Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Invisible Problem: mental health and how to help yours


I was in my second year when it started. My friends were visiting from my hometown and my housemates and they were getting along famously! We had plans for the whole weekend, going out drinking, trying the new local breakfast place and to marathon as many movies as possible. Sounds exciting right? It should have been. Instead, the thought of having to even go outside, let alone do any of those things filled me with dread. I had been nagging at my friends to visit me for a whole year and when they were there I just wanted them to leave. I wanted to sit alone in my room and not see or speak to anyone, ever again. Instead I pushed these feelings deep down, did all those things with my friends, had a horrible time and steadily continued to ignore the way I was feeling for a further three months. It wasn't until I lost all my friends, rejected my family and had real problems at university that I realised that something needed to be done. Nobody should ever have to get to that point.

Starting university can be a daunting, with a new place, new classmates and new teachers.
Mental health issues are extremely common in students, with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, eating disorders and mental health suffering due to stress being the most reported.
Rethink mental illness, a mental health charity state that: one in ten young people will experience a mental health problem.” So its really important to talk to someone if you are worried about your own mental health as soon as possible. The main thing to remember is that you are not alone, and there is help available. The sooner you get support, the better, as things will only get worse if you bottle things up all by yourself. Also, look after your friends. If they dont seem themselves and you think they may be struggling, ask them how they are and let them know you are there for them, and will listen without judgement.

The stigma surrounding mental health issues is not helped by the different myths that people believe. Knowing some facts about mental health is a step forward in challenging negative and discriminative thoughts. 
Myth: Mental health problems are very rare.
Fact: 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year.
Myth: People with mental illness arent able to work.                                                              Fact: We probably all work with someone experiencing a mental health problem. 
Myth: People with mental health illnesses are usually violent and unpredictable.          Fact: People with a mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence.
Myth: Its easy for young people to talk to friends about their feelings.
Fact: Nearly three in four young people fear the reactions of friends when they talk about their mental health problems. 
Statistics show that over 50% of students don't feel comfortable admitting they're not coping to someone else. Rethink shed some advice on what first year students could do if they feel their mental health is suffering. Talk to a trusted friend or relative, or to your GP. Many universities now have mental health support so you could ask whats available.
At the University Of Hertfordshire, we have a high quality Wellbeing Service who offer sessions with qualified and experienced counsellors accustomed to helping young people. This service is confidential. To access it, all you need to do is contact them for one of their four daily appointments studentwellbeing@herts.ac.uk or drop by to make an appointment. They are based in the Hutton Hub on college lane campus and you can go there to speak to somebody if you need some advice or guidance.

© University of Hertfordshire, All Rights Reserved
They can also provide a range of tried and tested self-help programmes and activities to improve your Wellbeing and, if your condition is long-term, (over a year), and you have the backing of your doctor or other health professional they can provide a Study Needs Agreement which will help ensure that there is support with study that is geared to your individual condition. Don’t feel that it is a sign of weakness to go there. Knowing you need help and getting it is a sign of strength and the first step to helping you get better.
Talking about mental illness is one of the best ways to not only reduce the negativity that surrounds mental illness, but beating it. A former UH student who wishes to remain anonymous has spoken to me about their experience with mental health during their time at university.
Mental health is such a difficult thing to talk about. I did speak to my friend about it once, but she just said that I was just feeling sad because I was stressed, and because shes my friend I kind of believed her. And because I didn't want to believe it was anything else. This feeling lasted for months and months though. I only sorted sorted myself because my parents found out. Over the Easter holidays I went home and tried to convince them that I shouldn't go back to uni. They knew something was wrong then.
I have learnt though that it can take a while, but with help you can get there. I still have depression, but receive help for it now. Times can still be pretty trying but if anything learning how to deal with my depression and that Im not alone has taught me that its okay to not be okay sometimes.

Student wellbeing team: 
Email studentwellbeing@herts.ac.uk Tel +44 (0)1707 284453
Twitter @WellbeingSvcs
Rethink Mental Health: www.rethink.org
Article by Callie Watling. Callie is a Media Communications graduate. She has a passion for writing and aspires to have a career in journalism.

