Edi student Shanna Su has won the UNiDAYS Student Woman of the Year award

Shanna co-founded the student-run mental health charity Conscious Edinburgh

Edinburgh medical student Shanna Su has won the UNiDAYS Student Woman of the Year 2021 award for her work surrounding student mental health.

Shanna co-founded Conscious Edinburgh: a student-run mental health charity that offers safe spaces for Edi students to talk about their mental health, as well as providing student-led support for those who need it.

She has also funded training for multiple Edi uni students in mental health first aid, as well as raising over £30k for different mental health causes.

We spoke to Shanna about this amazing achievement, and what Conscious is all about.

Tell us a bit about yourself

My name is Shanna and I have just finished my final year of medicine. I am about to start working as a Junior Doctor in General Psychiatry in Leeds.

What is Conscious Edinburgh?

Conscious Edinburgh is a mental health charity ran by students for students. We aim to provide safe spaces for students to speak about their mental health.

This year we have successfully started peer support groups in which students are given the opportunity to speak about their experiences in a non-judgemental, safe space.

Since becoming a charity ourselves, we have fundraised to provide Mental Health First Aid Training to at least one member of every club and society at the University of Edinburgh – so that most people will know at least one person trained with these life-saving skills.

We also run regular mental health workshops – Conscious Conversations – and deliver these to various clubs and societies. Conscious Conversations cover the common signs and symptoms of a variety of mental health conditions and importantly, how best to approach someone you think may need help.

Over the years, we have found that people are often very willing to speak up about mental health, but they worry they may say or react in the ‘wrong’ way – we hope these sessions provide students with the confidence to start those conversations.

Why did you set up Conscious?

Conscious was set up initially by my best friend Anusan and his group of friends from home. It formed on the back of a personal tragedy in which their best friend Rahoul Biswas-Hawkes took his own life in the first year of university.

As a group of men, their vocabulary seldom included that of mental health or even their feelings. The news came as a shock to them all and they decided to set up Conscious in Cambridge, where Rahoul studied, to raise money for different mental health charities.

Anusan wanted to bring this up to Edinburgh and asked me to help him form Conscious Edinburgh. We took inspiration from the notorious Oxbridge balls and recreated that here and raised over £27,000.

The following year, as President of Conscious Edinburgh we decided that we wanted to do more locally within Edinburgh, in particular with the student population. Therefore, we established what we wanted to change and registered to be a charity ourselves.

What are you most proud of that Conscious has achieved?

I am so proud of achieving charity status – to have national recognition that what we are doing is important and worthy means a lot.

Does Conscious have any exciting plans coming up?

Yes – we have so many!!

Our applications for next year’s committee are now open. We are looking for students who are passionate about mental health to lead our activities on campus such as our peer support groups and various other mental wellbeing workshops as well as students who are interested in organising our next Conscious ball.

We’ve had a year off from the ball so we’re looking to bring it back bigger and better than ever, with more food trucks, live entertainment and non-musical entertainment.

We are also very excited to announce that we are looking to provide our very own Conscious Counsellors and Therapists. The University services are oversubscribed and not everyone gets seen in sufficient time. We hope to change that and help people who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to seek help privately.

If you’re interested in applying for the Conscious committee you can do so here.

What’s your favourite memory from the last Conscious Ball?

The Conscious Ball is like no other in Edinburgh – I would highly encourage people to attend the next one. The profits from the ball go directly back into funding our mental health first aid courses as well as the counselling sessions.

My favourite memory would be standing on the stage and introducing our headlining act Scouting for Girls, and seeing the immense support the student population has for Conscious and the work we are doing.

What would you like to see Edinburgh University do in terms of mental health services and support?

I can acknowledge that the University already has measures in place to support students’ mental health and wellbeing, however these services are often underfunded. Therefore, one very simple thing they could do is inject more money into them.

I would also like to see the University be more transparent about mental health issues, specifically the number of students who unfortunately take their own lives. This information is currently not available as the University ‘does not record them’ for obvious reasons.

We do not need statistics to understand the prevalence of the issue at stake but I feel that the lack of transparency is a problem that needs to be addressed, and the University needs to be held partially accountable – this is something I would like Conscious to lobby.

What does winning the award mean to you?

I feel so happy and overwhelmed that I have received this award and I’m so shocked that Conscious and I were picked out amongst other such amazing women and causes.

It is a real privilege to be given this opportunity to shed the spotlight on what we are doing with Conscious on a national platform.

I really hope that the light shed on what we are doing at Conscious will encourage other students all over the UK to set up similar societies and platforms to not only educate others on the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses, but to create safe spaces for students to speak up about their mental health.

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