Conference held at Regent’s marks the launch of a new mental health initiative by Beifang International Education Group

Grow Together 2019, held at Regent’s on the 28 October 2019, aimed to raise awareness and find solutions to the mental health challenges faced by international students. 

This inaugural conference, to be held annually hereafter, is a collaborative effort supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Chinese Students and Scholars Association UK, and by Regent’s Institute of Languages & Culture and Student Services team.

The conference started with an opening speech by Lord Wei of Shoreditch, who became the youngest member of the House of Lords when he received his peerage in 2010. He shared his experience as a second-generation immigrant, and as a student at Oxford at a time when there was not enough support for mental health problems. He extended his thanks to Beifang and affiliated organisations for recognising the need for such an initiative and wished it a great success.

Following this, Dr Babatunde A. Ahonsi, representative of UNFPA and former representative of UNFPA Ghana, delivered a keynote speech on the topic of investing in the power of young people for mental health promotion. He argued that mental health is one of the most serious issued faced by today’s younger generations, especially in countries where women’s rights and youth development are not fully established in society. By showing how these issues impact mental health among young people, Dr Babatunde demonstrated the huge potential benefit that initiatives focusing on mental health can bring to society. Speaking to the entire audience, Dr Babatunde called upon everyone from all walks of life to protect the young generation.

The keynote was followed by a joint presention by Dr Gregory Shields, consultant liaison psychiatrist at Maudsley Learning and King’s College Hospital, and Hannah Iannelli, research assistant and training coordinator at Maudsley Learning, Maudsley Simulation, and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. Dr Gregory Shields explained the different concepts and symptoms of mental health, mental illness and mental disorder. He argued that there is no difference between mental health and physical health, and that more importance should be placed on those with mental health crises. 

Hannah Iannelli, meanwhile, argued that different cultural and social backgrounds have a big impact on mental health treatments and outcomes, and that with this knowledge we can begin to better understand how to improve mental wellbeing.

The conference ended with a Q&A panel hosted by Dr Emma Lawrence, founder of It Gets Brigher and researcher at Mental Health Innovations at Imperial College. Through personal stories, the panel showed how both individuals and institutions can contribute to the fight against mental health issues.

Other panel members included Haoran Zheng, project officer on Youth Leadership at UNFPA China; Irina Filip, Shout Crisis volunteer; Pamela Taylor, Regent’s student support manager; Tatiana Doronina, Regent’s Student Union President; and Chen Chen, a representative from the Chinese Students and Scholars Association