A former Abertay University student has urged people struggling with mental health issues to speak out this Christmas after support given to her helped her graduate.
Laura Jackson graduated last month with a Masters in International Human Resource Management.
It was a proud achievement for the 23 year-old, who says it wouldn’t have happened without the support provided by Abertay’s Mental Health Advisor and Student Services team throughout her studies.
“A few years ago, I was at a really low point in my life. I had just started a business degree in Glasgow but, due to health and mental health issues, I felt so isolated that I dropped out after only a few weeks and had to go back to living with my mum,” she said.
“If you’d told me then that I’d soon be graduating with a Masters with Distinction, I would never have believed you.”
Throughout her three years at Abertay – two completing a BA in Business Management, and one at Masters level – Laura attended regular sessions with its mental health advisor David Cameron.
“Because I’d had a few months out after leaving Glasgow, when I started at Abertay I wanted to see what was available to help support my studies,” she said.
“The Advisory Service not only provided me with practical resources, including a study plan and a laptop with special dyslexia software that helped with my coursework but, because I’d informed them I had been diagnosed with anxiety, they also referred me to David.”
This ongoing support ended up being key to Laura’s progression through her degree as she engaged with the service when she felt overwhelmed juggling coursework deadlines, a part-time job and a spate of health issues, including an underactive thyroid and learning difficulties dyslexia, dyspraxia and dysgraphia.
“There were so many times, when things were tough and my mental health was suffering, that I was close to giving up,” she said.
“Knowing that support was there and available was what kept me going. Some of my friends have mental health issues of their own which meant they weren’t always able to help when I needed them. David was a constant.”
Following Graduation, Laura has moved back to Glasgow and is currently an intern at a women-only HR practice, while she thinks about her next move.
By sharing her story, Laura hopes she can help inspire others to keep going, even when mental health issues try to stand in their way.
Laura said: “My advice to anyone out there who feels like I did is to not put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect. Speak to someone, get a study plan and let people help you. You’re not letting anyone down by focusing on yourself now and again.”
Abertay’s Mental Health Advisor, David Cameron, said: “I am pleased I have been able to contribute a little and help Laura. She had a lot to cope with, both with her physical health and mental health, therefore her achievements deserve great credit.”
A number of organisations will be available over the festive period for those seeking support or help:
Breathing Space Scotland – provides telephone counselling. Open: Weekdays – Monday to Thursday 6pm to 2am; Weekend -Friday 6pm to Monday 6am. Their phone number is 0800 83 85 87.
Insights Counselling – a counselling services that provides confidential, non-judgemental, 1-2-1 counselling by appointment. For further details you can phone 01382-305706 or visit them online.
Samaritans – provides a 24/7, 365 day a year telephone service – Their phone number is 116 123 or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Schoolchildren from across Dundee have been given a shot of inspiration by Scots billionaire Sir Tom Hunter as part of an event to find new ways of tackling issues affecting young people.
Around 120 youngsters attended Abertay University’s Innovation Lab as part of a design initiative to tackle bullying, stress and mental health issues.
It is hoped new methods developed during the session as part of the national Year of the Young People 2018 could go on to directly influence Dundee City Council policies.
Sir Tom, who delivered a welcome to the participants before a day of design, brainstorming, workshops and presentations, hailed the importance of involving youngsters in shaping decisions.
He said: “Putting policy into the hands of those the policies will impact upon makes absolute sense.
“Our young people are Scotland’s future and we need to engage with them far more to co-design that future where opportunity prevails for all.”
Groups of youngsters in attendance were made up of S4 to S6 pupils from all Dundee schools, as well as others aged up to 26 years old from organisations such as Lift Off, Family Nurse Partnership, Dundee Carers Centre and Dundee Youth Council.
They also heard a closing address by Gavin Oattes, award-winning entrepreneur and motivational speaker for workshop provider Tree of Knowledge.
Ideas from the day will be collated and presented back to city councillors, with the aim of informing future policy, affecting change and creating a legacy of service improvement for future generations.
Dundee City Council children and families service convener Stewart Hunter said it had been a “fantastic experience for everyone who took part” and a “fitting way of celebrating the Year of Young People”.
