I’m Elizabeth, a mature student studying the Mental Health MSc at the University of Birmingham. Living with complex mental disorders means that I frequently experience distorted thinking, have difficulty regulating my emotions and experience cognitive impairments. The nature of mental illness means a vulnerability towards self-stigma, guilt and self-doubt. For years, I believed that I had caused my difficulties, and that I was solely responsible for how challenging it became to navigate different aspects of modern life, both in the classroom and later, in the workplace. I was unable to appreciate the influence that external social and psychological factors can have on a developing brain, especially during adolescence. It took a long time to stop blaming myself and to understand the subliminal damage that was being done by my environment.

Throughout my life, I have encountered stigma, outdated concepts or stereotypes and difficult conversations around mental health. I have noticed neurodivergent students, staff and colleagues being dismissed because they couldn’t contribute in the way that was expected, or because the environment didn’t enable them to do so. I believed there was a way to facilitate different learning and professional experiences for individuals who needed supportive environments to thrive, especially those who were particularly vulnerable to injustice and inequality.

During my Public Health BA, my dissertation considered the impact of media representation regarding neurodivergent individuals, particularly the effect on young people when they saw their uniqueness represented in positive ways. I am currently undertaking a Masters dissertation investigating the effect of epistemic injustice – the act when an individual’s lived experience is dismissed or misrepresented – upon individuals experiencing personality disorders. Working on these projects, I have begun to understand the effect of small systematic changes which, when implemented positively, can have a huge impact on improving someone’s sense of worth and self-efficacy.

The change I want to see in the world

The world we surround ourselves with, be that our home, community, place of work or where we get our education, is integral to our wellbeing. The impact of experiencing a psychologically-safe space can be transformative, in contrast to the damage that an unsupportive environment can cause. Moreover, education has a life-long effect on all of us, which is why I believe positive mental health and wellbeing must be embedded in teaching, learning and assessment from the very early years, through to professional training in the workplace.

Imagine being supported to grow, experiment, to fail and try again, all in a positive and stable environment. Then, imagine this being the norm throughout school and university, and being encouraged, even expected, to take that attitude into your professional career. The Mental Health MSc provides an exceptional opportunity to advocate for this preventative action, ensuring a new global focus on mental wellbeing for all.

You could be part of that change.

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