World Mental Health Day – Changing the Narrative on Suicide

JESS BLOG

[CW: Suicide, Mental Illness. It is advised that if you do not read this blog post have recently been affected by suicide]

Today is World Mental Health Day and 1 in 4 of us will be affected in any one year.

Our stall where students can get help and advice

Our stall where students could get help and advice

Every year we aim to break down barriers and reduce the stigma in talking about mental health, suicide, how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about mental health in general.

Take a Note, Leave a Note

Take a Note, Leave a Note

In the spirit of all of my past blogs, I want to lead by example and talk about how I feel. Recently I attended a student’s funeral. A student who had died by suicide. This was the first time I had been to a student’s funeral and I hope it will be the last.  As the coffin came out of the chapel I had an oddly surreal out of body experience.

It was like I was floating above the procession, looking down. I could see everything that was happening below me. I’m quite a spiritual person and it might not be for everyone, but I like to think the spirit of the student who had died was trying to show me something. A strong poignant message.

I will never forget.

The impact of suicide is sudden and unexpected, it leaves no time to prepare for the emotions that follow. Whether you have lost a family member, friend, work colleague or fellow student – shock, disbelief and denial can be common symptoms. It doesn’t even seem real does it?

Because suicide leaves us feeling powerless, we blame others or ourselves. We believe someone should have done more, institutions and medical facilities need more, that this shouldn’t be happening. And it’s true, we need more funding, support and initiatives across the board, but what happens when someone doesn’t reach out for help?

When I was 16, a friend of mine completed suicide. I never saw it coming. Afterwards there was a lot of fear in the school and community. There can often be a lot of fear and stigma around suicide, especially in schools or colleges. More specifically if a young person has died. It’s a gut reaction to not talk about it or avoid talking about it. The fear of talking about it and making it real, that maybe if we start talking about it more often, it may encourage others to do it too. This isn’t how we should be talking about suicide and mental health. This isn’t how I want to talk about suicide and mental health.

I’m afraid to even write this blog post which, in itself, shows the problem.

We say time and time again that we need to start talking differently about mental health and suicide. By now the mainstream conversation seems to be going in the right direction, but why are suicide rates still on the rise? Maybe what we are doing isn’t working? Maybe people ARE talking and others aren’t listening or don’t know how to listen.

Recently I have been very reflective of what we are doing in the Students’ Union and the University to tackle issues surrounding mental health. I feel like it’s time for change. It’s time to try something new. What that is, I’m not completely sure yet but I know it starts with a shift in narrative. One that starts with this blog post.

There are many things that can and NEED to be done to help, but amongst the workshops and campaigns there is a responsibility for us all, to not be afraid.

Kind notes left by our lovely students

Kind notes left by our lovely students

If anything in this blog post has affected you, you feel suicidal yourself or are concerned about someone else, you talk to someone at any of the services below:

  • Samaritans: 116 123 (24/7 free)
  • Lifeline: 0808 808 8000 (24/7 free)
  • Care call: 0808 800 0016 (24/7 free)
  • Cruse bereavement care: 0808 808 1677
  • Your own GP: If you can’t get a same day appointment you can advise the receptionist in confidence that you are concerned about your mental health and ask that a Doctor rings you back
  • Out of Hours: Thoughts of suicide are a medical emergency and you or someone you are concerned about should seek assistance from your local hospital Accident and Emergency department

If you don’t feel ready to talk to someone, here’s a great guide on emotions of grief after a death that may have been caused by suicide.

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A Summer Pursuing Equality and Diversity

RACHEL BLOG

Hi everyone! It’s Rachel Powell here, your Student Officer Equality & Diversity.

All of our summer events have come to an end and Freshers is upon us, so I thought I’d update you all on what I got up to over the summer months…

Pro-choice Activism

I started my new term with a bang and jumped straight in to the issues that matter most to me. Following the first meeting of the USI Students for Choice Taskforce with Jessica Elder (Student Officer Welfare), I was certainly feeling repealin’ and buzzing all about that bodily autonomy.

USI Nationwide Students for Choice Taskforce 2017-18

USI Nationwide Students for Choice Taskforce 2017-18

Here’s a wee snap of my wonderful Student Officer team with our repeal jumpers on during the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar’s, visit to Queen’s University to talk about the future of North South Relations.

REPEAL

The image that went viral. Someone described our faces as full of hundreds of years of women’s scorn which I quite liked.

I was privileged to get to ask the Taoiseach to confirm the Repeal Referendum would be held outside of the summer months to ensure students have full access to voting. It is fair to say that this question, along with our choice of clothing, made an impression as we reached over 80 million views from news articles alone and not counting social media.

Being pro-choice is of huge significance to me and it is something I made very clear during my campaign. We have a policy in support of the full decriminalisation of abortion at Queen’s Students’ Union and I am very keen to make the most of that this year. There are a few activities and events coming up soon, so watch this space, but in the meantime, try to attend these events:

  • Rally against the 2 Child Cap and Rape Clause: 21 September 2017, 1pm, Causeway Exchange, 1-7 Bedford Street, Belfast. Being Pro-choice also means you should have the right to have as many children as you want, and this policy is abhorrent, classist and disgusting. Event details can be found here.
  • 6th Annual March for Choice: 30 September, 2pm-7pm, Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square, Dublin. It is crucial we show solidarity with the Republic of Ireland in their upcoming Referendum to get the 8th Amendment repealed! Event details can be found here.
  • Rally for Choice presents GIRL, Beauty Sleep & Hiva Oa: 5 October 2017, 8pm-1am. Event details can be found here.
  • Rally for Choice: 14 October, 2pm-3.30pm, Buoy Park, Academy St., BT15 1 Belfast. Let’s rally to get abortion decriminalised! Event details can be found here.

