Caitlin Leach, the founder of Mental Wealth, was recently awarded the Helping Hands Award for Excellence in Supporting Students. The Saint’s DEVINI PABARI caught up with the fourth year Philosophy student to find out more.
Devini Pabari: First of all, congratulations on winning the award! Can you tell me a bit about it?
Caitlin Leach: Yes, its full name is the Frotscher Helping Hands Medal for Excellence in Supporting Students. It recognises each year someone within the University community who’s done a lot to support particular students or make sure students are supported. I won the award a couple of months ago, around exam time.
DP: So what did you do?
CL: Well, I set up the Mental Wealth Campaign, which you might have heard of. Essentially, that’s a campaign within the University, and it looks to find new ways to reduce the stigma around mental illness but also to improve the mental health of students. Just little things like trying to get people to laugh a little bit in the day, to be a bit happier, to stress less or to worry less, perhaps about things like body image. You say ‘mental health’ and people ask what that’s about. But it’s just happiness really.
DP: How do you feel having won the award?
CL: I feel very honoured to have been given it and very pleased, and also pleased to see the campaign get a lot of recognition. As much as it’s good to see something be successful, it’s always nice getting that extra boost showing that the campaign’s made a difference to people – how people see themselves, the University and so on.
DP: What gave you the original idea?
CL: That’s a really interesting question. I was already involved with SupNet, who are the peer support team who work with student services, and I became aware that in St Andrews people don’t talk about mental illness. It’s not a particularly cool thing to talk about and it’s something a lot of people find awkward to talk about. I find it awkward to talk about as well sometimes, so I guess I just wanted to do something to make it a better place for those struggling with that type of issue. At university, people do suffer from mental illness and I think it can really improve their lives if they realise that’s it’s not taboo and that they can engage with other people about it, and talk to their friends about it, without being misunderstood. I wanted to find a way to make life better for people, and also to reduce the risk that St Andrews students are at of mental illness. I guess it’s just something that I one day realised; I’d never had a conversation with anyone outside of the peer support network about mental illness. If you look at young men, that’s one of the biggest causes of death on a national level, and if it’s something that’s doing so much harm and is so dangerous, why aren’t we talking about it? So I just wanted to start a conversation and hopefully the conversation will continue.
DP: What tips would you give to someone wanting to start something like this from scratch, as you did?
CL: Find someone within the University who sees where you’re going and supports what you’re doing. I worked with Student Services, who were so helpful when I was setting up, and having them on board was really useful. Also, find someone within the Students’ Association and get them on board. We worked a lot with the SRC, and they gave us financial support as well. A lot of it was things like getting things set up, helping with cheaper printing, finding venues. I would also say to work in a team; don’t try and do it all on your own. The more people you get involved the more ideas you can get and the more people can say, “That idea isn’t going to work.” I think with these things, it’s easy to chase a bad idea and then it can just all fall apart, whereas if you have enough people involved they can give you feedback on your ideas.
DP: Do you have any career plans; are you hoping to move into this area in the future?
CL: The question no fourth year wants to be asked! I hope to work in the voluntary sector; I’m really interested in volunteer coordination, managing projects, that sort of thing. Hopefully move to London, do something exciting that I’m passionate about and find interesting I guess.