April – Autism Awareness Month

In the International Students’ Committee, every regional representative is in charge of a portfolio as you can see when you look on our website. However, because we are fully-rounded people, also interested in our colleagues’ campaigns as well as interested in general with the issues that gravitate around them, sometimes another one of us writes or finds a more relevant article regarding a certain portfolio.

It was thanks to Lucy, the Home rep, that I decided to post about the Autism Awareness Month, because she wrote an incredibly beautiful poem to describe the Spectrum of Autism. Please read and reflect upon it:

“A Complex Portrait of Me

You might think that you know me.

You might think that because you’ve seen Rain Man or read The Curious Incident of the Cat in the Daytime you somehow understand me better than I know myself.

Well here’s the first thing you should know

You don’t.

My ASD does not define me. It’s a part of me, yes, but don’t reduce me to my diagnosis.

My diagnosis is not for you, it’s for me.  It’s my guidebook around the intricate borders of where my world meets yours.

It’s not a ticket for you to wave around, or exclaim that your social disability quota has finally been met because you know one of Those People.

My diagnosis is not for you. It’s my signpost, my guidebook, my safety net.

Don’t reduce me to my diagnosis. I am more than that. I am a brother mother sister father friend colleague pupil neighbour maybe even someone’s lover.

But more than that, and here’s something that you’ll struggle to hear:

I am not the same as every other person in every other town with ASD.

S is for Spectrum, OK?

We’re not an in/out binary tick-box of experience. We’re not an on/off lightswitch to help you classify us into your tiny restrictive boxes. We are bigger than that, more real than that.

High-functioning or low-functioning. Autism or Asperger’s. Boy or Girl. Pre-schooler or Octogenarian. Mathematician or Poet. Code-breaker or Artist. Don’t fall into the big fat bear trap of assuming that we’re all Savantic Memory Men who you can take to the Casino in an expensive suit and use and abuse for profit. We are as diverse in our number as you are.

My diagnosis is something that I may not disclose to you.

I may not want to expose myself to your judgment your constant desire to presume to assume that you know me better than I know myself because you have a big awkward label that you can stick across my face.

How many times do I have to tell you? Don’t reduce me to my diagnosis. I am more than that.

Who am I?

I am the little girl who just can’t seem to make friends.

I am the 8-year-old boy drugged up to my eyeballs because I won’t sit still in class.

I am the teenager who is staring into the world and dreaming of a relationship like any other; banging incessantly against the huge glass wall between me and the world, screaming to be some kind of Normal.

I am the colleague beside the water-cooler who never has been able to make eye-contact with you.

I am the son who wasn’t told that I had a dentist appointment this afternoon and I’m crippled by the change to my routine for the day.

I am the little boy who keeps being kicked out of school after school because they won’t take the time to understand me, but the constant change is trampling me like elephant feet until I can’t breathe.

I am the man bent double in the shopping centre because the noises and voices around me are just too much to bear.

I am the world-class musician who feels the movement of music, its own mathematics and patterns of sound, more quietly than you feel the touch of the wind.

I am the Dad at the dinner table who won’t stop talking about won’t stop talking about won’t stop talking about coins.

I am the kid in your maths class who never writes anything down because I just don’t need to.

I am the girl at the football, fastidiously collecting the information of every off-side every goal every motion to collate later in the library of my mind.

I might be the stamp-collector, the train-spotter, the code-breaker, and any other stereotype that you might somewhere along the line have assigned to me. But I am also something more.

We are the square pegs that you twist and shave and manipulate into your tiny suffocating round holes.

It is not for us to require that these square pegs fit in our world.

It is on us to challenge the perception that their different mental wiring is somehow inferior, faulty.

The square pegs in our world bring focus, intensity, a whole different level of sensory experience. They bring some of the greatest minds on our planet, and some of the warmest hearts.

This portrait will not change things. It will not mend things.