LGBT+ Rights

So on my first day of office on 1 July, we had the March for Marriage Equality which was incredibly inspiring and motivating.

PRIDE

Photo Credit: Will Hancock Evans (stolen from Stephen McCrystall) 

The day after our meeting with the Taoiseach, we had Belfast Pride – and what an amazing turnout we had!

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With the wonderful LGBT+ Society President – Will Hancock-Evans

I ordered lots of merchandise for all Queen’s students attending and got flags outside of the front of the Students’ Union building for Asexuality, Bisexuality, Pansexuality, LGBT+, Gender Queer, Gender Fluid and Intersex.

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QUBSU Sabbatical Team at Pride 2017 – Photo Credit Stephen McCrystall

We teamed up with Queen’s University and marched alongside them and the biggest student bloc of all time, which included students from all across Ireland and the UK. This was a fantastic day with the sun shining throughout. Remember – PRIDE IS A PROTEST!

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Student Bloc at Belfast Pride – Photo credit: Síona Ní Chatháil

Since then, I’ve been trying to organise the first a Trans Awareness Campaign at QUBSU. I’ve connected with Ellen Murray from the Trans Resource Centre/GenderJam and Sail along with Queen’s LGBT+ society and we are currently planning all of the fun and more serious logistics of this campaign. So not to sound repetitive – but watch this space!

I also attended Top-up Training in Dublin with USI and particularly loved the training on Trans Inclusivity delivered by TENI. Here’s an image of some of the officers that attended:

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Top-up Training 2017

And below here are some of the Queen’s Students and Staff that marched together at Belfast Pride 2017.

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Photo credit: Queen’s University Belfast

International Students – International Buddy Scheme 

Buddy Scheme

Here is a photo of an incredibly tired me on the first night of the international buddy scheme.

We had approx. 580 students attend this event and hundreds attended the traditional crawl the following evening. This was the biggest buddy scheme yet and I am so thankful to my team for helping me make this happen, to all of the students who volunteered to become a buddy, and to the new found friendships that happened last week. This campaign took weeks to organise and I am so relieved that there was such a huge turnout and so many students seemed to enjoy themselves. I also want to say a big thanks to Hamsa, our International Part Time Officer, for all of her help!

I am also in the process of researching an international student’s guarantor scheme, as I’ve noticed that a lot of landlords have been taking advantage of international students this summer. So I’m currently researching other places that have this programme and trying to make this something that will happen at QUB. It is only fair that international students are treated in the same way – they are already charged more for fees so we have to stop them getting charged more for rent!

Postgraduate Student Issues

Ok, so postgraduate issues are something that has been very close to my heart as I am a part-time, disabled, postgraduate student myself and there are many barriers for students like me. I have had meetings with the Graduate School and the Department for Academic and Student Affairs this summer and hope to engage more postgraduate students than ever before in the SU. One of the most exciting things that has happened this summer was my planning with two PhD Student Parents, Alison and Catherine. We are currently in the process of creating a PhD Student Parents Network, which we hope to roll out this year along with the Student Parent Survey to highlight the needs of student parents and hopefully expand this network to suits the needs of all student parents.

There are many exciting things happening for Postgraduates within the SU and I couldn’t be happier to see such high levels of engagement among this under represented group.

Speaking of postgraduate issues, while working this summer, I completed my MA Thesis and degree in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice. I completed a Historical and Contemporary Analysis of U.S. Right Wing Populism and the Impact on Women’s Rights Movements. This intersectional piece of feminist writing enabled me to meet with amazing activists in the U.S. and I couldn’t feel more motivated to put this degree in Social Justice to good use.

Dissertation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope that through my experiences as an undergrad, to part-time, disabled, low-income, woman postgraduate student, I can represent as many people as possible through my time as Student Officer Equality & Diversity. I cannot wait to learn from and work more with others and deliver the campaigns we need on campus. This summer has been hectic and I haven’t had a minute free – but it’s worth it to see the small changes we have made so far.

If you’re interested in getting involved in a pro-choice campaign, Trans Awareness Campaign, Disable the Label campaign, a PhD Student Parents Network, or anything else I’ve mentioned, just give me a shout by emailing: su.vpequality@qub.ac.uk

Cheers! :)

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[CW: Sexual Assault] Launch of the Consent Ambassador Programme and Results Launch of the S.C.O.R.E. Stand Together Survey

JESS BLOG

Hi everyone, if you haven’t met me before, my name is Jessica and I am the Welfare Officer here in the Students’ Union. This year I aim to give more updates and write more blogs on the interesting stuff we are doing in the Union, primarily the things to do with welfare, to keep you updated and involved!

Since starting on the first of July we have been involved in lots of training and planning to make this the best year possible. It’s been super exciting, but not as exciting as the launch of my first official project – Consent Ambassadors.

PIC 1 V2Consent Ambassadors are students (a great bunch may I add) who are interested in the topic of Consent and applied to become facilitators for the Consent is BAE workshops that we will be running in October. It’s something I’ve been itching to get going at Queen’s and also part of a much bigger project across the university in tackling sexual misconduct on and off campus. I hope to see you there!

PIC 2 V2

Last Tuesday (15 August) I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the ‘Stand Together Survey’ results. One that is supported and welcomed by the Students’ Union. I have spent the last year very heavily invested in the project with the 6 students who carried out the research. It was a privilege to be able to speak and represent Queen’s at the event.

