The Please Talk lesson: talking is a sign of strength
College represents a crucial period to develop healthy reactions to stress or to become vulnerable to it
From left, Chloe Lappin, Fergal D’Arcy, Fiona Kennedy, Prof Lokesh Joshi, and Mark Laherty. Photograph: Aengus McMahon
Please Talk is a national campaign for third-level institutions that aims to address the silence and shame around talking about mental health and seeking professional support.
It is hoped that this can be achieved by creating a grassroots student-led movement to encourage open discussion of mental health and suicide on campus and to connect students to support services.
The vision is that this can be achieved by establishing student-led hubs on every college campus, where students can take ownership of the key message that talking is a sign of strength.
Rooted in the catalyst model, the role of the Please Talk office is to support students to maintain these campaign hubs throughout the academic year and to encourage their fellow students to engage with each other and with the available services.
Establishing a Please Talk hub gives a college ownership of the campaign, making it best placed to communicate the most credible and authentic messages to its own campus audience.
The overall goal is to create engaged networks of students and staff who can set up on-campus suicide prevention and mental health initiatives that are most appropriate and fitting for the given college.
Student-led Please Talk hubs work to increase the capacity of the students themselves to contribute to suicide prevention. Please Talk hubs play an important role in referring students to resources, information about support services, and sparking conversation.
College students are a priority population group for suicide prevention. A high proportion of people with personal experience of mental health problems cite that their symptoms first presented at college age.
The high-stress environment of college life and the fact that many young adults are on their own for the first time means that college represents a crucial period for young adults to develop healthy behaviours and reactions to stress, or become vulnerable to distress.
The 2012 My World survey (Headstrong/UCD) of young peoples’ mental health stated that college was the most frequently reported stressor for young adults. Please Talk focuses on the benefits of talking, openness and understanding as an important protective factor for students.
Please Talk NUI Galway is a little different in that it’s not just encouraging students to talk, but staff as well.
The campaign, headed by students Megan O’Reilly and Jack Donovan, and me, a member of staff, working in conjunction with the Students’ Union, is looking at the NUI Galway community as a whole – students interacting with students, students with staff, staff with staff, staff with students – it’s hard to separate the two, and really, when talking about maintaining an open and inclusive environment about mental health it’s counterproductive to work as two separate units.
It is hoped that Please Talk NUIG will become the focal point for all mental/emotional wellbeing activity on campus and act as a conduit for other groups to share their activities and events, thus ultimately becoming the first port of call for anyone looking for information on support available to all members of the NUI Galway community.
The crux of this campaign is talking: feeling able to admit to a bad day, being able to support a friend, colleague or student through a tough time, sharing and encouraging successes, and above all, remembering that mental health is something we all have. It’s also something we all have to look after, just as much as we do our physical health, and the easiest place to start is by simply talking.
How often do we ask the question, ‘How are you doing?’ and actually wait to hear the answer? Or answer with how we’re genuinely feeling? An intrinsic part of the NUI Galway campaign will be in the sharing of personal experiences on the dedicated Please Talk NUIG website.
We’re in no doubt that this will be a slow process: what we’re asking is a major cultural mindshift in a large institution. But with time, with training, with encouragement, it’s possible. Each of us has a role to play in breaking the cycle of stigma.
The national Please Talk campaign is supported by the HSE through the National Office of Suicide Prevention, and is part of the National Mental Health Strategy. Please Talk NUI Galway, while part of this larger campaign, is also funded by the NUI Galway/Students Union Explore innovation initiative. This supports staff and students at NUI Galway to collaborate and deliver new ideas. The first scheme of its kind in Ireland, Explore was initiated by NUI Galway Students’ Union and the university. See pleasetalk.ie