It is on us to mend the wounds of our society which is so quick to drug and shun rather than just love.

You don’t know me. But you can. Just respect my boundaries, learn my rules and ask me.”

Original source: https://lucypedrick.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/a-poem-for-autism-awareness-month/

Airplane crash, depression, stigmatization and TED

I have recently started using Twitter a lot and thinking in terms of short headlines to describe complex news, events and trends. When writing the title of this article, some key words came into my mind that are probably enough to give you an idea of what I will be talking about. And I will start with the penultimate word – stigmatization. A few weeks ago, I have written my previous article titled: “Why don’t we talk about mental health?” and I have promised in one of my paragraphs that I will continue the debate on the dangers implied in coming out as suffering from mental health. The dangers of stigmatization…

You have probably heard about the Germanwings airplane crash, the theories about the “suicidal depressive” co-pilot and the wave of out-raged citizens at the idea that air companies are hiring people without testing them enough. You might have, if you are lucky enough to have open-minded people who share the right things in your news feed, also heard about the stigmatization that has risen around people who suffer from depression. Some points are to be made clear:

1. Generalization is a bad approach and adds to the stigma around mental health.

“Clearly assessment of all pilots’ physical and mental health is entirely appropriate – but assumptions about risk shouldn’t  be made across the board for people with depression, or any other illness. There will be pilots with experience of depression who have flown safely for decades  and assessments should be made on a case by case basis. Today’s headlines risk adding to the stigma surrounding mental health problems, which millions of people experience each year, and we would encourage the media to report this issue responsibly.” (Mental Health Charity Mind – also see Read more section at the end)

2. Depression and aggressive suicide are not intrinsically linked.

“there isn’t a link between depression and aggressive suicide, if that is what this is. There isn’t normally such a link. “(Professor Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and adviser to the British army)

3. Success stories exist and denying people who have records of suffering from depression a job is as bad as discriminating on other bases.

“I have dealt with some pilots with depression and when they recover they are still monitored. But the two I have dealt with returned to very successful careers.”

“Why should they not? What does cause trouble is saying that if you have ever had a history of depression then you should not be allowed to do whatever. That is wrong, as much as saying that people with a history of broken arms shouldn’t be allowed to do something.” (Professor Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and adviser to the British army – also see Read More below)

4. We must analyze whether it was a case of depression or something else.

“Lubitz did not die quietly at home. He maliciously engineered a spectacular plane crash and killed 150 people. Suicidal thoughts can be a hallmark of depression, but mass murder is another beast entirely.

Using the word “depression” to describe inexplicable or violent behavior sends two false signals: First, that society has no obligations with regard to our happiness — because misery is a medical problem — and second, that a depressed person is in danger of committing abhorrent acts.” (Business Insider article – see read more section for links)

5. Last, but not least, depression is, despite the stigma and bad publicity lately, a medical condition that needs treatment and should not be a “secret we share” as Andrew Solomon remarkably describes it in the following video:

Read more:





Why don’t we talk about mental health?





Last Tuesday, March 10th, I was invited by the Mental Health Matters society to speak on a panel about mental health along representatives from Sheffield Mind organisation, BME Committee, Women Committee, LGBT, Pakistan Society and, of course, Mental Health Matters. The theme of our event was: “Why don’t we talk about mental health?” And we went through some questions regarding how we define mental health, stigmas associated with it, the gender and cultural gap and the existent dangers when bringing this conversation to light. Finally, we opened questions to the audience.

Taking into consideration that each 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problem at some point in their lives and that depression affects around 1 in 12 people, there is no doubt that mental health should be on our agenda. I have mentioned that a mental health issue is a persistent feeling of unhappiness that prohibits you from doing your normal activities and that can manifest through a spectrum of nuances from mild to harsher forms of depression/ schizophrenia/ eating disorders/ bipolarity etc.