It was a fantastic event that showed us statistics on the non-consensual experiences of Queen’s University students. Statistics that fall well within the line of national statistics. It’s not a new phenomenon and we know that, but it still doesn’t stop the results of the survey having an impact.

This research is the first of its kind in the whole of Northern Ireland and also one of the largest.

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*Picture above of the full SCORE committee and some advisory members

Myths about sexual assault are rife in society, including perceptions that men ‘can’t be raped’ or that women ‘ask for it’, and must be addressed. Sexual assault and non-consensual experiences happen to people of all genders and all sexual orientations. This, coupled with the profound lack of understanding of what sexual assault and non-consensual experiences are and the under-reporting of students’ experiences, is more evident than ever in this report.

The safety of our students is at the forefront of everything we do in the Students’ Union. All students have the right, not privilege, to live and study in an environment of dignity and respect. One that is free from the fear of harassment or violence.

The findings of this report and its recommendations are now and will always be embedded in the Students’ Union’s campaigns and policies aimed at educating, protecting and representing the students here at Queen’s.

The full report of the Survey can be found here.

If anyone reading wants to find out more, talk about the findings or get advice on support you can give me a ring 028 9097 1002 or email me su.vpwelfare@qub.ac.uk

PIC 4 v2

After Universities UK released their recommendations on tackling sexual misconduct in higher education I had my first meeting with the university. Since then we have made many changes of which I can’t wait to see implemented in the next academic year.

We very quickly set up a working group that had people from all corners of the university represented on it. From wellbeing to accommodation to security and HR. This group will continue to create change in the new academic year and beyond.

As well as having the workshops and ambassador programme, a separate policy on sexual misconduct takes effect this academic year. Although the University and the Union have always maintained a zero tolerance approach to sexual misconduct this is stronger than ever. This year I am pleased to say that a new staff member will be up for recruitment. One that specialises in Safe and Healthy Relationships and, although I disagree with the name of the role, the work they will carry out is vital to ensuring the appropriate support, reporting mechanisms, staff training and recording processes are in place.

I want to finish off this blog by saying Thank You.

Thank You to the students who courageously filled out the ‘Stand Together’ Survey and broke the silence on sexual assault in Northern Ireland.

You are amazing.

You are enough.

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If anyone has been affected by the content of this blog post you can contact:

  • NEXUS NI: 028 9032 6803
  • Women’s Aid 24hr Helpline: 0808 200 024 724
  • Carecall: 0808 800 0016
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GUEST BLOG: “I felt trapped trapped inside my own body; fighting a battle that no one could see”

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The final blog post in our series, written by our students to provide visibility to the broad range of disabilities and the issues that students with disabilities face

Writing blogs is not something I’ve really done much of before, but when this amazing #DisabletheLabel campaign was launched, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. Through this (brief) blogpost, I’m going to explain a bit about how my understanding of the label ‘disabled’ has developed though my own experiences of living with disabilities.

Bit of a background – my personal experience with disabilities began when I was 13 years old. I was a very active child and loved cross country, football and I played camogie for my school, Keady club and County Armagh. I vividly remember playing a camogie tournament in Crossmaglen one Saturday morning and getting very bad pains in my knees, it was a sharp yet dull pain and one that never left from that day. After my first few trips to the doctors, I was told that these were simply growing pains and that it was normal. I knew myself this pain couldn’t be normal and that is where my battle with invisible illnesses began.

These “growing pains” turned out to be Hypermobile Joints Syndrome and a very nasty Auto Immune Disease; Psoriatic Arthritis. My own body was attacking itself on the inside and from the outside I looked completely healthy. The arthritis spread to all my other joints and began to attack my tendons throughout my time in High School. I tried to keep playing camogie and football for years but after many broken bones, missed school and constant hospital trips (I’m talking about 3 a week to Craigavon or Belfast), it was time to hang up the football boots at the age of 18 and accept my body simply wouldn’t allow me to continue playing the games I had loved and dedicated so much of my life to. All while I looked perfectly healthy on the outside.

My battles with my invisible illnesses really intensified when I moved to Belfast to begin my undergraduate degree. I was leaving behind a really great support network of family and friends at home and was really stunned by how difficult life was on my own. I quickly realised that simple things like walking from Elms village to class, or carrying my laptop and books, were simply not an option and moving around this new city I didn’t know was becoming increasingly difficult. I was then diagnosed with a secondary chronic pain condition, Fibromyalgia. I felt like I was hit with the flu, with all its aches, pains, sickness and exhaustion; another new feeling that never left again. With this secondary condition came a wave of new problems. For the first time, I experienced a range of mental health conditions and fell into a severe depression and suffered from extreme anxiety for almost two years. It was a viscous cycle. The enthusiastic student that had arrived in Belfast seemed like a different person to the student I was now. As my pain and illnesses increased and became more complex, my motivation to try and deal with every day student issues decreased. I couldn’t even get out of bed with this pain never mind go to the library. At this point, all while still looking completely healthy on the outside, I knew I was mourning the “old me”. I missed my old life and all of the activities I used to do and felt completely trapped inside my own body; fighting a battle that no one could see, or even begin to understand.