In the run up to, and on World Mental Health Day on the 10 October, the University of Hertfordshire is publishing a series of blog posts by alumni on how to manage your mental health at university. The blog posts in this series are also available in the magazine Fresh Start, which was distributed to Humanities students at the start of term.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Could the University's peer mentoring scheme help you?

I can still recall the first day I arrived at the University of Hertfordshire. I was a bundle of nervous and excited energy as I walked into Watton Hall and saw my room for the first time. Once I had bid farewell to my parents, who had left me to unpack my life’s belongings into one small room, I began setting up my new home. Left alone with my thoughts as I unpacked, an overwhelming feeling of anxiousness creeped over me. What if my flatmates didn’t like me? What if I didn’t make any friends on my course? What if I didn’t make any friends at all? Despite my reservations about my ability to morph into a social butterfly, I skipped to my first lecture confident that I would at least excel in my studies. Or so I thought. 

Instead I spent countless hours over the next few weeks with my head in my hands, despairing over what the phrase ‘critically analyse’ meant. Around me the library buzzed with the sound of students furiously typing, while I desperately tried to summon words to the blank page before me. As a self-proclaimed introvert, I obsessively worried over the social side of University, but it never occurred to me that I might find the academic side just as difficult.

I am not the only one to have doubts. According to a study by Aston University, many students entering their first year of university find the academic shift between studying at school/college and university challenging. With an increasing number of students struggling to adjust, universities are looking at ways to make the transition easier for them. To help combat this issue, the University of Hertfordshire has implemented a peer mentoring scheme.

What is peer mentoring?

The peer mentoring scheme at the University of Hertfordshire and for Humanities students such as you offers students, who require support, the chance for one-to-one mentoring with a fellow student. Mentors are typically second or third year students, who act in an advisory capacity, helping mentees activate their skills and support them in developing new ones.

“Students tend to feel more comfortable speaking with a fellow student rather than a lecturer,” says Graça Martins, the University of Hertfordshire’s Student Engagement and Peer Mentoring Coordinator, and it easy to understand why. Student mentors are more likely to have experienced similar struggles to their mentees and have found ways to cope with the demands of university life.

Despite helping students achieve higher grades and adjust to University life, there are still students who shy away from joining the scheme. Graça tells us that we all need support every now and again.

How does it work?

Think of mentoring as a tool, just like a book from a library, it has the potential to equip you with the skills required to succeed at University. Students are given the opportunity to sign up to the scheme as a mentee, or if they are in their second or third year, a mentor. All mentors are required to meet a certain criteria and complete training sessions, before they are matched with a mentee.

As a mentee, the ball is in your court. You are given the opportunity to pick your preferred mentor from a list that details the course and interests of potential mentors. Based on your needs, you can choose who will be best suited to support you.

Not only does mentoring help students with academic study, it also improves their communication skills. It’s a two-way street. In order for mentees and mentors to get the most from the experience, there needs to be a mutual agreement about what their needs are. A mentor can’t help you, if you don’t tell them what you need guidance on.

Sabahat Malik joined the peer mentoring scheme in her first year, after struggling with referencing. “I had a really good relationship with my mentor,” says Sabahat. “They not only told me where I had gone wrong, they showed me and gave me advice on how to improve.”

Everyone’s needs are different and mentees can choose how frequently they wish to work with their mentor. “I worked with my mentor more frequently when deadlines were looming. They looked over my essay structure, referencing and proof-read my work,” she adds. Sabahat, now a final year student, is using her experiences as a mentee to help others and has become a mentor on the scheme.

Case Study

Meet Alexandra Delasalle, a Primary School Education Student, who joined the peer mentoring scheme in her first year at the University of Hertfordshire.

“During my first year, I struggled with the jump from A-Level to University. The assignments were a lot different from those that I had completed at A-Level and I found it difficult to understand what was being asked of me.

“I chose a mentor who also studied Primary School Education and they helped me understand that I had all of the information, I just needed to approach the assignment in a different way. With their help, I learned what was needed to meet the criteria for my assignments and achieve a good grade.

“Not only did my mentor help me with my assignments, they also answered any questions I had about placements. It was reassuring to know that I had someone I could go to with questions.

