I was fortunate to be able to sit in this morning on a meeting between OASIS and FUSA representatives who are putting together the program and materials for University Mental Health Week (29th April to 3rd May).
I’m not much of an ‘events’ kind of person so it is always interesting for me to watch people who work regularly in that space. Not so much the logistics (i.e. booking rooms/spaces etc) but the degree of conceptual thought that goes into an event like Mental Health Week. Lots of questions get asked, that honestly can be difficult to answer!
The core message
The term ‘mental health’ is very broad and can mean different things to different people. For some it strongly associated with ‘mental illness’. For others it is about how happy or satisfied we our with our lives.
You don’t want to create a campaign that is so specific that it ends up alienating large swathes of the student population. But you also don’t want to create an event so broad in its message that it isn’t clear what is being said. You can imagine that it is possible to create a message that is so generic – ‘look after your mental health’ – that it ends up being of no use to anyone.
I think the organising group have a good handle on this issue as they are planning activities and resources that span the spectrum from those who might want to learn about what resources are available to them to help them cope with poor mental health, through to those who want to celebrate being in good mental health.
The individual or the community
Many health campaigns focus at the level of the individual – i.e. what they can do to improve their own health and wellbeing. This places the responsibility (but also the power) within the individual to make change in their own lives.
But this isn’t the only possible target. RUOK? day encourages individuals to check in on those close to them, so has a flavour of enhancing relationships.
Other campaigns seek to get people to speak up about what would make their community better. For example, University Mental Health Day in the UK encouraged students to speak out on what would make the university environment better in terms of mental health.
My personal preference is to equip individuals with the tools they need for mental health (hence my mental fitness course), but I am acutely aware that many of the risk factors for poor mental health are relational (i.e. the quality of our relationships) and community-based (e.g. sense of community, available supports). And when it comes to saying what would make the university environment more mental health promoting, student views have to be taken into consideration. Events like University Mental Health Week are a perfect opportunity to seek feedback from students on how well we are achieving a mentally healthy university.
Visual and design elements
A couple of people at today’s meeting are heading up the creation of all the posters and social media items to promote University Mental Health Week. I look forward to featuring some of their work in the lead up to the event.
As a rank amateur in the world of communication and graphic design, it was cool to hear them talk about their ideas for the visual language for posters and graphic design.
A real focus was on typography – finding visually appealing yet easy to read and digest fonts and styles. This is more important than you might think because a lot of the information that we need to communicate to students at an event like this is lists of resources. For example, I’ll be pulling together some of the best University, Community and Online resources to showcase on the day (our handouts cover many of these for those of you that are looking for some already).
Another focus was on colour – getting away from staid, clinical looking colour schemes (like those you might see on a health service website) to ones with more colour variety, lightness and fun without being too frivolous.
Finally, there was talk about imagery and moving beyond the standard mental health tropes like brains and photos of people in distress and moving towards imagery that suggests cultivation and growth – e.g. plants.
What are your thoughts?
I’ll be sharing more updates on the progress of preparations for University Mental Health Week in the upcoming weeks.
In the meantime however, feel free to share your thoughts.
What do events like University Mental Health Week mean to you? Are they days where you check in on your own wellbeing? Are they days that you check in on your friends or family? Are they the kinds of days where you pluck up the courage to tell someone that you aren’t doing well. Are they the days where you celebrate that you are going OK?
What would make University Mental Health Week something that you would take part in?