Throughout my undergraduate degree, I still got involved in as many opportunities as possible. I went to London on a scholarship programme and worked in Investment Banking and Wealth Management. As my own experiences of life became more difficult, I became more interested in social justice.  I was lucky enough to travel to Washington DC and work as a Legislative Intern in the US House of Representatives through the Washington Ireland Programme. Despite these fantastic experiences, my conditions were worsening and I was in a constant state of anxiety, as I fully believed that all of my hard work over the years wouldn’t matter so long as I was trapped inside this body that attacked itself. I felt isolated, as the people around me clearly couldn’t understand what I was feeling, how could they? I was told over and over and over again – “but you don’t look sick”. When I tried to explain how I was feeling to people, they couldn’t empathise with me because my illnesses were invisible. If only they knew what was really going on inside…

So, after my graduation I took some time out from studying to think about what my options now were. I wasn’t able to follow the plan I had been making for myself since I was a child. I decided that I needed to use my skills to be able to help those in a similar position to me, but who aren’t in a position to use their voice as easily. I enrolled part-time in a Masters in Conflict Transformation and Social Justice. I became more involved in fighting for intersectional social justice issues. I am more passionate than ever before, and wholeheartedly believe this is due to the difficulties I have faced due to my illnesses. In what I first believed was my life and dreams being taken away from me, has actually turned me into an even more hard-working, driven and understanding person.

Although I am still battling with side-effects of intense medical treatments, stigma in society that exists for people with disabilities and a government that believes they can keep cutting away at our right to a quality life, I am stronger now than I have ever been. I have disabled the label on myself and I can still achieve the things I have always hoped for, I am just more realistic in what my limitations are through my disabilities. Instead of thinking “I’m disabled and I can’t do that”, I now fight to make all opportunities accessible and equal instead for all people with disabilities. I will not stop fighting to #DisabletheLabel until people with disabilities are made to feel like equal members of society, because we are no less valuable. Our labels don’t determine our worth.

Rachel Powell

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GUEST BLOG: Coming to accept the term disability

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Another in our series of guest blogs written by our students to provide visibility to the broad range of disabilities and the issues that students with disabilities face.

Disability was always a distant term to me, it didn’t seem to fit into my identity despite being chronically ill. The suggestion of seeking assistance from disability services was daunting simply due to that one word, ‘disability’ because regardless of the logical knowledge that disability wasn’t merely physical but also encompassed sensory, learning and mental health issues, the stigma of the expectation of a physical, visual disability in relation to this term, this label, stopped me reaching out, despite the fact that less than 8% of disabilities require the use of physical aid.

I hadn’t ticked the box when I enrolled at the University of Ulster in 2010 to say I had a disability; I wanted to be like any other student and to leave the baggage of ill health behind me and start afresh in a new place, with new people who knew nothing about me. But this is Northern Ireland and inevitably someone will know someone and so my fresh start was quickly ended when a window swung open and my name was called out from the 3rd floor of a block of flats in halls.

It was a struggle to walk to University but my friends helped carry bags for me and sometimes I got a lift and I also had several hospital admissions. It was around this point when, despite my denials and reluctance to embrace the term, I finally admitted my ill health was preventing me from living the life I wanted to and was in effect disabling my everyday life. There was no way to escape it, I was disabled.

However, despite finally accepting the term, the label is not me, but a part of me. We need to disable the label, because an individual’s life isn’t made up of one thing. I view life as a pie chart with different segments for different parts of my identity, and while being ill and having a disability is a part of that pie chart, it is by no means all of it.

Issues faced by students and persons in general with a disability

I had to leave University of Ulster after collapsing and being rushed to Hospital for treatment of a cardiac issue. Unfortunately, due to my numerous admissions to hospital, no-one had wanted to accompany me to A+E on that occasion as apparently ‘I was always in hospital’. One lecturer even walked past me as I collapsed and asked for help; I don’t know if he genuinely was unsure of what was going on or was uncomfortable with my physical illness when he had assumed my ill health to be mental only. These issues mean simple things that other students take for granted like a planned night out can be altered quite quickly.

(1) Loss of services & lack of continuity of care

It was at this point I faced an issue some students with a disability will face; I had temporary GP registration at University and still saw my own GP at home as they had known me and my health issues from the start. Despite the linked up approach between the Health Trusts, when it was agreed I should have inpatient treatment at Antrim Hospital and I had to take medical leave from university (which meant I lost my term-time address) I was temporarily declared homeless so could no longer access the planned treatment and returned home and to the bottom of a new waiting list in another Trust area.

Being disabled and living away from home can complicate matters with the loss or stretching of resources when you are already known to specialists and is an additional stress to a student with a disability that many overlook. There is also the added expense of ill health due to needing equipment e.g. pads for a TENS machine, because while some can be available on the NHS, the wait to access them can take a long time. Many students have ended up buying their own equipment such as a wheelchair after being on a waiting list for over a year.

(2) Sympathy Fatigue

While many speak about positivity in the face of chronic illness, there is no escaping the fact that some days it just sucks. It can be fun to have someone listen and laugh along to the tale of the spasm that led to an apple accidentally flying across the room and hitting a friend. While ill health is a part of many people’s everyday life, this doesn’t mean they don’t need support or a friendly face to just listen from time to time. However, when acceptance of a person’s ill health becomes the norm for friends and family they can sometimes feel sympathy fatigue; it is not unusual, it shows the impact of disability extends beyond the person effected.

(3) The view from the chair

While I’d no problem signposting others for help, my own journey to acceptance of my illness was complicated by my difficulty resolving the idea of my mental ill health as a disability. It has since morphed into physical disabilities as well. The acceptance of a term, and the embracing of it as part of who I am in the here and now, allows me to make the best of each day and plan accordingly and I’m now more comfortable with accepting the use of physical mobility aids when I need them.