“Mentoring completely transformed my grades – I went from getting 2.2s in my first year to achieving firsts and high 2:1s in my final year assignments.

“I would definitely recommend joining the peer mentoring programme, especially if there are aspects of your assignments, or just university life in general, that you are uncertain of. It helps you understand what is required at university level and equips you with the tools you need to meet those requirements.”

The University of Hertfordshire’s peer mentoring scheme is a great way for students to access support and guidance, especially if they feel uncomfortable talking to their lecturer. Sadly, it was not available during my first year. If it had been, there is no doubt in my mind that a mentor would have saved me from a lot of sleepless nights and countless hours despairing in the library.

If you would like to find out more about peer mentoring or would like to sign up to the scheme, please contact Graça Martins: g.m.martins@herts.ac.uk

Article by Katie Lonslow. Katie is an English Literature BA(Hons) graduate, and recently a Journalism and Media Communications (MA) graduate, who is ready to take on the world of Communications and PR. 

In the run up to, and on World Mental Health Day on the 10 October, the University of Hertfordshire is publishing a series of blog posts by alumni on how to manage your mental health at university. The blog posts in this series are also available in the magazine Fresh Start, which was distributed to Humanities students at the start of term.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

At last, young people's voices are being heard about the future of the NHS

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Making their mark: the NHS England Youth Forum. University of Hertfordshire, Author provided
Lisa Whiting, University of Hertfordshire; Gary Meager, University of Hertfordshire; Julia Petty, University of Hertfordshire, and Sheila Roberts, University of Hertfordshire
'For me, [being part of the NHS forum] was like being introduced to a whole new world. I wasn’t aware that young people could be offered opportunities like that, to actually talk to key decision makers and get people from really important organisations wanting to come and talk to us … It’s helped me with my communication skills … it’s taught me how to speak properly and confidently'.
This was Georgia talking about her involvement in the NHS England Youth Forum (NHSEYF) in 2016. It aims to improve health services for young people and to give them a voice on health issues that matter most to them.
A team from the University of Hertfordshire carried out an examination of the work of this forum. We found that the young people were highly motivated and committed to being involved in decision-making about NHS services. They found contributing to society through this forum a valuable opportunity and welcomed having their voices heard.
What emerged from our interviews was how much commitment there is among young people about the future of the NHS. Here’s Josh:
'It’s a major concern for me about the NHS … and I want to improve it, I want to give back … After being elected as young mayor in our local area … we get lots of opportunities about how we can contribute back to society and one of them was the NHS Youth Forum … I saw it and I thought what a brilliant opportunity that would be to kind of get my voice heard, obviously as a service user but also as someone who represents young people locally. It was a brilliant opportunity'.
Georgia, who we have heard from before, had another more personal reason for being committed to having a say in the running of the NHS:
The reasons behind why I wanted to join were more personal … I was quite passionate about mental health because my [relative] suffers from schizophrenia.
It is important to listen to young people about services that directly affect them. In the UK, the idea of youth forums is now well recognised. There are more than 620 youth councils and forums in existence aiming to give young people the opportunity to be involved in decision-making in their local communities. One example is the High Trees Community Development Trust which focuses on social issues that affect young people and provides training and support so that they can feel confident to participate in the decision-making process.

What is the NHS England Youth Forum?

The NHSEYF was established in 2014 to allow young people to participate in decision-making about the NHS. The aim was to give young people the opportunity to have a voice and “to contribute to improving and developing services for young people”.
There are 25 members of the NHSEYF ranging between the ages of 11 and 25. Publicity snowballed with the introduction of their own website, Facebook page and Twitter feed. Following the establishment of the NHSEYF, a number of other local forums for children and young people have developed within local hospitals and other areas across the UK including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Getting involved

We found that NHSEYF members were involved in an extensive range of activities and commitments at local level – including hospital committee membership, local youth forum events and seminars as well as high-profile national events such as the National Children’s Inpatient Survey, national conferences and attendance at the NHS Citizen’s Assembly.
Attending these events raised the profile of children and young people’s needs and allowed the NHSEYF’s members to be active in consultancy-type roles. Our interviews with participants provided clear evidence that the young people were highly motivated and committed to the giving of their own time to ensure the youth voice was heard and represented.
The young people play a pivotal role within NHS England and their knowledge of their home community enabled them to network with professionals and peers within local and national government arenas in order to influence and get involved in decisions about children and young people’s care needs. Evidence from the data collected suggests that the personal growth and development of the young people involved is also likely to have influenced the success of the NHSEYF.

