JOSEPH CONFORTH

Mental illness has been very much in the spotlight during this past year. During the summer, an American student with Asperger’s Syndrome embarked upon a shooting spree in University of California, Santa Barbara. We have also been dealt the news of the tragic suicide committed by Robin Williams. These two incidents highlight how serious mental illness can be, and how much it can affect others, but unfortunately public awareness of mental illness still seems to be pretty low.

For many young people at university, it is easy to live in ignorant bliss and forget about those who are less fortunate and considered less normal. When it comes to friendships and relationships at university, some of those with mental health issues can find difficulty. Maybe it’s down to most students being unable to welcome those different to them, or being afraid of anything that they do not understand. Attitudes towards mental illness are not what we want them to be, and it is one thing saying that you believe in equality when it comes to mental health, but actions speak louder than words.

Depression is a mental illness that has been highlighted particularly, especially after Robin Williams’ tragic death. Since that incident took place, the media has attempted to raise awareness for depression, but the criticism I have with that is this; why does it have to take the tragic death of a talented entertainer for people to become aware of depression? Surely young people should have been made aware of mental health when they were at school? But unfortunately it seems mental health is not something worth teaching young people about. In 2009, it was reported by the National Institute of Mental Health that suicide was the third leading cause of death to people aged 15-24 in the United States of America, and according to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, its estimated over 100 lives are lost every day due to suicide.

It was World Mental Health Day recently, and one of the things it encouraged was that those with mental health should speak out and open up about their condition. For people with mental illnesses, it can be very difficult to speak up, so much so that some try and hide their mental illnesses, as they want to fit it with other people. This can happen particularly at university, as the fear of meeting new people and not fitting in is often strong. In time, there may come a point when somebody would want to confess their mental illness. What if there was a security incident somebody witnessed and you wanted to tell the truth about it? What if somebody noticed cuts on your skin and you wanted to come clean about it? As human beings, we are supposed to be good Samaritans in society, and while we don’t have to be experts on the subject, we should have a basic understanding of mental illness so that we can help those affected by it. The effects of mental illness can be very serious, and can even lead to suicide, so it is important for us to actively increase societal awareness of mental health.

If you want to support increased awareness of mental health, just want more information or need someone to talk to, then take a look at the charities Mind, Samaritans, and reThink.org.

The university also provides a free counselling service. To book an appointment, call them on +44(0)1895 265 070, or email them at brunel-counselling@brunel.ac.uk. They also run a daily walk-in service at 1.45pm, which operates on a first come first served basis.