Tackling Mental Health Stigma in Scottish Education


A CAMPAIGN to end the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health in Scottish colleges and universities has been launched.


The project will be run by the National Union of Students and has received £20,000 of funding from Scottish mental health charity ‘See Me’.


‘Activism on and off Campus’ will be piloted at three institutions, Forth Valley College, Edinburgh College and the University of the West of Scotland.


It will attempt to provide support for students and lecturers suffering from mental health problems with the the recruitment of student ambassadors.


The ambassadors role will be to find out what issues related to stigma and discrimination are occurring on their campus and tackle the issues with the help of peers and the NUJ Scotland.


The issues the project expects to deal with include policies, decisions around exams, staff and student behaviour and timetabling.


John Sawkins experienced discrimination after he was diagnosed with bipolar while working as a lecturer in the Highlands.


Following his diagnosis he was told he could no longer share an office with his female colleague.


The now retired lecturer, 66, said: “Prior to becoming unwell I had shared an office with a female colleague. When I came back they told me new legislation had come in that meant a male and female couldn’t be alone together in a room.


“I went to the principal. He said to me he would tell me the truth off the record. He told me that someone at the college thought I might go mad with an axe.


“I can understand they would be thinking ‘what if something goes seriously wrong’ but the link between violence and mental ill health comes from ignorance.”


Heather McCartney began self-harming as a result of stress and anxiety caused by the pressure of studying.


The 29 year old had to leave a French and Classical Civilisations degree at Glasgow University during her second year, after becoming unwell with her anxiety.


She said: “People thought I just wasn’t cut out for university, the student life obviously wasn’t for me.


“People only saw me as the illness, they didn’t see me for the person I was and they judged what I did based on that. If I couldn’t do something because I was ill, people just thought that was me, that was my personality.”


Vonnie Sandlan NUS Scotland Women’s Officer, from NUS Scotland said: “Students with mental health problems are entitled to education free of stigma and discrimination.


“We hope students with lived experience of mental health problems are empowered to change the policies, practices and behaviours that contribute to stigma and discrimination on campus.
“We want this to improve people’s experience of student life.”


Judith Robertson, See Me programme director, said: “We are passionate about ending the stigma and discrimination that is unfairly attached to having a mental health problem.


“To do this we want people, groups and organisations from all over Scotland to come together and take action to challenge the issues where they see them.


“Educational institutions are the ideal place to teach people why it is wrong to discriminate against someone just because they are unwell.


“It is important for us to support a project which will improve the human rights of people in educational settings.”


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  1. I think this is excellent, but there is a wide workforce in Colleges and Universities who are not lecturers. The support staff help students with their bursaries, finance, libraries, IT and provided counselling although many of their jobs have now been cut. The support staff are often treated like second class citizens despite their valuable role.

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