Some topics can suffer from overkill in the media. Eyes tend to roll if the same issues are given column inches year in, year out. As tiring as it is to read about the same problems confronting UCD students each year, it can be even more draining to see that there is no end in sight.
Class rep training costing an exorbitant and unnecessary percentage of the Union’s budget every year is perfect example of a story that comes to the fore on an annual basis; along with the same tired excuse being relayed to students to justify the cost of the event. When will the ‘we’re training the future leaders of the SU’ excuse finally run out of legs? Spending €10,000 on improving the interpersonal skills and public speaking of 120 odd UCD students clearly isn’t translating into candidates for sabbatical election.
Another thing that seems to crop up every year is the inherent sexism and lad culture that reverberates in certain societies. Whether it is Stockbrokers and Secretaries or Rappers and Slappers, it is damning indictment of the authority that governs societies that they personally fund sexist conduct and see no reason to immediately stamp out such behaviour.
Focusing on these issues, however, can give a skewed notion of how backwards UCD can be. This college can hold its head high in saying that the stigma of talking about mental health and discussing personal mental health problems is being addressed after decades of ignoring mental health as a problem that was crippling Irish students going through crucial developmental years of their lives.
Mental health has been to the fore of the agenda of the UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) and this publication for many years. Only by pushing this topic to the front of your agenda can you begin to circumvent the stigma that is attached to talking about mental health.
The progress made in the past five years in this University alone should be heralded as a major triumph and attributed to a successive set of years, in which a significant emphasis was focused on ensuring that the SU’s most important service, the welfare office, was receiving the funding and time it needed to help the most vulnerable of students.
Former Welfare Officers of the SU, Scott Ahern, Rachel Breslin and Mícheál Gallagher, have put in the ground work to ensure that the names of student support groups like Please Talk and the student counselling service are on the tips of student’s tongues and spread the word that mental health is worth keeping on the agenda. And now, Cian Dowling is keeping on the pressure.
The emphasis placed on suicide awareness at the Welfare crew meeting last Tuesday highlighted that the pressure being placed on the stigma is not waning, but in fact showed that even more momentum is building behind the movement of promoting positive mental health. Dowling is reacting to the demands of students by restructuring his budget to increase the number of hours that counsellors are available due to a sharp increase in demand for such a service.
When there is clearly a demand for such services, students need to hear that their needs will be met at all costs. It is refreshing to see a Welfare and Equality Officer, without haste, stressing that students’ mental health is the most important priority on his agenda.
Mental health and the stigma around discussing it should never reach a level of saturation. As a community, we should never reach a stage where we are rolling our eyes at the latest campaign to promote positive mental well-being in students. The masses of Facebook statuses and Tweets about mental health awareness that populated newsfeeds and timelines alike on World Mental Health day depict a scenario where the UCD students are opening up more about their mental health issues, but that does not mean the battle is won.
The fight to overcome this stigma is far from finished, and it will test everyone’s motivation. The victories may seem few and far between, and the losses always too devastating, but now is not time to let up.