It’s Sunday 31st March 7.40am (after the clocks have gone forward) and I’m at Paddington Station bound for Bristol Temple Meads. I’m talking to my inner self and asking, “Remind me why I do this job?” Not only is it very early on a Sunday, but it’s Mothers’ Day and my two teenage daughters are miffed that they’re not going to be able to post mother and daughter selfies on their social media feeds. I’m also feeling a bit guilty that I probably won’t have a chance to speak to my own mother today as I’ll be home too late. I try to remain resolute, thinking of my quest for purpose today rather than pure pleasure.
During my journey I recall my own student days (let’s just say they were a while ago) and wonder what it’s going to be like hanging out with Bristol JSoc today, where I’m going to deliver Mental Health First Aid Higher Education training. On arrival, I meet a group of bright, articulate young people, happy to share their ideas and thoughts with me. They are aware of the privilege of being a student at the University of Bristol and of the prevalence of mental health problems among the student community.
We spend eight hours together discussing whether anxiety is a 21st Century problem; wondering if hysteria was a mental illness or a social construct of its day; debating how they can better support each other during exam stress; the misery of isolation and how students need to help each other adjust to university life.
Eventually we hit ‘that section’ of the course, where I must steel myself and prepare with an open mind, never quite knowing where the discussion will go. We talk about suicide. The group engage with maturity and depth as we talk about how we can try to prevent suicide in the student community.
It has been worth it - the long journey, family dynamic and early start. As we end we return to the theme of how JSoc can contribute to a mentally healthy Jewish student community and the group has very specific and clear ideas. One of the students said, “What I’m really taking away today is how isolation plays a part in mental health problems. Student isolation is something we can tackle together as a JSoc”.
As a result of doing the course, the group of students plan to reinstate JSoc Families, a buddy system whereby students become part of a 'family group' with students connecting with each other, socialising and being there for each other. There is also talk of wellbeing themed Friday nights.
Upon leaving, one of the students said how worthwhile she felt the course had been and how she feels every Jewish student should do the training. So there I have it - an affirmation of how meaningful this work can be to all of us.
For more information on mental health or on how you can get involved in mental health awareness on campus, go to www.jamiuk.org/campus
By Philippa Carr, Education Manager at Jami