Oxford Student Disability Community celebrated World Mental Health Day last Saturday at Turl Street Kitchen. I found myself among a circle of very friendly people, drinking tea and eating delicious pastry, while discussing the issues faced by people with invisible disabilities.
Jessie See, a second year Classicist at Worcester College, is the Mental Health Officer of OSDC. She politely agreed to answer some of my questions about mental illnesses and their impact on life at Oxford.
Q: What inspired you to organise “OSD Does World Mental Health Day”?
A: Although tremendous progress has been made over the past few years, mental health is still not regarded with the same importance and sincerity as physical health. Waiting times for treatment remain shamefully long and too often the early warning signs are missed or ignored and patients are only helped once their condition spirals to crisis point. There is currently no mental health education whatsoever in the national curriculum, and this often means that students leaving school have never been taught the basics of mental hygiene and self-care, making the transition to young adult life at university a risky time for our mental health and wellbeing.
Q: How has your mental health affected your life in Oxford University?
A: Moving to Oxford meant leaving behind the doctors and nurses I had got to know so well back at home, so having to make those new relationships with mental health services here was a big and scary change. I tend to isolate myself when I am unwell and avoid socialising, drowning myself in work and academic study instead. Sadly, this is very common in Oxford! I struggle with the attitude that, if you look OK on the outside and are getting your essays done in time, that must mean you are OK on the inside. Appearances can be deceiving.
Q: Have your tutors and your college been supportive of your problems?
A: I have been extremely lucky! My tutors at Worcester have been my champions throughout my first year here and I am so very grateful. The university Disability Advisory Service has also been an incredible source of help to me. I would urge anyone struggling with a mental health condition to get in touch with them to see what they offer; don’t be put off by the word ‘Disability’!
Q: What do you think needs to be improved in the welfare system in Oxford when it comes to dealing with invisible disabilities?
A: Education! Which is what Oxford is famous for, right? Increasing awareness with events like these is really important, but even more crucial is the quality of the training for members of welfare staff. I would love to see mental health first aid training as mandatory for tutors and members of the dean team.