasn’t spoken about in the community. Over the past couple of years we have been getting there and edging closer to an open conversation, but more effort is needed by other community organisations to get us all the way there. As a student I also wanted the campaign to be grassroots. The work that universities have been doing around Mental Health and Mental Illness has been incredible, but somehow as a student I always felt somewhat isolated by it. That’s why it was so important to me that Reclaim was run by students for students in order to reach the largest number of people and also to make an impact on those people.
Over the week, more than 500 students engaged with the campaign on campus and hundreds more engaged with the website (including internationally.) This is an incredible achievement for something that started as an idea that I was having one night whilst lying in bed with an overactive brain, and I can hardly believe how successful it's been.
However, we can still do more!
Mental Health and Mental Illness awareness needs to last more than one week of the year. I’m hoping the conversations that we started will be able to continue on campuses throughout the rest of this year. We also are keeping the website running and updated for any students that still wish to write blogs, record vlogs, write poems, produce artwork or whatever they want to do.
At UJS we want this to be more than just a one week conversation and we’re moving towards that.
After two years of running the campaign, I’ll be handing it over to the new team for next year, something that I’m both excited and nervous about doing. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they take Reclaim next year and hope it will involve more high profile speakers and even more students interacting.
For now, though, Reclaim is over for another year and I believe we have achieved what we set out to do.
If you still want to get involved or have any questions then do not hesitate to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Facebook (Louise J-Soc Officer).