Most of the time I can manage but there have been occasions when I have been unable to get about unaided and I reluctantly agreed to use a wheelchair as a temporary measure. I found it very helpful and liberating as it is an extension of a person that gives a freedom that might otherwise be denied but people’s reactions to me were mixed.  Some act like I’m invisible or don’t know what to say or try to slink away like a cartoon villain hoping to get away from a situation that wasn’t awkward until you made it awkward. I’d prefer it if people just spoke to me as normal, my legs may be temporarily out of order, but my eyes and ears and my mind are functioning as usual.

Acceptance and Support

Acceptance of the term disability opened doors to access support from the University and has meant that since I’ve moved to Queens, despite spending much of my time in and out of hospital, I’ve actually made it to final year. Adaptation is key, and realising that a truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.

Now adaptation doesn’t mean everything is perfect, I still struggle writing long essays when, due to my blood pressure, I’m stuck on my back improvising a desk with pillows for my laptop. Due to my illness I live at home and travel everyday juggling class around appointments and deadlines and it is hard, especially when I’ve to remember which medication to take at what time, and still ensure I didn’t leave my work in the printer in McClay.

However, Queens has been very supportive thus far, and having made it to third year is amazing. You might seem daunted by the idea of disability, but anyone can develop a disability, in fact, there are over 11 million people with disability in the UK, so remember, I’m just like you, except I need a bit more support, treat me and others how you would want to be treated.

Disable the Label, while it is a useful tool to access assistance and support, I’m a person not a word.

Felicity Mckee

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GUEST BLOG: Faces of Disability – The Stigma of HIV

HOMEPAGE-BANNER

Today, as part of the #DisableTheLabel campaign, we are launching “Faces of Disability”: a series of guest blogs written by our students to provide visibility to the broad range of disabilities.

In today’s society, disability still carries a huge amount of stigma. HIV carries an arguably even higher amount of stigma. Following last week’s world HIV day, and Saturday’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, our LGBT+ Officer Tiarnán Heaney writes about how much of this stigma prevails in our society. Not only do we have to fight for access to healthcare, but we also have to #DisableTheLabel surrounding HIV. The blog also features an anonymous submission from a HIV+ person about the shame and isolation directed towards  once diagnosed.

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Dear guys, gals, and non-binary pals, :)

Stigma.

We all know that word, quite a substantial number of people use it, it permeates our everyday language and has become quite a familiar concept to us. It is then dumbfounding, that in this day and age, elected politicians can walk the hallways of power, with as much biological knowledge as a primary school child and perpetuate this stigma. The stigma that polarises and victimises individuals living with HIV is thriving in our society; with no community unaffected by its warped hatred.

The misinformation and calculated campaign of hatred and homophobia that has infiltrated and putrefied our society since the 1980’s, still rears its ugly head today. Myths about the causes of HIV and AIDs echoes down through the decades, perpetuated by mainstream society; in our education, politics and even in our media. I would argue that this has led to the internalisation of the stigma of HIV by the LGBT+ Community, degrading and shaming our people. I dare say that if I began to stop people on the streets and ask them what they know about HIV, it wouldn’t be long until I got responses like “some people can’t keep their legs closed”, and “drug addicts or heroin addicts with their needles get HIV”. As a society, we have the phenomenal capacity to blame the victim for something that is beyond their control. We stigmatise them, ignore them and joke about them.

The stigma in our society affects us all, myself included. Before I began to educate myself on HIV in our society, I believed myself to be a progressive; open to all people, non-prejudiced and educated enough not to be affected by this internalised stigma. I thought, “Oh I give to charities – I wear my red ribbon – It will never affect me anyway – I’m doing all I can do – it’s not really my problem.” How wrong I was.

I am 21 years of age; I have been exposed to HIV, and the stigma embodied itself in my subsequent cruel and despicable actions.

The best way to describe it is utter panic; your friends tell you everything will be ok, that you’re probably just over reacting, and that you’ll be fine. You hear what they are saying, but you do not even listen.

I did not contract HIV, and I remain HIV Negative; yet the stigma and misinformation that surrounds the virus drowned me beneath an ocean of panic, desperation and utter helplessness.

What ensued, as a result of selfishness and the effect of the stigma, was a rollercoaster of emotions that threatened to de-rail at any moment. At first I felt like the world disappeared under my feet, free falling into an abyss. I felt nothing. Then the cold hand of panic gripped me. A flurry of phone calls ensued, picking up the phone, ringing the GUM, put on hold, I hang up. This happened a few times, with a mind that had been shattered by fatigue and shock. I attempted of course to pick up the shattered pieces in a panic, dropping pieces as I gathered them, cutting myself on my own thoughts, stepping on pieces and grinding them to dust. The more I attempted to take control, the worse it got. Eventually I stayed on the phone long enough to get an appointment, and I put down the phone. Then the anger roared.

I was furious at the individual; “how dare they do this to me?!” was my mantra. Whilst I could not see it at the time, this was perhaps the darkest moment of my life. In a rage that unlocked the embedded stigma, I blamed the victim in all this. That somehow it was completely their fault, that I was now paying for their mistakes. I was so wrong. I had allowed myself to be chained and ruled by the stigma, I became a product of it, and aided in its perpetuation.

As unlikely as it is that the individual in question is reading this I would like to say I am sorry for how I reacted, and how I victimised you.

Due to misinformation, poor education on sexual health coupled with my own blind ignorance, I could not be reasoned with, or calmed, despite the fact that scientifically, the risk of transmission to me was virtually zero. The viral load of the individual, (that is the level of HIV in their blood), was undetectable due to regular dosages of antiretroviral medication; meaning that the chance of transmission from a positive to negative individual was close to zero.

