Mental health: something to bear in mind

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We’ve all heard it before, whether on TV or a flippant comment from a friend when you’re cleaning something; the phrase being “stop being so OCD”. The term OCD, standing for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is thrown around in all directions, but do we actually know what it means, and how it affects people all over the world?

OCD affects 1.2 million in the UK and is listed on the World Health Organisation’s top ten debilitating illnesses, and this is not without reason. The popular portrayal of OCD is about being overly clean, or obsessively organised, but this can be far from the truth. It is sometimes called the ‘doubting disease’ and is about the fear or anxiety induced from uncertainty, even if to other people it might be as clear as day. For example, someone with an obsessive fear of burning the house down might compulsively check plugs, stoves and other potential sources of ignition until their anxiety becomes manageable to them. For some people this might take a few circuits of the house checking things, whilst for others it might be insurmountable enough that it is a real struggle (and sometimes impossible) to stop and continue with other activities.

This idea of how to overcome these compulsions is something I have a little bee in my bonnet about, which is directly linked to a systemic lack of education regarding mental health. It doesn’t matter if it’s OCD, manic depression or any other mental health condition, commonly asserted phrases do not help and can be intensely tactless or even harmful. Telling someone to “stop being depressed” or to cease their compulsions would be the same as telling someone to stop having diabetes or cancer, and when put in that context it simply doesn’t make sense.

Around the University things are being set in motion to increase awareness about these issues. There are existing structures in place such as the counselling service, which was expanded last year due to heavy demand, and academic welfare available from your department. There are also student run services such as Nightline, which provide a telephone or email service if you want to have a chat. This doesn’t have to be anything to do with mental health; it could be anything from needing a taxi number or a pizza delivery service number. The service is there, however, if you do wish to talk about anything that might be weighing on your mind. Aside from these facilities more steps are being taken by LUSU and the University in rolling out new services and action plans.

LUSU VP (Welfare) Mia Scott outlined these plans, saying that after LUSU signed the “Time To Change” pledge in May they’re making a concerted effort, alongside the University, to combat any mental health discrimination that might be present around campus. This plan aims to be in effect for the next three years, seeing a consistent strategy to raise awareness of mental health issues. In a statistic given by the Mental Health Foundation, one in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year. Taken as a percentage of the University student population that is over 3,000 people studying on our campus alone. This is an issue that needs some serious press, awareness and attention, and it needs it now.

As well as working with the University to help implement these changes, Scott mentioned that LUSU is also working with Lancaster Mind, a local branch of the Mind charity. This is one of 150 branches UK wide that aims to support people within a certain locality get the information, help and respect they need in order to tackle their problem. With this charity LUSU aims to set up “Happy To Talk” sessions, where people will receive proper training about how to listen to those with any concerns about mental health. Hopefully, with this work, people across campus will start feel more comfortable and more supported in talking about and tackling any issues or potential issues with their wellbeing.