The Student Mental Health Conference 2017

The Student Mental Health Conference is running for the third year in a row at the University of Liverpool. The day aims to bring students together to share experiences of mental health, both personal and non-personal. The day encompasses mental health though speakers, smaller group discussions, work shops and more!

Dr MacDonald, one of the key speakers at this year’s event, shared a short biography with us.

Dr Robert G MacDonald RIBA.
Reader in. Architecture.

I am a fully Qualified Architect (Liverpool University 1970) and I see my “Life world” through the “eyes of my skin”. My research into Mental Health is based on participation observation; I have experienced inside three Mental Hospitals and have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Since the age of 19 I have been diagnosed Bi-Polar (at times not correctly) and experienced numerous extreme “episodes” of varying degrees of polarity.

I have thought a lot about what’s it’s like to be alone inside  a single bedroom under observation. What is therapy and does it help my condition ? Is there an alternative to medication ? Is there another prescription for psychiatry ? Will I be medicated for ever ? Most Probably.

I think it’s very important to talk transparently  about our Mental Health so to destigmatise and open up our feelings; it pays to talk. Once When I came out Hospital my Consultant advised me to talk and I did, almost manically. The general public have a fixed view of mental health, e.g.  Bi-Polar was described to me as “fashionable” by a human Resources Manager !

The public and even some professionals just do not understand. Some colleagues are aware and say it’s prevalent in creative Schools of Art. Well, apparently so is dyslexia and the autistic spectrum. Learning difficulties are viewed as frightening and uncomfortable to face up too. Many artists have experienced Mental Illness and The 1:4 figure is always referred too some even say it’s 1:3.

Through these perspectives I have taught LJMU architectural students about designing hospitals, a centre for Autism Excellence and most recently “Design for Dementia.” I deliver an annual keynote lecture to Mental Health Nursing Students at LJMU. I have supervised MArch students about mental health subjects. I have even run creative workshops for Midwifes.

Currently, I am Director of Studies for a PhD about An International Investigation into Dementia Friendly Environments. We are studying in Holland and Japan. I am a MerseyCare NHS Foundation Trust Design Champion. This involves scrutinising proposals for new mental Health facilities; I like to think that I am returning something back ?

I tend to experience creative mania rather than depression although I do have The Black Dog occasionally. Andrew Solomon on You Tube says it’s the human condition. He says the opposite of depression is “vitality” not happiness. That’s what I search for “vitality”.

I search for vitality in comedy and recently, I have discovered The Laughterhouse House Comedy Store where I performed a “gig” to an audience of 100. I used comedy to tell my Life story and Mental experiences. I believe laughter is good medicine and it’s a fine line between tragedy and comedy. If my comedy can make people laugh, that’s good; if it makes people think positively about their own mental well-being, that’s great !

The Student Mental Health Conference timetable is as follows –

13.00 – Welcome talk
13.05 – B-eat (eating disorders talk)
13.25 – Laura Abbate (personal experience talk)
13.45 – Lunch and mingling with charities/organisations
14.35 – Papyrus (suicide awareness workshop)
15.00 – Discussion Sessions
16.00 – Dr. James Cruickshank (personal experience talk)
16.20 – Dr. Robert MacDonald (comedic personal experience talk titled ‘Bi Polar Tragedy or Comedy?’
16.40 – Dr. Jenna Kenyani (personal experience talk)
17.00 – Closing note

To hear Dr MacDondald’s talk and for more information about the day, click here.

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