Students with mental health problems in Scotland face discrimination

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Charity and union partnership aims to tackle stigma to make it easier for students to stay in education 

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8th January 2015 by Paul Cardwell 3 Comments

A mental health charity has teamed up with Scotland’s students’ union to combat the discrimination of students with mental health problems in colleges and universities.

See Me says it knows of students who don’t get the same opportunities as others due to the stigma of their illness and is launching a pilot project to tackle this with the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland.

‘Activism on and off Campus’, which has been given £20,000 funding by See Me, will recruit student ambassadors from student associations at three institutions, Forth Valley College, Edinburgh College and the University of the West of Scotland.

The ambassadors role will be to find out what the issues related to stigma and discrimination are on campus, which could include policies, decisions around exams, staff and student behaviour and timetabling, and then work with their peers, the students associations and NUS Scotland to tackle issues, which could include policies, decisions around exams, staff and student behaviour and timetabling.

The idea is to create a better environment and make it easier for students with mental health problems to complete their course with proper support.

Heather McCartney

Heather McCartney

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

The campaign wants to look at not only the help students need but also staff.

Lecturer, John Sawkins experienced discrimination after he was diagnosed with bipolar while working 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.”

Student, 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.”

The project is the latest in a push by See Me to build a movement of people and organisations all over the country whose collective action will help to end the stigma and discrimination faced by people with poor mental health.

Judith Robertson, See Me programme director, said: “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.”

Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland women's officer, added: “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.”

13th January 2015 by denise clark

Hi I feel I was discriminated against carrying on my 3rd year nursing course as I failed 2 resit exams when u feel I should have passed. I had taken a year out as my daughter wasent well and I suffered from anxiety issues , when I returned to uws I tried hard to pass exams but failed by 2%. I was really upset as I gad worked hard for 2 years and passed all my practical placements , my confidence has been knocked by this and when I asked to appeal was told it was the markers decision and cant be changed. I am not working jusr now as I feel very much a failure and suffer from very low self esteem. Thankyou Denise clark

13th January 2015 by tony

UWS provide an amazing service as I use there disability/ enabling support team, have a scribe/case worker that helps me around the university. As someone who was given the advice 2 years ago that my life was over due to my condition. The enabling support and the teaching staff at UWS paisley were fully supportive, which has lead me to accepting the court medal in November of last year.

3rd February 2015 by Peter McDade

It is not only students with mental health problems who are discriminated against. This also happens to students with disabilities.