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News, Student Voice

Looking within to fight the mental health crisis

Through collaboration with BILT, the University of Bristol looks to develop curiosity, persistence and a love of learning into each student’s everyday life – or at least that’s what their website says. I would argue that it can go even further, inspiring others to follow in the footsteps of their peers, exponentially multiplying the intrinsic and communal profits of innovation, courage and self-reflection. As Leonardo Da Vinci famously put it, “learning is the only thing that the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets”.

The way that I have tried to incorporate these values into the projects undertaken at university largely stems from patience and academic rigour, and an understanding of the guarantee that lesson-learning failure will always precede success. Being able to translate this struggle into words, graphs and tables is what makes the process so rewarding upon its completion, because each line, paragraph and page can paint a picture of one’s sacrifice and the commitment to a title. Studying Economics for three years has opened my eyes to the distinction between academia and reality, but also that it can be used to realise the changes that society needs to implement to achieve higher standards of living and to become a more equal place for humans to live. Learning about the small alterations each agent can make to fulfil this has been fascinating, highlighting just how connected we are to each other and the love we should express for individuality.

My BILT research journey began with an email I received from Steven Proud, who reached out to my cohort to ask for assistance with the annual BILT Student Research Festival. On the surface, our task was simple: recruit students for the conference based on research they had completed at university. However, we soon realised that there were many different channels of marketing that needed to be addressed, from mailing lists and direct contact to encouragement at events, lectures and with friends on the same or similar courses. But before we could begin appealing to potential participants, we had to streamline the reasons we thought presenting material would be an attractive prospect. First of all, the BILT offered top prizes of £150, awarded for the best presentation, and cash for second and third place. Whilst this certainly would have incentivised some, we believed that the skills learned and opportunity for self-development would be more enticing, particularly at a university where individuals strive for high achievement and well-paying careers. Playing on both of these aspects, we created a series of slides to deliver to various audiences. Steven took a more targeted approach to aid us, identifying students that had completed interesting dissertations and longer essays within his teaching groups.

Once the applications were collated and whittled down we had a final line-up. Due to a drop-out past the deadline, I stepped in to present some of my own material on mental health in the workplace and the negative externalities that firms and governments must address if we want to, collectively, improve productivity. I drew on an opinion piece that I wrote for a module named ‘Communicating Economics’. It had been motivated by prior work with the University, where, as Wellbeing Network Chair, I spoke to Chancellors and counselling services about some of the feelings that students had towards high-level management and their handling of the mental health crisis we have witnessed these past few years. Throughout my tenure as Chair, I was in regular contact with mental health charities, supporting societies and the Student Living officer, Ruth Day. They too had collected their own evidence for the state of affairs at the time and so shared this data with me, usually qualitative in nature. By doing their own informal research, it enabled the transmission of knowledge to occur across students and staff, a key reason for the importance of speaking up and being counted for. Simply asking people for their opinions, and then forming my own has meant that my judgements are less biased by preconceptions, with a bigger sample size being more optimal than a small one, of course. Within my presentation, I sought to include some of my own suggestions for a more productive workplace, these being the introduction of office plants, a weekly Talk Club between colleagues and meaningful corporate away days. By synthesising my own understanding of the topic with internet sources, experts in the field and those suffering around me, I was able to put together a powerful piece of well-informed research.

Some of the things I will take away from the experience. To be in a position to both organise and partake in the festival will be something that I shall forever be proud of, especially the vulnerability I showed when relaying my personal mental illness journey. I would also like to appreciate the support given by my effective line manager, Steven, and also to those involved in the recruitment process, namely Annika Johnson. It feels great to have been able to work alongside fellow students, university staff and an outside agency in the BILT, and without such collaboration, this event would have been far less successful.

The entire process has inspired me further to continue this crusade against neglect from the top. It has fuelled my desire to educate as many as possible on the struggles that so many people face every day and also how we can learn to incorporate support into working practices. Moving forward, I will be working in Audit at RSM, where I will be training to become a chartered accountant. Here, I will pursue all avenues to further this passion in a professional setting.

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