A week out from exams, the James Cook University Law Students’ Society (JCULSS) decided to hold a mental health event in a way that was not only novel, but fun and creative.
As opposed to the now traditional paint and sip evening, the society put on a paint and chat afternoon. Here students could express themselves artistically, as well as speak to each other and get information about mental health leading into the most stressful time of their semester.
Mark Fenlon, a member of the Wellbeing Working Group, was so impressed with this approach to mental health that he investigated this idea further by interviewing JCULSS President, Alana Carbone:
MF: Alana, how long have you been President of JCULSS?
AC: I have been lucky enough to be president of the JCULSS since last October.
MF: The JCULSS Paint and Chat Day has been marketed to start a discussion around wellness and mental health issues. What prompted JCULSS to start looking at holding events that were focused on mental health issues and law students?
AC: We all know law can be a really draining profession on our mental health, this is the same for those studying as well. We not only wanted to lift our own mental health but learn and develop the skills we can take into our careers to help encourage good mental health. We are just lucky enough we have a position that we can help others learn these skills as well.
MF: These events involving painting are usually marketed as paint and sip days, and indeed, when I was at university, mental health issues were probably handled in a less healthy way with cheap tins of beer at the JCU Bludger’s Bar. What was it about incorporating painting, with free snacks, hot chocolate and soft drinks that the society thought would assist with starting a discussion about mental health?
AC: Although it is a popular way to de-stress, drinking and partying aren’t the kind of activities we wanted to promote at an event that focuses on good health – both mental and physical. We want people to learn the skills to cope with mental health issues – not suppress them. How this actually started was we threw around ideas like a movie night or some yoga, but then our committee asked the question to one another, “what would you like, if you were feeling stressed”. This really helped us get into the right motivation behind our event. We collectively decided the event needs to have some kind of talking or sharing aspect, and watching a movie or doing some yoga or meditation, although relaxing, isn’t to the core of what we are wanting to promote. This being – get together with other students and talking about our issues. Even if you aren’t stressed in your study, you may be the helping hand someone else needs to bounce ideas off, or to just be a listening ear. We honestly think this is the best way to promote good mental health among students and young people. And we think it is so important people develop the skills and feel comfortable talking to each other about any issues they are facing – so they can then take this into their career and adult life.
MF: Are there going to be any mental health resources provided to students at this event?
AC: Yes! This is something we really wanted to provide at this event. There will be resources available from Headspace for everyone to take home!
MF: It seems from the marketing, that this event is being put on free for the law students. So aside from snacks, is JCULSS providing easels, canvases and all required painting supplies?
AC: Of course! We knew we had to make this event completely free as we recognise good mental health is not a privilege – it’s a right. We wanted people to have absolutely no barriers to come along and de-stress and learn the tips to manage their stress, way into their adult life. That’s why JCULSS will provide everything you will need to create your painting masterpiece, including easels, a paint by numbers canvas, brushes, paints and of course our snacks, drinks and hot chocolate!
MF: I assume that the time of the event, right before examinations start was intentional?
AC: Definitely, this is the time when we are most stressed! I see people camped out in the library and other study spots trying to get some last-minute study in, and honestly, people really struggle, people don’t eat correctly, they don’t take time for themselves, they are under a lot of pressure and don’t act like themselves. I hope we can alleviate that stressful period, even for just one afternoon.
MF: Is this the first event of this type that JCULSS has held, and are there plans of expanding mental health-related programs or events for law students in the future?
AC: That’s our plan! This is a first of its kind for not only JCULSS but many societies here on campus. We are hoping to not only create an annual event that gets bigger every year, but to start a chain reaction to other societies to promote good mental health in their fields too!
Mark also asked Noela L’Estrange, the Chair of the Queensland Law Society’s Wellbeing Working Group for her thoughts on the event.
“I am very impressed to see the efforts of the JCU students to address some of the issues arising around mental wellbeing. I’m pleased the QLS was able to support this project with some chocolate to support the learning experience.
“The mental health of the profession is of concern to all its participants. I congratulate the students on introducing awareness of managing one’s own health and wellbeing while they are still students. Hopefully this learning will come with them as they progress in their legal careers.”