Meet Matthew Axbey - our Janey Antoniou 2017 Winner
Digital team's blog
Each year, Rethink Mental Illness present their Janey Antoniou Award to a campaigner with lived experience who has made an outstanding contribution to addressing stigma and improving the lives of people affected by mental illness. This year we are very proud to announce the winner is Matthew Axbey, who is celebrated for his work developing mental health support for students in Kent. In this special blog, Matthew talks about his own journey with depression and how that has shaped his campaigning work.
I first realised something was wrong during my first term at university. It didn’t take too long to work out what: I had depression. I would spend the next few years slowly coming to terms with that. Things got easier as they went on. The more times I have had to admit to being unwell, the easier it has become. This weekend, I received a national award which recognises my contribution to changing the lives of people with mental illness.
My main involvement with campaigning for better mental health came during my year at Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) training to become a teacher. Student mental health is a particularly difficult area. Most students are living away from home for the first time, without their support networks, friends, families and NHS services they are used to. Universities are often doing their best but faced with a rising epidemic of young people with mental health problems and a shrinking pot of funding, mental health support is far too often feeling the strain.
Student Minds is the charity dedicated to improving the state of students’ mental health. I set up a campaigns group affiliated to Student Minds and set about doing what I could to make a difference. Christ Church Student Minds started out as me at a table at societies fair. However, only a week after our first meeting, we were already running our first event for World Mental Health Day, raising awareness right in the middle of campus.
Over the rest of the year, we hosted several events, climaxing in University Mental Health Day, an event marked across the UK. At CCCU, we took over the central open space of campus with an inflatable assault course, carnival games and a whole range of activities from societies and sports teams getting involved, giving a real community feel.
Another project I got going was setting up a Nightline in Canterbury. Nightline is a helpline similar to Samaritans run by students, for students. They operate at universities around the UK but there was nothing in Canterbury. Working with a few enthusiastic volunteers, I established the project and the Nightline is currently fully budgeted for its first year as a joint project between CCCU and the University of Kent.
This year I am chairing the new-look Student Minds Steering Group. A current focus is looking at the transition between school and university, an area that will hopefully tie in well with my career as a secondary teacher. One of the big issues facing universities is that they are receiving more and more students with poor mental health at the beginning of university.
I believe that by instilling secondary pupils with a better attitude and understanding of mental health, we can provide an effective preventative rather than reactive solution to poor mental health at universities.
Of course, there is no one solution to the problems of poor mental health in education. All too often, stress is glamorised and normalised rather than being recognised as a contributing factor towards poor mental health.
There is a long way to go and look forward to being able to be a part of bringing change to schools and universities so that all pupils and students can enjoy their time in education and make the transition into the wider world.
I am honoured to be the winner of this year’s Janey Antoniou Award. Janey’s work continues to affect thousands of people and I hope I can live up to that legacy.
If you know someone who is doing exceptional work to improve the lives of people affected by mental illness and would like to be first to hear when 2018 nominations open, please sign up to our newsletter.