There are many people out there that are like me in this story who are ignorant of the fact that the stigma of HIV affects them, lying dormant in their minds. I was never really at any risk, yet the effect of my own ignorance led me to act in a way in which I degraded another human being.

I leave you with this thought. If ever someone tells you that they are HIV Positive, be it a partner, friend, child, relative or even parent- do not become the bad guy and blame the victim as I did. If someone opens their heart to you, and tells you that they are HIV Positive, in this society of stigma, it tells you one important thing about that individual. It tells you that this human being trusts. They place themselves at your feet to do as you will; it takes tremendous courage to tell anyone that; to risk all and confront the dormant stigma in us all.

Depending on who you are to that person, your reaction will of course be framed differently; and within this everyone will have a range of responses. But remember one thing. This is the same person you knew before. They are no more and no less than that- show love and compassion. Hug them, cry with them, laugh with them and never, ever, let the stigma win.

We have a capacity to show love; it’s time we started showing it. Let’s call out the stigma.

Tiarnán <3

Anonymous contribution

As LGBT+ people, the majority of us have experienced shame, isolation and stigma in the past – be it a warped view of ourselves spurred on by societal pressures or negative reactions to our sexuality from other people.

Some of us were fortunate enough to receive love and acceptance when we accepted this part of ourselves, but many of us experienced profound shame, isolation and stigma. We would hope that within the LGBT+ community, we would not subject each other to the same pain inflicted upon us in the wider world. HIV is still discussed with fear and panic, and for HIV+ LGBT+ men and women, the isolation they feel and the stigma they are exposed to can be compounded enormously.  In Northern Ireland especially, the level of detachment and view of HIV as an alien concern is staggering – ultimately leading to skyrocketing infection rates as people either don’t get tested, or can’t face the stigma of telling a partner they are HIV+. The tragic legacy of the AIDS crisis and its place in our collective psyche can cause a knee jerk reaction in many people, especially if they aren’t part of the LGBT+ community.

I myself have been guilty of that prejudice – AIDS was so closely associated with gay men, and it was presented as my primary concern for many of those I had confided in after coming out.  After leaving NI, however, I was surprised and impressed by the openness of many of those who were HIV+, and there was a greater culture of education and acceptance – it was difficult to reconcile this with the confusion and fear that had dominated conversation back home.  Admittedly, non-NI government initiatives have helped spread awareness, and the systemic homophobia in the NI political system (recent DUP-related incidents need not be repeated) has relegated HIV to a ‘gay disease’ and therefore not a priority – so we need to work even harder to educate each other.

The creation of anti-retroviral drugs, PEP and PrEP has allowed HIV+ people to lead normal lives with virtually zero risk of transmission and, with, proper medical treatment, no future health consequences.

The only way to combat the cycle of stigma and pain is by educating ourselves, and educating others.  Please get tested, know your status. Let’s #EndTheStigma

Let’s #DisableTheLabel

 

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‘My mind was numb. Just a swirling pool of white noise’ – Student Officer, Welfare openly talks about her own mental health as part of our ‘Think Out Loud’ Mental Health Campaign

IMG_3479I wanted to write this blog post not only to tell my story, but to reach those out there who might be struggling with their own mental health, to reach those that might think everyone else’s lives are perfect and they couldn’t possibly know what it’s like. In actual fact it’s the people you least expect that are dealing with the same issues as you. I wanted to tell you that you aren’t alone. I wanted to tell you that you CAN do it. I wanted you to know that there are other people out there (more than you think) that are here for you and can help. I never thought in a million years that I would be sitting in an office here in the Union. I      never thought I could run and plan campaigns to try and help other students like me. I never in a million years thought that I could be an advocate for you and fight for your welfare rights. I never thought in a million years that I would talk publicly about the issues I’ve faced, but here I am.

Rewind back to my secondary school years and there is me; Hair scraped back, too much mascara, bright orange face and my collection 2000 clear lip-gloss, someone who just wanted to fit in and be liked. This is whenever the bullying started to get really bad. Just because I wasn’t like the popular girls, I felt different. I went through secondary school going to class doing what I had to and ignoring the jabs and insults thrown my way, until I got to 5th year. This is when the depression started to kick in. At the time I didn’t know what it was and I just thought I was a ‘wee emo’ and never spoke about it. As I progressed and got to 6th year, I’d buried it so deep that I’d forgot it was even there. I had some good friends and had a jolly good time and ended School on a high!

Then it was summer. The summer before university changed me forever. That summer was probably one of the worst of my life to date. It started off amazing! It was the last summer my group of friends were all hanging out together with a break from school and studying. We just enjoyed music, the good weather, cocktails and hanging out! The depression reared its head about a week after we finished our exams but, (yes you guessed it) I ignored it again. Ignoring it turned into ignoring my friends. Ignoring my friends turned into ignoring my family and ignoring the people I loved the most turned into me ignoring myself. My mind was empty. I felt nothing.

That summer I learnt what it meant to have anxiety and panic disorder. I was in the living-room watching a rom-com (as per usual) when all of a sudden my heart flew into overdrive. I seriously thought I was having a heart attack. I burst into hysterical tears and ran into my dad who was sleeping and woke him up by shouting ‘I NEED AN AMBULANCE HELP OH MY G*D DAD, I’M HAVING A HEART ATTACK, PLEASE HELP ME’. I’d read somewhere that sipping cold water helped if you were having a heart attack? So I ran to the en-suite sink sipping water, gasping for a breath, telling my dad I loved him and to tell mum that I was sorry. If you have ever had a panic attack you will know where I’m coming from and if you haven’t, trust me… It’s horrific.

