Open Book: Mental Health and… Progress

So that’s it; the term is over and so is this blog. I want to take a moment to reflect on the 8 weeks of stories that Open Book has shared. What purpose has this blog served, if any? Will it change anything? If not, what might? Before we can talk about what’s next, it’s worth summarizing what this blog has achieved.

Was this blog worthwhile?

Over 8 entries, I’ve interviewed 7 people and discussed a range of topics surrounding mental health: honesty, pressure, socializing, identity, sharing, support, sleep, and action. We don’t have statistics of how many people have read them in print or online, these blogs have been liked on Facebook over 350 times and have started many conversations about some very important issues. This is promising; there’s clearly a climate of support for those who want to talk openly about mental health.

Even more promising have been the direct responses I’ve had from members of the LSE community. Firstly, each of the 7 interviewees opened up to me for at least an hour about their mental health – I hadn’t had a serious conversation with any of them about it prior to the start of this blog. Furthermore, numerous people have approached me in a variety of places – from Instagram to the smoking area at Zoo – to say that they were surprised by the stories that the blog has told.

This blog’s been successful in sharing stories and encouraging conversation among a decently-sized group of people.

But I’m not mistaken: while this blog has been positive overall, it hasn’t changed the world, and has at times been less than perfect. It seems only fair to summarize some criticisms I’ve received from various people: as much as I’d like this to post to be unadulterated self-congratulation, that wouldn’t be of much use to anybody.

What did I get wrong?

The most potent criticism I’ve received is from a close friend who pointed out that the blog has only focused on times when our mental health is suffering. Although I’ve tried to maintain an optimistic tone, there certainly haven’t been any posts entitled “Mental Health and… happiness.” While the subject matter of my interviews has been determined by the conversations I’ve had, it’s worth highlighting that your mental health isn’t only important when you’re sad. Mental health is more of a balancing act, and to look after it is to make an ongoing commitment to look after yourself, in much the same way that physical health is.

Indeed, it’s worth noting that my mental health has actually been improving a lot recently – following help from my GP and the LSE Counselling service, this term has been the most rewarding, exciting, and fun term of my life. So, my friend is right: mental health is not all doom and gloom.

Another question is whether mental health blogs really help those they’re meant to, i.e. the ones who aren’t already aware of it. This is fair: it is unlikely that someone who doesn’t have a strong belief in the concept of mental wellbeing would click on blog with that in the title. However, there is no form of mental health activism that will change everyone’s minds or lives, so every little helps. While I could have done more to make this blog reach out to people who don’t often engage with the issue, the conversations it has started will hopefully have reached more people than the blog posts alone ever could.

Finally, I want to address criticism I’ve received is that this blog is nothing more than “virtue signaling”, implying that I am only writing this blog to appear pro-active to either friends or employers. This response is by far the least valid. Firstly, I point out that this blog has never claimed to be anything more than a discussion and a conversation catalyst: I don’t think I’m changing the world (see above.) I also ask why I would choose a long-term blog to raise my social status – after all, it’s been a pretty large time-commitment. If I were desperate for the praise of my peers, it would be much easier to have sung at AU Ball and spent all term at Zoo telling people I’m a BNOC. Oh, wait.

Anyway, this blog has not been perfect, and the feedback I’ve received has (mostly) been nothing but constructive and supportive. For that, I’m very grateful. I’d like particularly to use this opportunity to thank my 3 flat-mates and other close friends (you know who you are) for putting up with long, intensive conversations on the topic.

What should happen now?

There is one question left that I want to address: what next for Mental Health at LSE?

Mental health is an increasingly politicized issue on campus: it was a heavy feature of conversations surrounding this year’s Gen Sec campaigns and has been the focus of numerous events and talks this year. No matter your stance on what should be done, I’d urge people to take encouragement in the fact that it’s an issue being more widely discussed than ever before.

I don’t wish to enter deeply into the politics of the mental health service our university provides, but I do have one suggestion. Throughout my interviews, I have met people with widely contrasting experiences of the LSE mental health services. My experiences and those of some close friends have been overwhelmingly positive, often exceeding expectations. Conversely, others feel bitterly and absolutely let down by their inability to receive urgent care. I’m not in a position to decide which group is larger, and this is the problem: we need more information.

I tentatively propose that a university-wide survey on mental health be conducted to learn the sources of both discontent and satisfaction, and to give campaigners of all institutions a fact base to work from. The details of this are for discussion elsewhere. It could be run by the Beaver, the Students Union, or LSE itself. It could include any of a range of important questions. The only non-negotiable aspect would be making it compulsory: this survey cannot run the risk of only being answered by those with bad things to say.

This is just a suggestion – I have no present intention of campaigning to make this happen, and I welcome input and energy from anyone who agrees in its importance.

For now, I’m transferring my energy to LSE’s inaugural mental health festival: Freedom of mind. I interviewed the founder last week and am excited to see the range of events planned capturing the minds of a far wider range of LSE students than this blog has ever managed. For more information on previous FOM festivals, click here.

Final Remarks

As this blog finishes, I’d like to thank a number of people. Eileen Gbagbo and Christina Lauren have been amazing cheerleaders and most importantly, editors: without them, this blog would never have happened. I’d like to thank each of my interviewees for their candor and enthusiasm – I’ve learnt so much from each of them and could not be more grateful for their time and support.

Finally, I’d like to thank anyone who’s mentioned this blog to someone – my aim has only ever been to start conversations, and I’m grateful for each person who made that aim achievable.

LSE may have a long way to go, but this has been a good start.


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