The UCD Societies Council has refused to extend society status to a potential ‘Mental Health & Wellbeing Society’, the University Observer has learned.
In emails seen by the University Observer, University Societies Officer Richard Butler stated that the while the Recognition Committee was “sympathetic to the occasional difficult challenge facing some students”, the committee had not accepted the application for society status due to the “the transience involved, lack of training, lack of referral ability and lack of properly structured experience, knowledge and expertise”.
The decision made by the Recognition Committee of the Societies Council has been called into question by the de facto committee seeking to establish a society that “promotes positive mental health, break down stigmas, raise awareness, and… provide a community sense that mental health isn’t stigmatised in UCD [sic]”.
Speaking to the University Observer on behalf of the group, Matthew Rose-Nel, a 3rd year environmental biology student, stated that there was a “disregard for students’ mental health” among College representatives, noting that he had been “absolutely shocked” in meetings he had attended.
When the group sought feedback over their unsuccessful application, Butler wrote that the “Committee suggests that you engage with the Students’ Union, who would be the appropriate body to develop initiative in this area.” The Students’ Union is mandated to promote positive mental health.
Rose-Nel told the University Observer that “we met up with people from the Students’ Union to see what they thought about the society, and they were all supportive of it.” He also stated that mental health support groups SafeTalk and Mental Health Ireland offered to “train all our committee in actually being able to give SafeTalk training”.
In response to the Council’s decision, UCDSU Welfare Officer Melissa Plunkett stated that “UCDSU fully supports the establishment of a mental health society” on campus and that it was the “norm to have a mental health society on numerous third level campuses throughout Ireland”. This, Plunkett said, “highlights the need for an informal space for students to speak, learn, teach and network on issues surround mental health.”
“We have no doubt that having more students involved in spreading mental health awareness campaigns will only strengthen and complement the work we do here in the Union and it would contribute to breaking down the stigma often associated with mental health issues.”
Currently, there are societies dedicated to promoting positive mental health among students in higher education institutes such as DCU, NUI Maynooth and DIT. The DCU Mental Health Society offer Active Listening training, SafeTalk and ASIST to their members.
Rose-Nel described that “straight away” there was “hesitation” surrounding the plan when he initially sought advice from former Chair of Societies Council, Eoghan Murphy. Murphy cited the Students’ Union’s mandate to promote positive mental health as a potential issue in obtaining society status.
However, Rose-Nel states that he was advised “to come back at the start of the year, to plan and have everything ready so we can put it in straight away and we can get the first recognition meeting”, supposedly held “in the first few weeks of college, early October.” The group of students made a constitution and plan for the society in the summer of 2017.
According to Rose-Nel, this hesitation was consistent among other members of the Societies Council. Rose-Nel stated that “even at the start, when I met with some of the Societies Council they said ‘just get rid of the words ‘Mental Health’ from your society and call it something else.’”
Rose-Nel argued that the point of the society was to promote positive mental health, and removing the words “Mental Health” from the title would diminish the society’s objective.
Despite obtaining the 30 signatures required, Rose-Nel said that they still faced difficulty in securing a date for their recognition meeting. “We were told the recognition committee meeting should be in early October. We had the constitution, year plan and signatures in, but nothing was happening. I sent a few emails to the secretary, she kept on saying that she had not heard anything.”
When the group asked for a copy of the Societies Council constitution to see when they were mandated to hold recognition meetings, they received an email “two days later” stating “‘your recognition meeting is on this date’”. The students met with the recognition committee in the last week of semester 2.
Butler stated “it is the view of the Council that a society, with the transience involved, lack of training, lack of referral ability and lack of properly structured experience, knowledge and expertise, is not the vehicle whereby that appropriate support and intervention…could do more harm than good in a worst case scenario.”
The proposed constitution and the society’s Mission Statement states that “rather than act as a counselling service”, the aim of the society is to actively engage with students in “promoting positive mental health and well-being, through the likes of meditation, mindfulness workshops and campaigns that bring the student body together.”
When the University Observer reached out to Richard Butler for comment, Societies Council Chair, James Alkayed replied as “he is engaged with Freshers Week plans.”
Alkayed denied any “inadvertent delay in response to the candidate,” stating that the meeting of the committee took place at the end of term, and that the candidates received notification of the application after exams, “to avoid creating a distraction.”
Further stating that “the list of reasons provided for not granting recognition speaks for itself,” Alkayed noted that “such support and intervention is not a space in which student societies have a specific remit, and the details outlined clearly reference the potential complications and concerns.”
Finally, he concluded that the candidate was referred to the Students’ Union as the best resourced vehicle in this specific space; “a fact that seems to have gone astray.”