Furthermore, the most common prejudice and stigma associated with mental health is that the person who is suffering from any kind of issue is portrayed as being violent and dangerous. Mental health issues are taken out of the everyday “normality” in the way we subjectively portray what should be a “normal” behaviour and what should not. And, from an international point of view, the biggest problem is that in many cultures mental health problems are associated with being cursed, with God’s punishment or, in milder situations, with a person’s inability to “snap it” and “move forward”. It is the way we associate mental health with willpower and human nature as being inherently bad or good that hinders our conversations about it.

At the same time, beyond the cultural gap, there is also a gender gap. According to a research done by Oxford University, depression rates are roughly two times higher in women, but alcohol disorders are two and a half times higher in men. Moreover, a woman getting drunk is worsely perceived than a man getting drunk, whilst a man saying that they feel miserable and anxious is generally considered worse than a woman. And all this roots back to our patriarchal portrayal of the society as in the generic couple of the “weak and faible, always in need of protection” woman and the “tough, powerful, protective, dominant, never weak to tears” male.

However, our conversation and the questions raised by the audience reached the point where we asked ourselves: is it always good to talk openly about mental health? What are the “side-effects” of self-identifying as being disabled or suffering from something? And the answer was pretty obvious and unanimous: labelling. Seeing that society has created so many prejudices, the fear of being labelled and constanty living like this at school, at work, at home, makes it difficult for anyone to have the courage to speak up. And at this point I have talked about a TED talk, but to keep up the interest, I will continue the TED talk conversation in a further post.

To make this long piece of article short, my night was wonderful. I have learned from different perspectives and I have given my own international opinion on the matter. Yet, I must recognize that the different backgrounds did not alienate one common perception about mental health which is best described in a quote that said: “Mental Health has been the Cinderella of public health practice” (Lee, 2003). We do not talk about it, we do not care about it enough, but it exists and it can play a crucial role in our lives. Labelling might be hard to overcome, but by proving ourselves everyday, we start shaping and educating the new generations better. So, how about we should start talking?


First #DisableTheLabel campaign

1Friday, 5th of December 2014, I ran my first campaign for the Disabled and Dyslexic portfolio. It was part of a larger event organized by the Disabled and Dyslexic Committee and it was under the umbrella of an Intersectionality Day when representatives from all backgrounds and causes (BME – Black and Ethnic Minorities), LGBT with Mental Awareness, and ISC (International Students’ Committee) all raised awareness about different issues affecting the Disabled and Dyslexic community.

Our main focus was on removing the stigma associated in different parts of the world with disability, hence the title and hashtag DisableTheLabel. There are many International students who have different disabilities or mental problems, however, they are not very involved with the Disabled and Dyslexic Committee. After doing some research, two main causes appeared to be in stake: 1) families with disabled children tend to be overprotective or not confident enough that their children are able to pursue a further education, thus, they are not sent to higher education (especially abroad), 2) where the disability is not that visible, International students tend not to self-identify themselves with being disabled, because their background and subconsciousness associates it with a negative label.

Consequently, the ISC tries to fight against this prejudice and tries to raise awareness about the labelling and stigma around disabled students.campaign D&D We have created a very simple and accessible True/False quizz that mainly brings attention to different aspects of this problem: QUIZZ (click me) . We are very happy to have had people interested in not only taking the quizz but wanting to know more about the problem in itself. And, of course, another highlight of the event in itself – and I want to thank the Disabled and Dyslexic Committee for making this happen – is that all the representative committees have worked together and have joined forces in order to create a bigger and more impactful voice. When we stand by ourselves with our own causes, we are just a handful of people, when we stand together, we are many. So, a big applause to the “togetherness” of the event.

Last, but not least, I would like to draw some attention on another event, this time a nation-wide one, approved by the University and the Union, regarding Mental Health Matters:

The University and the Students’ Union have agreed to sign the Time To Change Pledge, making a commitment to supporting the mental health of University staff and students. On the 8th of December we will have a representative coming in from Time To Change to explain exactly what this campaign is and why it is so important.

