The ESRC Public Engagement Event successfully took place on Saturday 12th November 2016 at St Peter’s Square in Nottingham. This event follows the successful RAMHHE conference which was held on 10th October 2016 and the ongoing campaign which encourages students to leave one sentence about how we can support students in higher education with mental ill-health experiences.
As a mental health nurse and an economic and social research council (ESRC) PhD student in Mental Health, I am aware that mental health does not affect only higher education students, so it was important to facilitate a space of interaction for student volunteers and the public to dialogue on the issue of mental health.
The main aim of the Public Engagement Event was to engage in dialogue with the non-academic audience in Nottingham and explore their views on three questions:
What do you think mental health is?
Who or where would you go to for your mental health?
How can we better support mental health in Nottingham?
This was an event that nearly did not happen. You see, this was my first grant application and I did not know to ask for funding. Fortunately, I decided not to let the lack of funding stop me, so I self-funded the event and I am glad that I did.
Initially, the event was supposed to be held at the Queen’s Medical Centre (QMC) but my Head of School, Jo Lymn advised that it would be better held in town where we could interact with diverse groups of people rather than only people visiting the QMC. Luckily, my efforts to obtain permission paid off and we were allowed to host the event at St Peter’s Square.
Prior to the event, I met the Lord Mayor of Nottingham Councillor Saghir at the Royal College of Nursing Tea Party. We talked about the successful RAMHHE campaign and the Public Engagement event, and he promised to attend. A week later, the Civic Office wrote to confirm this.
On the morning of the event, I remember arriving at St Peter’s Square on that freezing cold and rainy day. I was anxious because I was not sure if the other volunteers and the Lord Mayor would attend because of the rain. That feeling soon changed as the volunteers arrived and we quickly set up a tiny sheltered space in front of a vacant store. We put up the ESRC banner, clipped the questionnaires to the clipboards, grabbed our umbrellas and smiled our way through the cold and rain. At 11.00am, the Lord Mayor arrived and he joined in the voluntary effort by speaking and taking photographs with people, answering their questions and interacting with us. The Lord Mayor’s selflessness inspired myself and the volunteers, for which I remain grateful.
We approached more than 500 passers-by and although some of them did not participate, they were polite as they walked by with either a wave of their hand to signal a no, a sorry I am not interested or I am in a hurry. However, we were able to obtain 150 completed questionnaires/surveys from 150 people who gave their verbal consent to taking photographs with us and answered the following three questions above.
It was a privilege to listen to people as they expressed their views about the questions and shared their family member’s experiences of mental ill-health. Several common themes emerged out of our 150 survey answers from the three questions above, of which the three most common themes included:
1:More funding to employ more mental health providers.
2: Early intervention to mental health.
3:More anti-stigma awareness campaigns.
As we packed up to leave, I could not help but wonder how useful this Public Engagement Event was, how my resilience to host the event despite the funding challenges paid off and how much I have learnt about public mental health from a few hours ’interaction and three questions.
The questions now is, how can we sustain such important mental health awareness events, so as to engage with the public and hear their views, perceptions and experiences?
Josephine NwaAmaka Bardi is a Registered Mental Health Nurse and an Economic and Social Research Council PhD student on the mental health and wellbeing pathway. She is also the founder of Raising Awareness of Mental Health in Higher Education. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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