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New College's Mental Health Week

Wednesday 3 November, 2021
by Jacob Karp

One of the things I love most about New College is its wonderful community filled with incredible; kind; thoughtful; respectful; and overall decent people. New College readily encourages and facilitates the development of close personal connections and relationships between residents.

In this regard, the recent Mental Health Week held in Term 3 of 2021 had a major focus on honesty and openness. Run from the 18th to the 24th of October to coincide with initiatives held nation-wide, New College’s Mental Health Week involved daily activities and meetings to promote awareness and acceptance of mental health, especially focusing on reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Aside from the many wholesome participatory events run such as a yoga morning; dog day; movie night; and an art and tea event, the two headline events for the week were the testimony night and mental health discussion groups. These talks were aimed at encouraging collegians to be more candid and open about their mental wellbeing. In the spirit of openness, three collegians courageously volunteered to share with the whole of college their personal experiences with mental health. Held in the College courtyard, more than 60 people were in attendance as the three collegians shared their respective (and very differing) mental health experiences, while also outlining various tips that had worked for them. Although occurring over three very separate contexts, each testimony had a common theme of connection and the importance of community which was very much in line with our college values.

In a similar sense of openness, a Mental Health discussion group was held in the days following testimony night to discuss some ideas raised by the three speakers. The round-table discussion was fruitful and extremely rewarding for all participants, as questions surrounding family; community; independence; and the importance of communication were considered. Each of the ten or so participants contributed thoughtfully and in a respectful manner.

I found the multitude of different perspectives and viewpoints to be rather enriching and I am very grateful for the opportunity to listen to so many well-formed opinions and thoughts. Most importantly, I found the discussion to be so rewarding due to the immense comfort I felt in the presence of the other participants. Despite the, at times, distressing and serious nature of the topics being discussed, everyone involved seemed rather at ease and especially open to sharing and asking honest questions. I genuinely believe that each participant became closer and felt a lot more comfortable with each other following the discussion.

Overall, I believe the Term 3 Mental Health Week was successful in raising awareness on the topic of mental wellbeing. In the days following I heard numerous impromptu dinner table discussions about collegians’ experiences with mental ill-health. It genuinely appeared as though people felt more comfortable to talk about the topic of mental health, and candidly too. Initially proceeding with the intention of increasing openness and honesty around college, I think we well and truly reached our goals.

Finally, during Mental Health Week we presented a small challenge which I would like to extend to anyone reading this article. In the spirit of honesty, I challenge you - when next asked how you're going - to pause and reflect for a moment before answering. Actually check in with yourself and answer honestly about how you’re doing in that moment. If each person begins to answer this question honestly then we can slowly raise greater awareness of our own mental health, and the wellbeing of the community. Also, as much as it is important to be open with others, it is far more important to be honest with yourself to maintain good mental health and positive wellbeing.

Keep thriving!