He added: “The input of young people into a range of topics will lead to some very interesting ideas and I will be very interested to hear their opinions on these issues.”
In addition to the workshops, the young people also took part in taster sessions across a selection of Abertay’s academic departments.
Those on offer included Games and Arts, Cybersecurity, Marketing, Business Management, Accounting and Finance, Law, Food Innovation, Forensics, Science, Civil Engineering, Sociology, Psychology and Mental Health.
Abertay University principal Professor Nigel Seaton said: “Bringing young people into the decision making process for new policy on these important issues is a fantastic idea.
“I have no doubt that Innovation Lab will bring a fresh perspective to the table.
Changes to mental health services in Tayside could become the lasting legacy of those who have taken their own lives across the region, it has been claimed.
The independent inquiry into how NHS services are provided began taking submissions from members of the public last week.
Chairman David Strang said he hoped testimony – both positive and negative – would help improve treatment and support throughout the country.
The inquiry was ordered after a public campaign by families who blamed poor care at the Carseview Psychiatric Centre at Ninewells Hospital for a series of suicides.
Gillian Murray, whose uncle David Ramsay took his own life after being turned away by Carseview, has been at the forefront of the campaign for the inquiry and said it could be a chance for “real change”.
And she said it was vital that people with experiences of mental health services “stand up and be counted”.
She said: “This crisis has been on-going for over a decade and NHS Tayside have been aware of the failings but done nothing.
“If they were genuinely committed to change; it wouldn’t have taken for my uncle to lose his life and for me to campaign through to parliament, first at First Minister’s
Questions then the debate to get an inquiry.
“The same issues have been raised time and time again about NHS Tayside mental health.
No lessons have ever been learnt thus far. Lives have been lost and others shattered – this is a crisis that will have ripple effects felt down the years.”
Ms Murray said she remained angry about the lack of treatment given to her uncle.
“I will never forgive NHS Tayside, nor forget. I can only hope that real change happens as this is a living hell and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” she said.
“Each and every person needs to stand up and be counted by coming forward with testimonies and evidence to illustrate the scale of this crisis.
“Change needs to happen and those who have lost their lives should never be forgotten – this is their legacy.
“They may have been failed but their preventable deaths may prevent others suffering the same fate.”
Evidence can be submitted to the inquiry by emailing email@example.com or by writing to Independent Inquiry, 15/16 Springfield, Dundee, DD1 4JE.
SCOTLAND’S most senior civil servant has been commended for speaking about her personal experience of mental health problems.
Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans said she had worked through “several tough and very stressful episodes” in the past, and had seen a health professional at one point.
She shared the information with Scottish Government staff in a personal blog in July, and yesterday made it available publicly on the government’s website.
She said she wanted to help stamp out the stigma surrounding mental ill-health.
Ms Evans had been a low-key figure since being appointed Permanent Secretary in 2015.
But she was thrown into the public spotlight last month when it emerged she had investigated sexual misconduct allegations against Alex Salmond, and the former First Minister launched a legal action against her handling of the case.
Ms Evans did not identify her particular mental health experiences, but they are understood to predate her time in the civil service.
Nicola Sturgeon this week announced an extra £250m for mental health services, particularly those required by young people.
In her “Catch up with Perm Sec” blog on 2 July, Ms Evans included a section on mental health which stressed the importance of good mental health and wellbeing at work.
She wrote: “Last week I took part in an open and frank session at Victoria Quay [the government office in Edinburgh] which reflected on our mental health experiences as individuals, how this informs the culture of our organisation, and where we need to improve mental health and wellbeing support.
“Like many people I have worked my way through several tough and very stressful episodes. What helped me was the support of my line manager, on one occasion seeing a health professional, and the continuing support of my friends and family.
“We all have a role to play in stamping out stigma surrounding mental health and improving our workplace culture.”
Calum Irving, director of See Me, the Scottish campaign to end mental health stigma and discrimination, said: “I was fortunate to hear Leslie speak very passionately about mental health at work and to share her own experience. It is a very challenging thing to do but can have a profound effect, especially coming from people in leadership positions.
