When you meet someone who is passionate about Wellbeing and Mental health, it is hard not to get swept up by their enthusiasm.
This is the case when you first meet Marzana Mehdi, the new Chair of CUSU’s Wellbeing and Mental Health Community. Her mission to help others shines through and the need for students to feel that they are part of an extended family is one of her top priorities.
Originally from Bangladesh, Marzana is in her second year of a Business Management degree and was elected to her current position in April.
“I really wasn’t looking to become Chair, but CUSU encouraged me by making sure I got the best possible support and resources for it that I decided to give it a go. I was already an active member of the community and when I was asked to consider going for the role, I put my heart and soul into my campaign.”
Her campaign highlighted the importance of supporting students at times when they needed it the most and to show them that there is a caring community that is ready to step in to help.
Marzana feels strongly about offering a supportive environment to students because of something that happened to a friend of hers:
“A close friend of mine was going through a particularly difficult time and seemed more introverted than usual. I didn’t think anything of it at first but the more I thought about it and the way she was acting, the more concerned I became.
“I had a chat to my Mum. She is my go-to person if I ever need advice and she told me to be there for my friend and to listen to her and offer her a shoulder to cry on, if she needed.”
Marzana then started to drop in on her pal for coffee and a chat at different times of the day and “we used to have really good chats and I felt that I found out more about her in those six months than I did in the six years that I had known her.”
Just by taking the time to listen to her friend and show her that she cared made all the difference:
“With just a fraction of my attention, my friend became a whole new different person with a positive outlook on life, instead of a negative one and all this was because I took the time to genuinely listen to what she had to say. I wasn’t judgemental, I didn’t give advice, I just listened and she really appreciated it”.
Having seen what a difference she had seen in her friend, Marzana bought this experience to her campaigning and wanted to make the same kind of difference to students at Coventry University.
When Marzana came to the UK from Bangladesh, she did a foundation year at Coventry University’s London Campus. She did her research online to find out which University would be a good choice and Coventry’s student satisfaction rates and the rankings in the league tables sealed the deal!
“I am the eldest child in our family and the most loved one, so leaving them to come to the UK was as exciting as it was painful. My parents are very proud of me and as much as I was looking forward to it, leaving home and coming to a new country was very stressful.
“I had a lot of support from the international student centre and the wellbeing officer in London who put me in touch with a lot of groups and societies that I could join to make me feel less homesick – and I was very homesick.
“My Dad came to Coventry with me to have a look around the campus before I decided to come and do my degree and I was amazed as to how big the University was, but the one thing that I noticed, was how cosmopolitan it was. There were students from all over the world and I immediately felt at home!”
In her first year in Coventry, she joined the water sports society and did a lot of travelling to different beaches in the UK – travelling is one of Marzana’s passions and so too is trying new things:
“I was encouraged to try surfing and I absolutely loved it. CUSU has helped me to explore so many different things, all of which I have found beneficial to my own mental health and I am so grateful for all the opportunities I have already had and continue to have.”
There is a lot that Marzana wants to achieve in her time as Chair of the Wellbeing and Mental Health Community:
“Where do I begin? I would like to build a community filled with members who all support each other. There are students that think they are the only ones who feel pressure or loneliness when they come to University. I think it is worse for international students as they come to a new country and a new culture where English isn’t their first language and it is a struggle.
“These students carry on as best as they can, but find themselves sinking into a depression which could have a negative impact on their mental health. The main thing to put across to them is that they are not the only ones who feel like this and they should not be afraid to ask for help.”
However, asking for help is sometimes easier said than done and Marzana wants the community to reach out to those students in a way that it not intrusive:
“Isolation and being lonely and homesick is part of being a student and some cope better with it than others. I want people to look out for each other I want to put lots of events on that bring people together.”
A few of the successes that Marzana is proud of are the ‘Doggie De-stress events’ and the salsa dancing classes:
“So many students came up to me and said how much they enjoyed these events because they were friendly, sociable and great for reducing stress.
The next doggie de-stress day is on 10 October in support of International Mental Health day and there will be lots of giveaways!
Her next ambition is to sort out regular yoga sessions as they are great for relaxation.
It is easy to see why Marzana is in the position she is. Her welcoming attitude, her openness and need to help others is why she feels positive about her role:
“I want our students to feel part of a new family; a supportive community that is there for them in good times and in bad. I want to encourage more social activities and also get access to professional counselling should students feel the need to seek extra help. If I had a legacy to leave after my time in office, it would be that I was instrumental in helping to set up this kind of service”.
As well as the responsibilities of being Chair of this community, Marzana has done some volunteering work with the Myton Hospice as part of the MADD scheme (Make A Difference Day). She was responsible for collecting items to put into charity boxes and working as part of a team, which she really enjoyed:
“Teamwork is the key to success as when you work together, you achieve great things” and it is working as part of team that she hopes will make the Wellbeing and Mental Health Community thrive.
“I think Coventry is an amazing place. Everyone is so friendly where you can meet people from different countries and make friends for life.
“I want this community to be welcoming to anyone who needs support and be able to provide events and social activities where they can relax and not feel alone or isolated. Their social skills will improve and so will their ability to manage their studies as they know that there are people who care who can help when things get too much.
“We all need a helping hand from time to time and it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. It takes courage and once you take that first step, everything else will fall into place.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I can honestly say that you won’t be the first person to ask for support and you won’t be the last.
“Remember, whether you’re a UK student, or an international one, we are all here to learn and to share our experiences and we are family – and families support each other.”