Measuring impact

Our evaluation of the NHSEYF clearly demonstrates the impact of the voice of young people. The Youth Forum Wheel (below) was developed to highlight key areas of importance, as a model that can be applied elsewhere.
The YFW is offered as a model that has the potential to underpin the development of other youth forums, both within and outside of a health context. University of Hertfordshire, Author provided

It’s important that central and local government measures improvement outcomes for people’s health and/or lifestyles by listening to their views directly rather than focusing on statistics or figures. There is also a recent growing emphasis on services actively involving children, young people and parents and/or carers in the commissioning, development and evaluation of services.
There is a need for ongoing research and funding to ensure that this youth forum model is widely recognised and extended. At the heart of this is recognising the commitment, motivation and enthusiasm shown by these young people in positively influencing service provision for children and young people. As one of our interview subjects concluded:
I think the most key point is showing adults that young people want to have their voices heard … yes the NHS England Youth Forum has done its job because health professionals were coming to speak to us and saying: ‘Oh, how do we engage with people?’
It is about time we listened to the young people who will determine the future health of the country and take their views seriously. The NHS England Youth Forum aims to do just that.

The ConversationYouth Forum members’ names have been changed in line with the ethics requirements of the project.
Lisa Whiting, Principal Lecturer and Professional Lead, Children's Nursing, University of Hertfordshire; Gary Meager, Lecturer in Children's Nursing, University of Hertfordshire & Children's Community Rapid Response Nurse Practitioner, University of Hertfordshire; Julia Petty, Senior Lecturer in Children's Nursing, University of Hertfordshire, and Sheila Roberts, Senior lecturer, Children's Nursing, University of Hertfordshire, University of Hertfordshire
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Recording Dracula (Part Two)

Posted on  by Lucy Northenra

I spent Tuesday at Broadcasting House recording ‘The Forum’ on Dracula. I was one of three guests representing Dracula scholars from around the world for an international audience for the BBC World Service. Joining me from Canada was Dacre Stoker, Great Grand Nephew of Bram Stoker, and representing Irish gothic and Dracula’s forays into film, was Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn. I’ve blogged previously about Recording Dracula and getting involved with this project and revealed my hesitation regarding my radio voice but never say never because here I am reporting on my activities on the show!  I approached the iconic building with some trepidation and was unprepared for the lengthy security checks at the Beeb but on meeting Fiona, my contact and the editor, I was reassured. She quickly introduced me to the show’s presenter Bridget Kendall. Bridget is a complete professional and very straight talking. She explained that we would record the show, which is in two halves, in one take with Dacre and Sorcha contributing from different studios. The script had been fleshed out so that the producers had a good idea of who would come in on which question and what direction the discussion would take.
We began with some rather quirky questions about world myths concerning vampires and I spoke about vampires as ‘citizens of the world’, who know no temporal or geographical boundaries.  Sitting in the studio was quite daunting because you can see the technicians and the show’s producer watching you through the glass. It also takes some time to adjust to the headphones and the comments coming down them from the other contributors (who are not live in the studio). You get a very good sense of the insight and editing skills required to seamlessly stitch the material from such programmes together because they seem so completely effortless when broadcast. The team at the Beeb are highly skilled I found. I could intercept quite easily once in full swing and we had some spooky clips from Christopher Lee to help us on our way. There were some hairy moments though….such as this one…
 BRIDGET. What about the suggestion that it’s a gay novel?  Dracula at one point says of Jonathan Harker “this man belongs to me.” 
 SAM. Yes, the notebooks show that this line was the starting point for the whole novel……Stoker had some sort of homo-erotic dream and woke up repeating the words ‘this man belongs to me’ he went on to write this into the novel and it shows that Dracula has male victims too – he is bi-sexual. At Castle Dracula the vampire has marked Harker out as his victim – the vampire brides are warned off when they try to attack the man, Dracula is claiming ownership of Harker himself. We should remember that homosexuality is illegal at this time and Oscar Wilde had just been imprisoned for gross indecency (his trial in 1895 had terrified Stoker – he knew him of course) so this may be a coded reference to male same sex desire in the novel. I don’t want to speculate too much, but Stoker’s death certificate says he died of ‘exhaustion’ but some claim this is a euphemism for syphilis….by all accounts he was fairly promiscuous!
Ooh er…this was a bit tricky to talk about with Dacre listening in as I didn’t know his opinion on this!  Overall though it was very enjoyable and it did make me think about engaging with a non specialist audience and one that is made up of listeners from around the world. Any references need to be explained so there are little asides or interceptions when say Wilde or Darwin are mentioned etc so there is some clarity and it is inclusive. I really hope listeners enjoy the finished programme. I’m beyond excited to see how it all fits together.
There are several broadcasts depending on where in the world you are. But for UK listeners, the first programme goes out at 19.06 on Saturday 16th September.  There are repeats also, which look to be on the following Monday and Tuesday.
Anyone outside the UK should go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldserviceradio/help/faq#faq for broadcast times and how to listen in your location. 
The programme will also be available from the following Monday online on its own webpage, which you can find via the Forum homepage 
They will be publicising the programme via the Forum Facebook page too.  
If you are inspired to reach for your copy of Dracula take heed from this early review (discussed on the programme)
Persons of small courage and weak nerves should confine their reading of these gruesome pages strictly to the hours between dawn and sunset….
(Daily Mail, June, 1897).  Enjoy!
 Reproduced from http://www.opengravesopenminds.com/ with kind permission from Dr Samantha George 

