During a 14 February joint meeting of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) and Student Services Council (SSC), a motion to create an SRC member for mental health awareness was rejected.
The motion, which was proposed by Director of Representation Jack Carr and Director of Student Services and Development Caroline Christie, would have replaced the SRC wellbeing officer with the SRC member for mental health awareness.
The proposed member for mental health awareness would have worked to organise the University’s annual Mental Health Awareness Week and “assume strategic and operational control over all campaigns operated by the Students’ Association in relation to mental health.”
During the Joint Councils meeting, Mr Carr said students had expressed interest in standing for the role. He added that the position would make campaigns relating to mental health at the University easier to run on an operational level. However, Mr Carr “didn’t necessarily feel confident that by introducing this motion, we’re bringing an aspect [of mental health awareness] which is different from the director of wellbeing.”
He explained that creating such a position could lead to the individual holding it “going rogue” by taking on responsibilities beyond the remit, including advocacy and counseling.
Given these concerns, the motion was not officially endorsed by the sabbatical team.
SRC members also questioned how the new member would be trained to handle more sensitive aspects of the role, though Mr Carr said he was “confident” suitable training could be arranged.
However, SRC Member for Widening Access and Participation Chris Wilde objected to this, saying that completing suitable training for such a position “could take years,” and it could potentially be “dangerous” to allow someone who had not undergone this training to assume such an important role.
Association President Charlotte Andrew agreed, saying that such a role would constitute “an uncomfortable level of risk to an unpaid scholar who is young and vulnerable.”
Even SRC members who were in favour of creating the position in principle argued that the role described in the motion could be better carried out by the mental health coordinator within Student Services.
The motion was ultimately defeated after a lengthy debate.
Despite saying that he was “extremely enthusiastic about the motion” during the Joint Councils meeting, current Wellbeing Officer Nick Farrer later told The Saint that “the motion correctly identified certain questions regarding the Wellbeing Committee but did not provide the correct answers, which is why it failed.
The Joint Councils were concerned that an SRC member for mental health awareness would be reached out to by students as a means of direct support (rather than awareness) and that the motion would unjustly signal to the student body that the Union’s wellbeing committee prioritises mental health over all the other committee responsibilities (sexual health, personal safety, physical health, and so on).
“The motion would unjustly signal […] that the Union’s wellbeing committee prioritises mental health over all the other committeee responsibilities”
“I was happy to support a theoretical amendment which would make the position an SRC-elected member for the wellbeing committee, but this was judged to be a separate motion rather than something an amendment should introduce. “As we couldn’t amend the motion to address the concerns of Councils, the motion failed.”
The University has received criticism for its treatment of students with mental health problems in the past.
In March 2016, The Saint reported the director of teaching for the School of English had recommended that Joshua Teo, a student who had missed a string of tutorials due to depression, “consider leaving the University.”
This suggestion came after a confidential email from Mr Teo to his tutor was forwarded to the director of teaching without Mr Teo’s permission.
Mr Farrer stated that the failure of the motion should not be a cause for concern for students with mental health issues.
“I would primarily reassure students that mental health and mental health awareness is a gigantic priority to the Union and this vote should not be understood as a snub of it,” he said.
“There never has been an SRC member for mental health awareness, but mental health awareness has always been a primary concern of the wellbeing committee, the DoRep, and future DoWell, and it always will be. […] Strong mental health awareness and support from the Union and University will continue.”