We will also have a presentation of the current draft of the University pledge from Tom Harrison, the Welfare Officer, people speaking about their own personal experiences with Mental Health and why the pledge is important to them and information from the Counselling Service.

After the event, you are welcome to come to visit our cake sale, which will be in the Students’ Union raising money for Mental Health Matters two fantastic charities for the year, Changing Faces and STAMP.

It would be as great to see as many people there as possible for this opportunity to find out about this nationwide campaign working to end dangerous stigmas attached to mental health.
Venue : Dainton Building Lecture Theatre 6
Start date Monday 08-12-2014 – 14:00
End date Monday 08-12-2014 – 15:30

And to finish this off, here’s a nice video to watch on a Sunday afternoon: VIDEO (click me).

#DisableTheLabel  2

Autism and the Social Model

autism-spectrum-conditionsI have to thank the South East Asian rep for recommending me such a good article about Autism and how it is socially perceived. As the image at left presents, Autism can cover a large spectrum and can affect people with different IQ scores, thus it is not only about mental retard, as we often misjudge and misrepresent it. Autism can manifest as high functioning, extreme sensibility and higher abilities in some areas (a “genius” might suffer from Autism).

But that is not the main focus of my article now. The thing I want to stress more on is the Social Model, as presented in the article mentioned above. As defined there, “The social model of disability is a way of thinking about disability in which disability results not from an individual’s neurological, physical or mental characteristics but from barriers created by society”, which basically means that society caters only for the majority’s needs and tends to marginalize the smaller population that is different, that is unlike the rest. Therefore, in this context, disability comes as something disabled people have to fight against or try to live with, instead of being a signal that society should adapt according to the needs of all people who are part of it. A very empirical example given in the article is that of a person who is in a wheelchair and cannot enter a building because it has stairs and no ramp. According to the Society Model, the person cannot enter the building because he has a physical impairment and thus is “different from the majority”, and medics should find a cure for his disease. But they do not, firstly, assume that maybe the building in itself should provide equal access.

Of course, nowadays, most of our buildings have wheelchair access and cater for the disabled people’s needs. However, even though we changed the architecture of our buildings, how many of us have shaped the architecture of our minds in order to perceive autistic or disabled students as just being different but not inferior? Our Social Model is deeply rooted in our thinking and sometimes this Social Model affects disabled persons more than the disability in itself. Following this path of subliminal prejudice, I’ll talk to you in a further article about why there are so few international disabled students and why there are so few disabled students in university in general. And the answer will link again to our Social Model.

You can read the original article here: Disabled not disordered: Autism and the Social Model.

A wee bit of myself and a wee bit of OCD

Hello! My name is Ana-Gabriela Popa and I am the European Representative in the International Students’ Committee for the year 14.15. I’ll be regularly posting on this blog to keep you updated on my portfolio activity which is Disabled and Dyslexic. Why did I choose that particular portfolio? I could say because I believe in equal rights for everyone, I believe in equal access, I believe in inclusion and I believe in humanity – that particular part of us all that makes us overcome our prejudices and our differences. However, I chose it also because I am ignorant. I know nothing about what Disabled and Dyslexic mean, or at least, I know too little to make a difference. And the instance I realized that, I understood I must cease the ignorance and learn more as learning brings understanding and understanding brings community, love, tolerance, and acceptance. So, before actually starting with my campaign, I began learning in order to share with you what I learned.

