Two students who won an award for setting up a mental health peer support group at Birmingham City University are calling on people to mark Mental Health Awareness Week by asking others how they are feeling.
Psychology students Laura Fogarty, from Hodge Hill, and Laura Gee, from Stourbridge, won a Thrive West Midlands Mental Health Star award, organised by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), for their work to support their peers.
They run a WhatsApp group, co-ordinate voluntary student mental health first aiders and organise online support via social media.
Laura Fogarty (left) and Laura Gee with their award
The ‘Lauras’ met on a mental health first aid course at the university 18 months ago and found they had much in common – they are both mature students who have young children and have experienced mental health issues previously.
Laura Gee said: “Mental Health Awareness Week is a great opportunity to ask someone how they are feeling and start having a conversation about mental wellbeing.
“We find many students struggle to approach counsellors but find it easier to speak to a peer. They might be anxious about going to a lecture, or feel they can’t cope with being at university.
“We match them with a mentor with a similar background and interests, who befriends them and helps them get the support they need. The results are amazing. We’re seeing students, who were about to give up on university, coming out of their shell to do brilliantly in their essays and enjoy life.”
The Thrive awards celebrate the people, teams or organisations who have made a significant contribution to improving mental health in their area.
Since Laura and Laura won the award in February, the number of peer support volunteers they have trained has doubled from 98 to more than 200. They are also exploring the possibility of rolling the programme out into local schools.
“Winning the award has given us more opportunities to raise awareness of the importance of good mental health,” said Laura Fogarty.
“Laura and I regularly ask people ‘are you OK?’ I was an inpatient on a mental health ward four years ago and I still remember the first person who asked me that. It made a huge difference to me.”
Thrive West Midlands was launched by the WMCA to improve mental and physical health and wellbeing, as part of its ambition to make sure everyone in the area has the opportunity to have a good quality of life, a worthwhile job and an affordable home.
The awards form part of the wider Thrive West Midlands action plan on mental health, which focuses on the experience of real people with mental health needs alongside the expert knowledge of professional mental health practitioners and organisations.
Sean Russell, director of implementation of Thrive West Midlands, said: “Young people are our future and it’s vital that we look after their wellbeing.
“Student mental health is a key priority for us, and we work closely with universities to raise awareness of the issue.
“Laura and Laura are inspirational winners. It’s wonderful to see how they are shining a spotlight on student wellbeing.”
Mental Health Awareness Week is taking place from Monday 13 to Sunday 19 May. For more information, visit www.mentalhealth.org.uk