Student Minds Cambridge is running an online campaign to give recognition to people doing amazing welfare work, activism or providing some kind of support to students. For the rest of the year, we will be publishing a series of individual interviews on our blog with the nominated ‘Welfare Warriors’.
Our second Welfare Warrior is Richard Sharman, who is the former Disabilities and Mental Health Officer at Fitzwilliam College.
‘Richard has a hug and a smile to everyone, no matter whether he is a close friend or just someone you bump into around College when you’re having a bad day. I’ve never met anyone as universally supportive, caring and willing to help as Richard. He gives good advice and helps you feel like a truly valued person.’
Why is talking about mental health important at Cambridge?
Cambridge is full of invisible pressure; to do well academically, to have an active social life, to look good, to have extra-curricular hobbies, and to juggle all of this while seeming absolutely fine. Internalising these pressures until they become more important than our own well-being is something I see a lot of, and this is why people need to feel able to talk . Having an outlet for emotions is so, so essential to human life, but in this society that can feel like admitting to a weakness, rather than admitting to feeling. Talking alone doesn’t solve everything, but it is the first step, and an essential one towards people feeling comfortable with themselves, and letting others help them. It’s not all about depression and anxiety either; these are obviously incredibly important, but so often when we talk about mental health we can exclude other illnesses like borderline personality disorder, psychosis and schizophrenia. The more we talk, the more normalised mental health issues will become, and the easier it will be for people to seek help if they need it.
What is your favourite self-care tip?
Give yourself time, and get an early night. It can feel like time is always against us, but sometimes we can reach a point where trying to push through just won’t work. I think it’s really important to allow yourself to take that time that you need; in the face of deadlines, this can be scary, but 9 times out of 10 a supervisor will understand or give you an extension, and your own mental health is more important, always. Sleep is a big part of that. It’s a cliché, but true; a good sleep really can help you be more productive the next day.
What would you improve about welfare in Cambridge?
So often here is feels like support and welfare is something that must be actively sought after, requested and searched for. This can make an already daunting process exhausting and embarrassing. Welfare resources need to be easily accessible, and well-publicised. I also think a good idea would be workshops to give people skills on how to help themselves and their friends, and make people aware of the best channels to go down to get support. Because seeking advice from an official body like College or the GP can be scary, and simply because they are the people who know you best, friends are often the first people to know if someone is struggling with their mental health. As such, it is so important that people know how to help their friends, and how best to advise them.
What would you recommend to someone who is struggling with mental
Let someone know. It’s hard, I know, but just having someone else who is aware of what you’re going through can take such a weight off, and stop you from feeling so alone. You don’t have to talk to them, necessarily; send them a message, write them a note, even post on a page like Camfess. These sorts of pages can actually be really helpful sometimes, I’ve found, because they can give you an outlet for your feelings. Having that space to vent, that outlet is so important, because otherwise, we can learn to express our feelings in ways that could cause harm to ourselves or to others.
What’s the best thing someone can do to support their friends?
Listening is so so important. Let them know that you are there, that you will never judge, and that you want to help however you can. It can feel so so supportive to have someone really listen to you. However, if one of your friends is having issues that cause them to have what you see as a distorted world view, it can be really easy to build up a stock of examples about why they’re wrong (e.g. “people do love you”, “you are doing well” etc). While this obviously comes from the right place, and is meant in a caring way, be aware that sometimes this could make your friend feel as though their feelings are being dismissed, and so it might be better for you just to listen, and accept that your friend is feeling these things, accept that their feelings are valid (they always are!! Irrational does not mean silly or invalid!!), and ask them what you can do to help. It’s also important to recognise that dealing with mental health problems is not about trying to “fix” someone, and that it can be a long process.
If you are struggling with your mental health, check out Find Support Cam – an online guide to finding mental health support at Cambridge.