23rd AUA Annual Lecture

Changing the lens on mental health | Alastair Campbell

On Tuesday, 24 November we held our 23rd AUA Annual Lecture, which this year was held online via Zoom. The lecture was given by Alastair Campbell on the subject of ‘Changing the lens on mental health’. Alastair spoke frankly about difficulties with his own mental health and laid out some of the changes he would like to see in workplaces and peoples’ attitudes in order to achieve a society that is more accepting of those struggling with their mental health.

Below we talk about a few aspects of the lecture and there is also a recording of the talk available for our members to view.

Mark Crittenden
Head of Student Centres
University of Greenwich

This year’s annual lecture with Alastair Campbell was a fantastic, thought provoking and engaging presentation which has left me with a few things to take back to the office and home, but there is one in particular that I will come to. 

Mental Health is something very important to me and my family (my mum being a Mental Health professional) and knowing several people very close to me having had poor mental health in the past that needed professional interventions. It is something that I try and advocate with my teams back in the office and do my best to provide an environment where we can discuss it openly. So, the topic was of huge interest to me and I was really looking forward to what would be explored. 

Firstly, I have to say the way that the Lecture was offered remotely did not take away from the experience to the extent that many would think. Although it would have been great to see colleagues and friends at the lecture as well as be in the room of our speaker to soak up the atmosphere, the nature of Alastair Campbell’s presentation kept me engaged throughout. 

One of the reasons I feel the lecture was so engaging was because of the candid and open delivery, which as the presentation progressed was one of the main things I took away and reinforced my beliefs. Throughout the lecture Alastair shared some of his personal journey through mental health and to me did not seem ashamed or embarrassed by it; instead almost embraced the learning and reflections that these tougher times provided him with.

As key messages presented to us in the lecture were around; reducing the stigma of mental health, stop defining people by their mental health conditions, be open and talk about mental health, be prepared to admit “I’m not ok” and to recognise there are lessons to learn through every experience, it was refreshing for the presentation to actively demonstrate these ideas. 

However, there is one of these messages that is my biggest take-away from the lecture. It is the one that is making me reflect the most and the one (that as I sit here and type this) that I think I personally struggle with. I am sure I am not alone in this, but the one I am thinking about the most is being prepared to admit “I’m not ok”.

Everything Alastair expressed in the lecture were things that I already believe and hold true. I don’t define people by a mental health condition, I will check in with my team and make sure they are supported, appreciate whole heartedly that mental health is a sliding scale and see that history shows very clearly that having a mental health condition doesn’t stop you from achievements (Alastair reminding us of some the “greats” in history that had or would likely have been diagnosed with a mental health condition if assessed today), but am I am open as I should be? I definitely believe that this could of huge benefit meaning openness leads to openness, but do I practice this myself?

Towards the end of the lecture it was asked how we can change the perception of mental health and make it possible for people to speak with their leaders. Half the answer was about leaders putting mental health on the agenda as a priority. The other half was managers and leaders being encouraged to share their experiences and be open about their experiences. And one of these is something that perhaps I need to be better at, as well as other colleagues.

So, what are my biggest take homes from this annual lecture? I think it will have to be not be afraid to say “I am no ok” or “I need to stop”, to make sure everyone I work with know the same and to let them also know that I will not be afraid to do it, so they can see the safe environment to talk more openly about their mental health.

This lecture demonstrates the value of the AUA’s commitment to providing opportunities not only to add to our professional development, but also our personal development. This particular lecture and the messages delivered show that what you can learn with the AUA is not just limited to the work place or our sector, but can reach beyond to the other parts of our lives. 

This year’s Annual Lecture was a really thought provoking and personal talk (from AC) that covered his own story but also the importance of having the right support structures in place for issues around mental health. Many employers have made significant improvements in this area, in particular with the impact of Covid, but there is still much more we need to do to remove the continued stigma of this and the impact on staff and students. “Changing the lens” on how we view this is essential and a key takeaway from me was the need for leaders to be more open and so make this a topic people do talk about without fear. The other was about making sure you are shorter/taller than Alastair to avoid being headbutted!

Chris Ince
Chris Ince
Secretary and Registrar
London Metropolitan University

This recording is only viewable by AUA members. If you can’t view the recording, you may need to log in. If you are logged into the site and you still cannot view the recording, it may mean that your membership has expired – you can renew your membership in My AUA.

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