After that first attack many followed and I began staying in my room for as long as I could only leaving when my Dad forced me to go to my summer job. I did everything really slowly taking a break every 15 minutes or so to have another panic attack. I was having about 20-30 a day, barely sleeping. I couldn’t ride a bus, I couldn’t cough too hard in case it caused an attack, I hated getting in the car with someone other than my dad and there was NO WAY in h*ll I was getting on a plane (me and mum were going on holiday the 1st week of September that year). I had to have the window down every time I was in the car because I thought I couldn’t breathe. I had to sip water constantly because I thought I couldn’t swallow. It had got to breaking point. I wanted to die and no one knew.

My dad throughout all of this tried to talk to me about it. Tried to make it everyday conversation but I got so angry at him anytime he tiptoed around it. Lashing out and telling him I hated him. It got worse and worse. I self-harmed, I binge ate and stopped giving a sh*t about anything. I was spiraling into something I can’t describe. I can only remember parts of. A lot of it is blurred because my mind wasn’t even thinking. It was numb. Just a swirling pool of white noise. A few months ago I was cleaning my room and found a piece of paper. A piece of paper I forgot I had even written. The title was ‘The pros and cons of killing myself’. I was in such a bad state I couldn’t even remember writing it?!

If my dad hadn’t of tried to talk to me about it. If he hadn’t of talked about his own mental health so openly and tried to make it an everyday conversation I don’t think I EVER would have said anything. I don’t even know if I would be alive. By making mental health a little less scary to talk about I felt I could speak to him. All I said was; ‘I don’t think I can do this anymore’. After I said it, the weight that was lifted from my shoulders was immense. I can’t remember what happened in-between the start of the suicidal thoughts and telling my dad but whenever I told him it was like a pair of really strong prescription sunglasses that I couldn’t take off, had disappeared.

IMG_3297

Now, I’m not saying it got all better and I started living life normally again but it was a step in the right direction. I started to get help and started developing things to help me cope. It hasn’t gone away and I don’t think I ever want it too. It’s still there, but it’s not ruining my life. It actually makes me stronger. Through talking to my circle of friends at university about mental health the stigma started to disappear and we all openly talked about our own mental health. We helped each other and shared experiences along the way. If it wasn’t for those people, I wouldn’t have carried on at university. Too many times I sat in front of my personal tutor ready to withdraw. If we all talked about it like it wasn’t something so taboo and scary, it could really help someone like 18 year old me. It could help someone like that person in your class who’s a little anxious and nervous. It could help that chatty confident person who is hurting on the inside. It could help you.

If you take anything away from this blog let it be that there are people just like you, living their lives in silence that just need to talk. It’s time for us all to #ThinkoutLoud

If you are struggling with your mental health and would like to talk to someone you can contact the Student Counselling Service: Carecall on 0800 0220016 

JESSICA EMAIL SIG

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GUEST BLOG Transgender Day of Remembrance: 5 Tips on How to be a Trans Ally

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The Students’ Union building lit up purple for Transgender Day of Remembrance

Hi everyone!

In honour of Transgender Day of Remembrance, MK (a Queen’s Business Management undergrad, former President and current Treasurer of QUB LGBT+ and non-binary trans person) and Con (an English undergrad, former Non-Binary Trans Rep for QUB LGBT+ and non-binary trans person) are taking over the SU Blog for the day to tell you, members of the Queen’s community, how you can be better allies to trans people.

So, without further ado…

5 things you can do to be a better ally to the trans people in your life.

1. Gender us correctly, even when we’re not there.

A really important part of being a trans ally is defending our identities, regardless of whether we’re there or not. This means using our correct pronouns, correcting yourself when you make mistakes and correcting others when they misgender us.

It may seem like really basic stuff, but knowing our cis pals have our backs when we’re not around goes a long way in terms of helping us live comfortably in our authentic identities.

2. Don’t obsess over our bodies.

It seems to be a bit of a cultural phenomenon that cisgender people feel entitled to discuss the bodies of trans people. Whether it’s a really intrusive questions about how we have sex, who we have sex with, our genitals or surgeries, it’s really really uncomfortable for us, and quite frankly it’s none of your business.

We understand that you might be interested or intrigued about us, but a lot of us don’t really want to talk about our bodies with you, or anyone in general. So basically, if you have a question, Google it.

3. Remember that there is not one way to be trans and that trans people are everywhere.

“I kind of find the whole pronoun thing difficult, in a way” one of my (MK’s) cisgender friends told me one night in Lavery’s, “because you’re the only trans person I’ve ever met.”

I’d introduced him to two of my friends that week, both of whom where non-binary. Not only that, but we’d bumped into another friend, a trans woman, an hour before this conversation.

It’s pretty common for cisgender people to enforce a kind of prescribed look or lifestyle onto us, or assume that we live our lives in a certain way, with particular regards to our transitions. There are tonnes of barriers for trans people between their true gender identity and the way they present their gender to the outside world.

For a lot of trans people, binary or non-binary, medical transitions or surgeries are not something we intend to do or even feel the need to do and that does not make any of us less ‘trans’ or less valuable as part of the community.

