Student of the Year awarded to mental health activist

Student of the Year awarded to mental health activist

By Rebecca Coxon

Tayaba Nicholson was named National Union of Students' Student of the Year 2011 last month in honour of the society ‘Mental Wealth Matters’ that she set up at her University. With the help of Papyrus, a national charity that helps to prevent young suicide, Tayaba was concerned about the rate of student suicides and decided to take some positive action.

"I became aware at the end of my second year that there were quite a lot of student suicides and I wanted to set something up to help," she said.

"I was doing mental health nursing and I felt incredibly passionate about it.”

Ms Nicholson, 24, started the campaign during the second year of her nursing degree at the University of Manchester. She chose to specialise her in the area of mental health, before graduating earlier this summer.

Initially, Tabaya and her fellow students wanted to set up a support group but decided to focus on promoting awareness instead.

"We felt the university offered a lot of support already through its counselling service, so we set out to promote awareness of mental health issues."

Fun events with a positive impact

The first event to get underway by Mental Wealth Matters involved "hopeful-tagging" around campus.

"We made all these luggage tags and got people to come in and write really positive messages. It was really bright and colourful, and they had helpline numbers on them too."

The society also led ‘cheer-raising’ activities during exam periods - including free back massages, hula hooping, and workshops all whilst handing out free sandwiches. In addition, the group held discussion nights to promote positive messages about wellbeing and the importance of good mental health.

"It made me look at another way in which you can promote mental health awareness and well-being," she said.

The nursing graduate, who is now job-hunting, hopes that the award she received from the NUS would help break the stigma around mental health and encourage more universities to raise awareness of the issues.

Changing the stereotype about students

Tayaba, who was originally from Wales, said: “A lot of people think students don’t work hard and spend all day watching daytime television.

“But the reality is that the majority do work really hard and can find it really difficult to deal with exams and coursework.

“When people go to university they are often living away from home for the first time, paying bills and living with new people. These seem like small things but it can be a big deal for a lot of people.”

Liam Burns, president of the NUS, said the award was well-deserved: “Tayaba is a true example of an outstanding student. Her contribution has touched the lives of so many students in Manchester this year and her legacy will continue for years to come.

“Mental health is a topic that affects the lives of many students and her tireless work has raised awareness and changed the lives of many students.”

She was put forward for the title by the University of Manchester Students Union welfare officer Hannah Paterson and “thrilled” to be nominated.

"When we got the email to say I'd been shortlisted, I had a look at my competition and thought 'there's no chance I'll win it'. I was completely shocked when I did.”

She added:  “This award is really for the one in four people who have been affected by mental health issues in some way.”

It is the second year running a University of Manchester student has won the title of NUS Student of the Year.

Making a real difference on campus

Dr Pat Sponder, Head of Student Support and Services at the university, said Ms Nicholson's work had made a real difference on campus.

"The UMSU Mental Wealth Matters Society is an extremely positive contribution to student wellbeing," she said.

"Mental ill health is a significant problem for many young people and campaigns such as those run by Mental Wealth Matters help to overcome stigma, generate peer support and raise awareness of sources of help and advice.

"We are delighted that Tayaba has received recognition for her efforts. Anything that raises the profile of mental ill health is to be welcomed."

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