Student nurse campaigner ‘inspired’ to fight for mental health supportRuth Mabhiza
Student nurse campaigner ‘inspired’ to fight for mental health support
A student nurse from Southend in Essex has set up a campaign to support people’s mental health while on a night out, having been motivated by her own crisis.
Leah Mercer, 23, has launched Are You Ok? to help young people who might be struggling with their mental health when out drinking alcohol.
Ms Mercer, who began her nursing degree at the University of Essex this September, said there was little support available in the event of having a mental health crisis.
She told Nursing Times that, during March this year, she found herself in a mental health crisis in a nightclub bathroom
She told Nursing Times that, during March this year, she found herself in a mental health crisis in a nightclub bathroom.
She said: “I was struggling with my mental health a bit at the time. I had just started some new antidepressants and I went on a night out with friends, and I think the mixture of a negative ‘headspace’, the new medication and alcohol put me in a really dark place.
“I think sometimes when you drink, it can either make you really, really happy or really, really sad. It just went the wrong way for me,” she said.
“Then I realised that there’s no support for it. If you become physically ill on a night out there are people around to help you, but if you become mentally ill there’s not.”
While her campaign is focused primarily in drinking establishments, because alcohol is a depressant, Ms Mercer noted that it might not be the only reason why someone was feeling low.
“Anything that alters your thoughts and behaviour is likely to affect your mental health,” she noted.
A few days after her crisis, Ms Mercer reached out on Instagram to see if other people had experienced something similar and if there was a need for more support.
“A lot of people said: ‘That’s a really good idea’,” she explained. “A graphic designer approached me and said ‘I’ll make some posters for you’, so then the posters were made.
“People look at the posters but there’s actually so much work behind it – it’s like an iceberg.”
It took from March to the end of August for the campaign to officially get up and running.
Are You Ok? has three aims: to encourage establishments to be more aware and more supportive of mental illness and its symptoms, to provide individuals with an opportunity to open up and seek help if they need it and to continue to challenge the stigma against mental illness.
Ms Mercer said: “If a venue puts the posters up, [it shows] that all the staff are aware and willing to help. If someone asks for help, they can deal with it on an individual basis, so they can refer to wherever they think is best.
“We put our posters up in the first venue around mid-September. At the end of September, we hit 10,000 followers on Instagram and it’s been growing since then.
“Last week we were at 64,000 and we’re now at 83,000. It’s gone up by almost 20,000 in a week. It’s just growing so quickly,” she added.
The posters include contact details for the charity Samaritans and also NHS 111.
In addition, Ms Mercer explained how her experiences battling mental ill-health inspired her to pursue a career as a mental health nurse.
She said: “I’ve always been interested in mental health, because I’ve struggled with my own mental health in the past.
“It’s something I’ve always been interested in and passionate about and I decided to do nursing because it’s a career for life, it can take you anywhere.
“I’ve gone through quite a few different therapies and that’s definitely inspired me.”
While the campaign is open to anyone, it is young people of university age who have shown the most interest – and both men and women have sought support.
Ms Mercer has recognised a shift in how her generation talk about mental health, and she wants to continue its upward trajectory.
She said: “I’ve seen it more since I’ve launched the campaign and been open with my mental health. I get more people approaching me because I’m more open about it.
“A lot of people are speaking out about their mental health, more than ever before.”
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