4. Know the lingo.

  • Transsexual implies that someone is going to change their genitals to a different sex - a lot of transgender people would rather use the word transgender to describe themselves, because who wants to tell strangers about their genitals? We’re not about that
  • Intersex are people who fall between being medically female and male
  • Non-binary is a blanket term to describe people who aren’t women or men
  • Cisgender refers to people who aren’t transgender
  • ‘They’ is a grammatically correct singular pronoun
  • Tranny is a slur
  • Drag queens are not trans

5. Believe us, even if you can’t personally relate.

Being trans is difficult. For a lot of us it’s new, or confusing, or completely inexplicable, and something that really doesn’t help is having to answer probing questions from cis people regarding what gender dysphoria feels like. A lot of the time we don’t even have the answers to them, and then it’s just uncomfortable for all parties involved. If we tell you something we’re feeling that you don’t understand, just take our word for it, because our lived experience is probably more accurate than anything else. Believe us.

So there we have it. Obviously this isn’t an all-encompassing guide to being a good trans ally, but these 5 points are a good place to start. Remember these and you can’t go too far wrong.

MK and Con.

_______________________________

Queen’s Students’ Union has organised a vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance on Monday 21 November at 6:30pm in front of the Lanyon gates. Everyone is welcome. For more info, click here.

STEPHEN EMAIL SIG

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GUEST BLOG: My firsthand account on why a loud and clear ‘yes’ is so important.

HOMEPAGE-LOUD-AND-CLEAR

Last year I was raped by a guy I had been seeing. He doesn’t realize that he has raped me. It took me months to come to terms with the words ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault’. I told myself that I didn’t fight him off enough. I told myself that it only last for a few minutes. I told myself it was just sex that I didn’t want to have. Now I know that I was raped. But he doesn’t. When faced with that heavy word RAPE. He blew up into a temper. “I’M not a rapist! Rapists are scum of the earth. Rapists deserve to rot. Rapists have no ounce of human in them.”

So now he walks the world, not knowing that what he did, was in fact rape. A rapist is in fact human. A rapist doesn’t have to be mentally deranged. A rapist can in fact, be in pain, seeking control. But the harm and destruction that they cause is unimaginable, until it happens to you.

He broke into my room one night, a few days after I ended things. We had just spent a lovely evening with our friends. It was the first time in a long time that I had felt like myself. That night I forgot to lock the door. He came into my room and crashed on the bed. I tried to get him out, but he is twice the size of me. So finally I lay down in my bed beside him, unable to sleep with my eyes open. Why didn’t I leave? THIS THOUGHT HAUNTS ME TO THIS DAY. As I awoke the next morning he was taking off my clothes. Why didn’t I shout and scream or try to run away? THIS THOUGHT HAUNTS ME TO THIS DAY. He pushed me on my front with my head pushed into the mattress. As he inserted his penis into me, I repeatedly said no. Why didn’t I shout and scream? THIS THOUGHT HAUNTS ME TO THIS DAY. For five whole minutes I said no, no, no, no. Instead of focusing on what happened to me. I focused on the word no which I was saying.

After that, I got up. I got on with my day. I didn’t get a shower. I didn’t go to the police. I carried on as normal. Trauma doesn’t work in the way we expect it to. It’s not like a movie. Terrifying at the time and no repercussions later. We don’t react in the way that you would expect to either. For months, I carried on living my life. Living in the same accommodation as him, avoiding him at all cost. Sleeping in the same bed I was raped in. I studied, I listened to music, I spent time with my friends. I couldn’t afford to break down. I was studying abroad, away from my family.

It wasn’t until I knew that there was solid support beneath me that I really started to fall. My mind was riddled by questions, not only of the event, but of every sexual encounter I have ever experienced. The person that I am was lost to everyone and myself. I cut myself off from everyone I loved. I couldn’t let anyone see the person I had become, and with no explanation. Who I was in every sense of being was lost, until one day I decided to build myself up again.

The journey isn’t over yet and still questions and memories haunt me. Sex isn’t easy either. However, I have found a strength and understanding which I didn’t even know was there and it only grows by the day.

Someone not understanding the word consent broke me and completely changed me. And it has broken and changed so many girls and guys. So I just implore you to ask yourself if you know what consent is. And to be honest with yourself with every past and future experience, to question, was that really consent?

Anonymous

————————————————————————————————————————————–

If you have been affected by anything that has been expressed in this personal account from one of our Students, there is support available throughout the province.

Nexus NI offers free counselling to ANYONE who has been raped, sexually assaulted or abused. Contact: 02871260566/ 02890326803 / info@nexusni.org / nexusni.org

The Rowan provides support and services 24/7 to individuals affected by sexual violence. 08003894424 www.therowan.net

24hr Domestic and sexual violence helpline is available on 0808 2000 247 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone, male or female affected my domestic or sexual violence.

Your Welfare Officer, Jess Elder

T: 028 9097 1002

E: Su.vpwelfare@qub.ac.uk

Posted in Student Officers, Welfare | Leave a comment

Become a School or Course Rep!

We’re searching for nominations for this year’s School & Course Reps!

They’re the vital link between our students and academic staff. They listen to students’ views, feed these back to staff members and make the changes that students want to see happen.

Each course at Queen’s has at least one Course Rep. They do some really important work to represent you:

COURSE REPS

Each School at Queen’s has one School Rep. They work across the School in different ways:

SCHOOL REPS

Becoming a School or Course Rep is an amazing opportunity for you to make a huge impact at Queen’s and improve the experience of all your friends and fellow students. Just look at some of the things they’ve done in the past…

SCHOOL AND COURSE REPS INFOGRAPHIC

Plus you’ll meet loads of new people, get lots of training, learn new skills and could even be rewarded with a Queen’s Degree Plus Accreditation.

Find out more and nominate yourself on the Students’ Union website

  • to be a Course Rep by 5pm, Friday 7 October
  • to be a School Rep by 5pm, Wednesday 12 October

 

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