Seb has been Welfare Officer for Oxford University Student Union (2011/12) and is the founder of Mind Your Head.
"I was amazed when I first met the group of volunteers who ran the SRSH support groups in Oxford. I'd never before encountered a group of people who were so passionate, able and knowledgeable about their area. I came out of the meeting buzzing, thinking: "that is what student support should look like." I believe that student support is crucial, because it is often easier for vulnerable students to ask for help from their peers than from professional staff. Reliable professional treatment for disordered eating is notoriously difficult to come by, and as a result the students that run the support groups provide an immensely valuable service imbued with compassion, professionalism and, crucially, providing continuity. The professionalism and expertise is not just true of the Oxford branch: the 'How to Save a Life' sessions are among the best training sessions I have attended, and Director Nicola Byrom has provided me with advice on the subject of eating disorders as and when I ask for it.
I feel it is important that SRSH is properly funded in the future, so that it can continue to perform these vital functions, but also so that it can more effectively make students aware of what they do. I think it may also be beneficial for SRSH to focus more on awareness-raising and combatting stigma, which could have a symbiotic effect with the direct student-support work."
In response to Seb's feedback we have spent the summer of 2012 working with Bethany Wellard and our Development Committee to put together three national awareness campaigns (Love your Body, Something worth talking about, and Inspiration for Recovery). These three campaigns target three separate audiences, encouraging all students to think more positively about body image with the aim of preventing the development of eating disorders, encouraging people to talk about eating disorders and providing students with the tools to get a conversation started with someone they are worried about and sharing stories of recovery to encourage those with eating disorders to think positively about recovery. The only hurdle in place in delivering these campaigns is, as always, funding. Each campaign will cost us around £2,000 to roll out nationally. If you would like to help us deliver these campaigns, please check out how you can support us.
Frankie has been welfare officer at Southampton University Student Union (2011 - 12)
"I think SRSH is a fantastic project that tackles an issue that is considered so taboo in society and seems rarely touched on specifically (instead normally incorporated into mental health campaigns, counselling services etc.) The peer-to-peer element of the project also offers something quite informal, whereas other services are mainly formal and perhaps are quite intimidating whereas SRSH offers a less intimidating, more open environment to share issues, stories and seek support.
I am interested in working with SRSH as it is one of our students that set up the group in Southampton and sought support from the Students’ Union. I think it’s important that we support our students with projects they want to run and something as beneficial as SRSH couldn’t really be avoided!
Laur, who set up the group at Southampton, is also our Mental Health Officer on our Welfare Committee so I’ve been able to support her on events such as Eating Disorders Awareness Week and have assigned some budget specifically for SRSH from the Welfare Committee budget as well as requesting a budget for SRSH next year (though this is yet to be confirmed)."
Katy is a Just Ask Adviser at the University of Bristol Student Union Advice and Representation Center. In 2011 SRSH were asked to take over an existing support group at Bristol University because there were concerns that the volunteers were not receiving enough support. This is not the normal approach for us in terms of setting up new groups and we've enjoyed the challenge of working around existing systems and expectations and greatly appreciated all the support received from Katy.
"The eating disorders support group at Bristol University Students' Union has gone from strength to strength since working with SRSH. We're big believers in student-led support, as we've had significant feedback that some students feel more comfortable with discussing certain issues with their peers.
SRSH has been invaluable in supporting the students who run our group with their training, recruitment and supervision. As someone with no training or qualifications relating to eating disorders, it's fantastic to have specialists supporting our group with these issues. From a staff perspective, it means that I have absolute confidence in our group and can support them accordingly."
Harriet has been Welfare Officer for the University of Leeds Student Union (2011 / 12) and has worked with us to see an SRSH group set up at Leeds University.
"On entering my role as Welfare Officer of LUU, I began to gain a broad overview of all the support services available to students in the Union, University, and city of Leeds. There seemed to be something for everyone, from alcohol abuse support groups, to a pregnancy fund for new parents. But the lack of support for those with disordered eating instantly stuck out like a sore thumb. I already had a personal interest in mental health and eating disorders, and during my election into office, I emphasised the importance of these areas and promised to campaign and source support. When I started the job, I met with the University's Mental Health Advisor, and when I asked her what I could do to support her work, she immediately responded "Please do something for students with eating disorders". She highlighted the huge prevalence of these disorders at University and the lack of expertise that she felt she had in dealing with the students that came to her with these difficulties.
I've always advocated peer support, having co-ordinated Leeds Nightline in the final year of my degree. Peer support plays an unbelievable part in the welfare of students, and particularly in recovery of eating disorders. The nature of the illness makes sufferers embarrassed, isolated, and reluctant to talk to friends or family, and the aspect of control makes them afraid to disclose their difficulties to anyone in a position of authority, for fear of it being relinquished. As one group attendee quoted, "It can be such an isolating illness. Having a chance to speak about it in a safe environment with like minded people was a breath of fresh air". Peer support can definitely never be a replacement for professional help, but it can be an encouragement, an enabler, and can compliment and embed support that's given at a medical level.
When I decided to set up a group, I contacted BEat, who advised me to get in contact with SRSH. It was great to see a charity that tailored support to students at University. The transition from home to University life can be a particularly stressful one that can contribute to the onset of an eating disorder, not to mention the emphasis often placed on drinking alcohol, getting takeaways, and going out for lunch. SRSH really understands the University environment. Not only do they advocate peer support, but those at the top of the organisation are also students themselves, and/or have experienced eating disorders themselves. Working with them has been great, they're always friendly and ever knowledgeable about anything to do with disordered eating. I never felt that there was a question unanswered or problem unsolved, and always felt supported. The training was very enjoyable and gave volunteers the opportunity to really explore their own attitudes and thoughts. The training booklet definitely worked in giving the volunteers a solid grounding, though more time spent going through certain sections of the training would have been valuable. Some easily amendable posters/publicity would also be advantageous.
I feel that there's a lot of scope for progression of the online resources, with a more co-ordinated approach to admin and computer systems. I’d love to see a more co-ordinated approach to campaigns too, working nationally to create change, and giving more support to SRSH groups to lobby NHS services in their area too. Spending some time with other volunteers from other organisations would be great for this purpose and to also share best practice, though I understand this is dependent on staff resource and funding. I'd love to see SRSH acquire more resource, and would be happy to help in any way I can to source grants, donations, and funding from organisations to support their great work."
In response to Harriet's feedback we are working with Give What You Are Good At to develop a suitable CRM (Customer Relations Management) system to help manage the ever expanding range of contacts we work to maintain. We hope that working with more alumni volunteers (these are individuals who have at least a year's experience volunteering with SRSH and have chosen to stay involved in our organisation after they graduate from university to help build and develop the project) in the 2012 - 2013 year will give us greater capacity to co-ordinate conversations between our volunteers and volunteers working for like-minded organisations. We are already starting down this road, with the aim to get good communication between our volunteers and volunteers working with Nightline and Mental Wealth. Watch this Space!
Finally, Ellie, from our Development Committee is working to lobby for improvements to NHS provision for students, check out our campaign pages and get in touch if you'd like to help us with this project.
SRSH is registered with Companies House, 7493445
Registered Charity: 1142783
Registered Charity: 1142783