First of all, I learned that Disabled students are professional and can cope with academic experience. It seemed relatively strange for me to attend the first Disabled and Dyslexic committee meeting, but contrary to my prejudices, I met people who were perfectly capable of running a meeting, of following an agenda, creative, sensible, and, above all, responsible for the position they took. It’s not that I ever doubted they could be like that. But, certainly, my prejudiced image of disability did not encapsulate this fine line of numerous and various illnesses they’re facing in their intimacy, but without bringing it in the interaction activity with others. They respect each other’s confidentiality; they don’t ask more about others illnesses just because they are aware they might not want to talk about it themselves. It’s hard to come out and speak out. They understand privacy more than Facebook and confidential contracts do (this was a joke, in case you did not get it). And this is incredible.ocd2

Secondly, coming back to the fine line of illnesses I had no idea about and that people struggle with, in their intimacy, this week is OCD (Obsocdessive Compulsive Disorder) AWARENESS WEEK. Many people mistake OCD for the desire of being neat, of having, for example, all your books alphabetically and colour-coded ordered, for wanting to wash your hands several times a day or for being annoyed by the fact your housemate changed the order of your size-ordered cutlery. YET, OCD is not wanting to be clean, neat and bragging about it. OCD means facing internal conflicts, obsession, FEAR! It means an eternal fight within each person that has this disability and cannot refrain him/herself from thinking: “What if…” This constant fear of the possibility to do something wrong, of the possibility to fail, of the possibility to let down, haunts the OCD people into a world of intrinsic terror. It is not fun to pretend to be an OCD, because OCD makes them suffer. No one is a “wee bit OCD”. There’s no such thing.

This is what I learned recently about Disabled students and about OCD. Hope you learned something as well from this and stay tunned for the next post!

To learn more about OCD, you can access this website: That’s OCD!

Or, at least, you could watch this short video on YouTube.

Who are the Reps? – 2014

The representative committee of the ISC consists of 8 representatives and the inclusions and welfare officer. The representatives each represents and supports students from a different region of the world, so if you are facing any difficulties please do contact your regional representative and they will do their best to help. Representatives also liaise with the national societies within their respective region when it comes to ISC events and supports these societies with their events and to utilise the resources on offer in the Students’ Union.

 In addition to this, each representative will be in charge of a portfolio which focuses on a different group of international students or an key issues international students face. These portfolios are Women, Mature, Post Graduate and Part-Time Students, LGBT students and Sheffield International College and English Language Teaching Centre students, Sports and Education. During the course of the year each representative will organize a campaign with the support of the Campaigns and Inclusions officer and the Welfare Committee.
The representative committee is comprised of

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 07.14.33 African Representative:Ammaarah Sachedina
Ammaarah represents all African students and societies will be in charge of the Sheffield International College and English Language Teaching Centre students portfolio.
Email: asachedina2@sheffield.ac.uk

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 07.10.07European Representative: Ana Gabriela Popa
Ana represents all European students and societies and will be in charge of Disabled and Dyslexic students portfolio.
Email: agpopa1@sheffield.ac.uk


Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 02.01.50Middle Eastern Representative: Alaa Al Sairafi
Alaa will represent all students and societies from the Middle East and will be in charge of the Women’s portfolio.
Email: aaaalsairafi1@sheffield.ac.uk


Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 02.12.00East Asian Representative: Xiaoke Xu
Xiaoke represents all East Asian students and societies and will be in charge of the Sports portfolio.
Email: xxu14@sheffield.ac.uk

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 07.10.03South East Asian Representative: Santhana Gopalakrishnan
Santhana represents students and societies from South East Asia and will be in charge of the LGBT portfolio.
Email: Sgopalakrishnan1@sheffield.ac.uk

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 07.10.12South Asian Representative: Ishita Ranasinghe
Ishita represents students and societies from South Asia and will also serve as the Cultural National Societies Liaison for Societies committee and will works to support and represent national societies.
Email: Ipranasinghe1@sheffield.ac.uk

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 07.09.38Campaigns and Inclusions officer: Devarshi Shukla
Devarshi will support the campaigns mentioned and will also chair the Welfare sub-committee of the ISC.
Email: dshukla1@sheffield.ac.uk

The representative committee will also include a Home Rep and an Americas rep who will be elected at the upcoming EGM.

To contact your regional representative or if you’re  interested in getting involved in the campaigns please do email them.