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Fancy a job in the fast lane?

There is a University of Hertfordshire graduate in every British Formula One team.

Dr Howard Ash, Programme Leader for Automotive Engineering with Motorsport at the University of Hertfordshire, shares his top tips for working in the industry.

“I travelled to Silverstone with the University’s Formula Student racing team to take part in Formula Student 2017 and was extremely proud to see the team come away with four awards. The competition also made me consider advice for people interested in working in the industry:   

Work hard:

Formula Student is Europe's most established educational motorsport competition. Backed by industry and high-profile engineers, it aims to develop enterprising and innovative young engineers and encourage more young people to take up a career in engineering. It’s hugely competitive and each year over 100 student teams take part.

With the stakes high, the University’s team UH Racing worked tirelessly and each put in an average of 1,800 hours into researching, designing and building the racing car (UH20) and making sure it was ready for competing at Silverstone – all whilst studying full-time for their degrees.

Be bold:

The Formula Student competition included ‘Static’ events where Engineering Design, Cost and Business Presentation were all judged. ‘Dynamic’ events including Acceleration and Skid Pad challenges, and a gruelling endurance and fuel efficiency race. The UH Racing team threw themselves into all these rounds with dedication and professionalism.  


The weekend did not go without its challenges for UH Racing. A battery fire during one race led to the driver being pulled from the car and Silverstone marshals running onto the track to extinguish flames. The team were stopped in their tracks unable to compete.

Not to be deterred, the team set about making repairs to the damaged wiring and replacing the battery so they could to take to the track again. The team showed enormous grit and determination to get their car out so quickly and it was impressive to watch.

Stay positive:

Despite this setback the UH Racing team had a hugely successful weekend of competing. They won the prestigious and highly coveted award for Design but also topped the table for the fastest lap. Due a strong social media presence throughout the year and national media coverage about our solo female on the team, UH Racing was also awarded with the “Most Effective Communications Strategy” award.  To top it off, the team also scooped the Jaguar Land Rover “The Art of Performance” award for our attention to detail, combining beauty and engineering to produce UH20.

Aim high!

UH Racing came away from Silverstone with four well-deserved prizes and six trophies and we definitely need a larger trophy cabinet!

The team is now preparing for two European Formula Student competitions in the Czech Republic and Germany. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Want a career in motorsport? Visit www.herts.ac.uk/courses/motorsport-technology to find out about courses available at the University of Hertfordshire.