Today, myself and a couple of others ran an event at uni for World Mental Health Day. On the whole, it went well which we’re obviously pleased about, but that’s not what this blog is about.
In the run up to the event, we had a number of issues, which is entirely to be expected, but one of them has caused us particular difficulty. In short, last year we did ‘paper butterflies’ in the run up to the event. 640 students took part by writing on a colourful butterfly one thing they do to help their mental health. We then strung them up around campus for a few days.
Some students felt that this was triggering; last year we had two complaints after this event. This year, I had one by email and one by Facebook prior to the event, both of which I responded to as best I could. Now, whether you think that they’re triggering or not is an argument that can wait for another day. My issue is with how these students have taken up this issue.
After this email, when I didn’t get a response to my reply, I thought that we’d solved the problem. I then found out, through a friend, that people had been writing about us publically on Facebook, claiming that we were continuing with the activity for the sole purpose of ‘stroking our student egos’, that my reply was ‘disgusting and patronising’ (I’ve run it by some people I trust since and they didn’t see what the problem was so I’m still not sure…) and so on. The people in question arranged a meeting with the student’s union which they were entirely within their rights to do. When I found out they were still pressing the issue, I emailed the head of student support to check our risk assessment on the event, they responded that they backed us completely.
After a discussion in a liberation/welfare meeting on Wednesday, which at times felt like an attack but was at least to our faces, I thought we were sorted. Then today, I found that there were further comments on Facebook, an article in the university’s satirical newspaper and a statement on one of the network’s Facebook pages.
For now, let’s not discuss the issue of how much we should or shouldn’t avoid triggers in mental health campaigns etc. The thing that has upset me is that these people have been writing about us publically without knowing anything about us.
All I wanted to do with this campaign was to encourage honest conversation about mental health. I’ve tried to hard to get it right. I’ve run everything by student support, I’ve taken feedback on board when given it (for example, a BME rep asked if they were represented specifically, and they weren’t, so they sent me some leaflets to print which I did and they’d gone by the end of the day so must have been useful to some people!), I’ve always tried to be as open as possible, for example by holding an open meeting right at the very beginning of planning the event (about May time) and advertising for organisations to join us via twitter. I don’t know what else I could have done.
Over the summer, we’ve been trying to plan it as a group of 4/5, negotiating the fact that one lived abroad, one was away a lot and two of us had jobs. That doesn’t account for the fact that each of us has our own personal issues and other things to do (in my case an exam to revise for).
Since getting back we have worked so hard. We have spent hours and hours answering emails and phone calls, sorting parking permits and table plans, doing design work and chasing up printers, it’s almost been a full time job and we’ve done that alongside restarting uni and all of the other things going on in our lives.
To then read these things written about us is just horrible, hurtful and upsetting. Instead of our group page being full of cheering and congratulations tonight, which it should be, because we pulled off a pretty successful event, it’s full of people who are upset and hurt by what’s been written and who are worrying that all of our hard work will be forgotten under what’s been said.
What’s done is done now, but please think about what you’re writing before you put it online. Please think about those you are talking about and how your words might affect them. Please don’t get caught up in the “banter” and remember that there is a real person with feelings at the other end of your jokes.
We didn’t run this event for our CVs or to big ourselves up. We tried our absolute best to make sure that absolutely everything was safe – everything was risk assessed and any time we weren’t sure about something, we took it to student support to get a professional opinion. We tried so hard to include everybody who wanted to be included, but even with 27 organisations involved, we didn’t manage it. We’re just a couple of students and we can’t always get it right but we’re trying our hardest alongside battles and personal lives that you know nothing about. So please, in future, think before you write.