Our approach to mental health:
There are many different ways of thinking about mental health, from the medical, to the historical to the psychological and so on. At the DSC we don’t dismiss any of these, many of us use them every day, but as an organisation, we primarily think about mental health from the point of view of disability in general, and disability rights in particular. This may be surprising, especially as many people with mental health problems do not consider themselves to be disabled. Whilst we often do debate the semantics and theory of disability between ourselves, the most powerful argument in favour of taking a disability rights approach to mental health problems that we know of is the understanding and results it achieves both institutionally and in our own personal lives, regardless of terminology. As an organisation, we take disability rights to be our core concern for these practical reasons, but also for ideological reasons: we are committed to the idea that institutions and spaces should be structured and run in a way that reflects the diverse access requirements of all their members and users, and values their ability to participate equally. Consequently, we want to see changes in the University to make sure that it takes the right to education of people with mental health problems just as seriously as it does those without. Additionally, we want to make sure people with mental health problems know about their rights and the services that are already available to them, since these often under publicised sources of support can make all the difference.
At the DSC we think that having a mental health problem need not adversely effect one’s studies, and that even if it must, arbitrary barriers to participating in one’s education often cause much more trouble than the content of the course itself to people with mental health problems. For example, a person with mental health issues may have little trouble learning quantum mechanics or Aristotelian metaphysics, but may have a lot of trouble arranging supervisions on these subjects, simply because of the arbitrary idiosyncrasies of the way in which they are expected to do so. Consequently, we want to help make people aware of and implement the measures that are already in place to help students with mental health problems at all levels of university life, and to campaign to extend such measures until no one with a mental health problem is prevented from accessing education at Cambridge because the University is structured in ways that don’t take account of their requirements and rights.
Help, solidarity, involvement:
The Student Union’s support team (including the Student Support, Women’s and Education sabbatical officers) is there to assist students with mental health problems. The University and colleges provide various support and assistance services including the University Counselling Service, the tutorial system, the Disability Resource Centre and the chaplaincy system. There are a couple of primarily student run organisations that students with mental health problems may find useful. These are Linkline, the phone based listening service and the peer support scheme, which provides trained peer supporters in participating colleges.
The DSC itself has a Mental Health Representative as an elected member of its Executive, who is a good first port of call for students with specific issues around mental health. We also run the Mental Health Network, which exists to promote mutual support and solidarity between people with mental health problems and holds informal meets regularly during full term. Members of the DSC can provide information, ideas and assistance for people with mental health problems, either in their official roles on the Executive, or simply as people with similar experiences. The DSC is also the best organisation to get involved with if you want to change things for the better in your own college or faculty, or anywhere else in the University.