Student Mental Health Ambassadors: A Model to Build On?

One of the key things the refounded see me programme will be doing is building community capacity to address discrimination. The programme will include change networks, which will bring together people in geographical areas and thematic areas. It will also develop a lived experience participation network to ensure people with lived experience are central to the work.

For the last five years the National Union of Students in Scotland has run the Think Postive Project, to increase the capacity of student officers and institutions to address mental health in colleges and universities. One of the strands of the project involves supporting a network of volunteer student mental health ambassadors, who drive forward the work locally, with support from NUS. We asked ambassador Heather Innes to share some of the ways that her work has helped her fight stigma:

There are several reasons that motivated me to become a Think Positive Ambassador. For the majority of my childhood, I grew up knowing about and experiencing my mother’s Manic Depression. From the age of around 10, this was the big family secret, something my mother was highly ashamed of and we were sworn to silence. When she was signed off work for a year, her friends suddenly cut her off. With her depression at it’s worst, she became paranoid and was convinced they thought she was doing it for attention. She would rarely leave the house, and became worried about seeing people we knew in public on the occasions she did go out.

 As I grew older, I became more aware that this wasn’t something to be ashamed of, and stigma was the reason my mum’s friends shied away from her. However being aware of this stigma didn’t help me when, as a teenager, I began experiencing my own anxiety problems, and started self-harming. Being aware of the stigma only caused me to be more secretive, to the point where I managed to alienate friends rather than tell them the truth and refused to ever see my GP.

Leaving school and starting at college was a turning point for me. I became involved in my Students’ Association and met people with similar experiences to me. I learned a lot more about mental health, how mental ill health can affect students and the devastating consequences it can have. Becoming more involved with NUS Scotland, I became aware of Think Positive and the work it does to help students and tackle stigma. When I heard the campaign was looking for Ambassadors, nearly a year ago now, I jumped at the chance. I knew I could use my experience to reach out to others in similar situations, and thanks to my own teenage struggles, tackling the stigma that surrounds mental health is something close to my heart.

 Being a Think Positive Ambassador allows me to help tackle stigma, as it gives me a platform to reach out to people from. I’m able to contribute to the Think Positive blog, attend events and meet many new people. It’s opened my eyes even more, and I’m hoping to continue being an Ambassador for as long as I can.

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