“Workplace discrimination because of mental ill health is sadly still commonplace and it prevents people from being treated equally. So concerted action from senior leaders is very much needed, to ensure that we can all live fulfilled lives.”
In recent years, a series of politicians and public figures, including MPs and Prince Harry, have spoken about their experience of mental health.
But Scottish LibDem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said it was rare for officials to do likewise.
He said: “This is very brave of Leslie and hopefully will give courage to others to come forward and talk about things they might have been going through.
“We often think of the civil service as quite severe and dry place to work. It’s really significant that the most senior civil servant in the land has paved the way for this traditionally quite conservative profession to open up about mental health and I commend her for it.”
Ms Evans is being taken to court by Mr Salmond over her handling of two complaints made against him in January which relate to his time as first minister in 2013.
He is challenging the investigatory process through a judicial review at the Court of Session, drawing on a £100,000 war chest funded by a controversial online appeal.
Ms Evans also referred to Mr Salmond’s case in her blog of 27 August.
She said: “You will appreciate that for legal reasons I am unable to say anything further at this point, but I can assure you that the Scottish Government will defend its position vigorously. I shall update you as and when I can.
“In line with work already underway to tackle inappropriate behaviour, and in consultation with our trade unions, we are carefully considering any issues about culture and working practices.”
Exam stress and debt coupled to lack of support is creating increased stress and depression
University students face a mental health crisis due to exam pressures and spiraling debts.
Student body NUS Scotland issued the stark warning as new figures reveal that students seeking counselling has nearly doubled in the past five years.
There were 8,180 requests for counselling support in 2016/17, up from 4,541 in 2012/13/
Although greater awareness of mental health support partly accounts for the rise in those seeking help, NUS Scotland says student mental health is worsening because of exam stress, part-time working and debt.
There are now 55 part time counsellors in Scotland’s universities compared to 21 in 2012.
The body is calling for increased resources from the Scottish Government to tackle the problem.
Liam McCabe, president of NUS Scotland, said: “Across Scotland, universities are seeing demand rocket, while resources are increasingly stretched.
“While everyone can experience mental ill-health, student life comes with huge pressures – from balancing study with part-time work to finding a new home or a job come graduation time.
“While it’s vital to tackle the causes of these pressures it’s also crucial that counselling services are in place to help those students whose mental health is affected.”
Andrew Reeves, chair of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, called for better support for students in universities.
“It is deeply concerning if universities are considering downgrading or reducing counselling services within their institutions, particularly surrounding complex mental health needs amongst students,” he said.
David Lott, deputy director of Universities Scotland, said the welfare of students was a top priority.
“We want to help our students with their problems as early as possible and students in need should speak to staff,” he said.
“We are aware that the demand for mental health services is rising at our institutions and that, more broadly, there are challenges faced by these type of services.
“We also know that poor mental health does not discriminate when it comes to age, status or background.”
A new sculpture from a mental health charity has been unveiled at Dundee University.
Hope, a 3ft black dog from UK mental health charity Sane, stands at the heart of the University of Dundee campus to remind staff and students about the importance of talking about mental health.
Dr Shirley Hill, head of disability services, said: “We believe Hope’s presence will help to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and encourage members of the public and the university community to seek help early.
“The university offers confidential mental health advice and support to students and staff, including through our mental health, counselling, and disability services based in the support hub.”
Hope’s coat was designed by adult nursing student Laura Campbell and the name Hope was chosen by university rector and world record-breaking cyclist Mark Beaumont.
Mark said: “University can sometimes be an uphill struggle for students. It’s important to remember you are not invincible and not alone.
“Making the most of the student services Dundee provides is key to ensuring a friendly campus, where students and staff look out for each other’s wellbeing.”
The fibreglass statue is part of the mental health charity’s successful black dog campaign.
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of Sane, said: “We are delighted that the University of Dundee is the latest Scottish university to adopt our black dog, showing a commitment to raising awareness of student mental health.
“What our campaign seems to have achieved is liberating the language of mental health so that young people can talk more openly and seek help more readily.”