All posts by Kirsty T

Student president candidate withdraws from race

Nathan Sparling

A candidate for the Edinburgh Napier Student Association presidential election has withdrawn from the contest.

Nathan Sparling issued a statement this morning indicating that he felt unable to continue due to the ‘inappropriate actions’ of the NSA.

Mr Sparling also outlined his concern that he had received a ‘First and Final Warning’ from the elections committee without right of reply, saying: “It was the first I had heard of the complaint submitted to the Elections Committee, and I had not been given the right to respond.

“As you will be aware, it is also within my Human Rights to be given the right to respond to a complaint where disciplinary action could be taken.”

The warning was received after Mr Sparling had previously contacted Programme Representatives to inform them of an Emergency Senate.

Mr Sparling went on to register his disgust at the removal of The Journal by the NSA form all university campuses without the authority of the university, calling it a severe breach of Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

In a new development it has been revealed that until last night all students were able to view up-to-date election results. Visable were details of who voted, for whom and in what preference.

Mr Sparling has requested that the returning officer, Finlay MacCorquodale, transfer all votes cast for him to RON (ReOpen Nominations).

Students protesting the censorship of The Journal have already been urging people to vote RON in protest at the newspaper’s removal.

The NSA  has not commented so far on Mr Sparling’s withdrawal, the allegations within his statement or on The Journal protests.

Students protest censorship

A protest poster

Students at Edinburgh Napier University are to hold a series of protests this week over the removal of a student newspaper from all campuses.

The protests will be held every day this week, both on campus and at the Scottish Parliament.

The row centres over issues of press censorship and began after independent student newspaper The Journal published an article detailing dissent, and a possible vote of no confidence against the current president Kasia Bylinska, at the Napier Student’s Association.

Current NSA president, Kasia Bylinska
Current NSA President, Kasia Bylinska

The article stated that allegations of six counts of  unconstitutional behaviour had been made against Ms Bylinska and that eight programme representatives had signed a motion for an emergency meeting to enact a vote of no confidence in the president.

The NSA responded by removing all copies of the publication from the university, which has prompted accusations of press censorship by members of the student body.

Rik Carranza, who ran against Ms Bylinska in last year’s election, said: “This action taken by the NSA is disgusting and shares more in common with censorship in China than creating an equal playing field for election candidates which the elections committee is trying to justify.

“I am a proud member of the student union movement and have been for many years now and let me tell you, I have never seen such a flagrant disregard for freedom of speech in my time in NUS. The NSA has infringed basic human rights and they should not be allowed to continue”, he continued.

Edinburgh Napier University said: ” The University does not condone the decision of the NSA to remove copies of The Journal from its campuses.”

Shirley-Anne Sommerville, MSP

The campaign has earned support from SNP MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville. She said: “Freedom of the press is integral to any democratic society. The Journal is a valued resource in the city, keeping students up to date with student issues and wider current affairs – it is a respected paper and provides valuable experience and employment to…… those interested in the field of journalism. I hope that this current dispute is concluded as soon as possible.”

The protesters are also hoping to gain enough signatures on a petition for an emergency meeting for a vote of no confidence in Kasia Bylinska. This would over-ride the need for programme representatives to lend their support. The petition currently has over 200 signatures after just a few hours of campaigning.

Christopher Pilkington with campaign material
Christopher Pilkington with campaign material

Christopher Pilkington, one of the most active members of the protest and a programme representative for the Business Management with Marketing course, said: The idea of a university – a place that is intended to shape young minds – being actively censored is intolerable.

“We cannot be brought up to accept a censored press, particularly when the organisation doing the censoring is refusing to be held accountable to the students it claims to represent.”

Following the publication last week, all copies of The Journal have been removed from Napier campuses. The NSA have yet to issue a statement regarding the reasons for the removal and have so far declined to comment on the Journalgate protests.

Kenneth Dale-Risk, Law lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University said he did not believe the original Journal article to be defamatory stating that it was “an article of fact.”

Protesting students outside the NSA building at 12 Merchiston Place, Edinburgh



Wed: 11 – 5 at Craighouse

Thursday: 11 – 5 at the Scottish Parliament

Friday: 4 onwards sit-in at Craighouse Campus

Follow the row on Twitter – just search #journalgate

Challenging the stigma

By Kirsty Topping         30 October 2009

sun82The label mental illness is highly stigmatising. It encourages people to think of ‘the mentally ill’ as different, rather than seeing them as ordinary people who simply have more severe emotional difficulties to cope with. Popular misconceptions, fuelled by some in the media, see mentally ill people as violent and dangerous. A prime example of this was when The Sun’s reacted to the former boxer Frank Bruno being sectioned under the Mental Health Act and chose to run the headline “Bonkers Bruno locked up”.

Jean Cumming, the Chief Executive of Crisis, a Renfrewshire-based organisation which offers immediate intervention for mental health problems feels that people’s perception of mental health is one of alarm: “We fear mental illness because we can’t understand it; every person’s worst fear is that they will become mentally ill. We are fighting a battle to persuade them they are normal people affected by abnormal circumstances – and we strive to allay the fear the public has of mental illness because fear and apprehension breed an unsympathetic attitude.”

In a Scottish Government survey, half of all respondents said that they would not want anybody to know if they developed a mental health problem. Most people in the same survey said that they thought the media portrayed people with mental health problems negatively.

depression1In addition, a 2001 study found that only 37% of employers said they would in future take on people with mental illness. This compared to the 62% who would take on physically disabled people, 78% who would employ long-term unemployed people and 88% who would appoint lone parents. Little wonder then that 64% of young people say that they would be embarrassed to disclose a mental health problem to a prospective employer.

For such a common illness, there is still a massive stigma attached to depression, – 41% of people with mental health problems have experienced harassment living in Scottish communities, compared with 15% of the general public and some people will go into denial over their illness rather than suffer the stigma.

So severe is the problem of sufferer’s being stigmatised that three years ago a Scottish charity, Depression Alliance Scotland , was set up to tackle it. Former Depression Alliance Scotland chairwoman Cynthia Milligan wants the attitude to mental illness to change.

“Depression is a misunderstood illness which can have a devastating effect on those suffering from it. It is a tragedy that whilst depression is on the increase in Scotland many people do not seek treatment or support for fear of the stigma associated with both depression and mental health in general. The message is simple – depression is in most cases treatable and sufferers can greatly improve their quality of life”.

10spike_narrowweb__300x3900However, many famous faces are now coming forward and admitting that they suffer from mental ill health – thus helping to reduce that stigma. Famously, Caroline Aherne and Stephen Fry have both spoken about their experiences, while Kurt Cobain is probably one of the most famous suicide victims. Less well known is that funny-men Jim Carrey, Hugh Laurie and Spike Milligan have all suffered various degrees of depression. Following the birth of her daughter, Honey, Gail Porter spoke of her experience of post-natal depression, again helping to normalise the condition.

Fry is probably the most high profile person to publicly reveal their mental ill health; he suffered a highly publicised nervous breakdown in 1995, which was attributed at the time to bad reviews of his performance in a play called Cell Mates. At the time he was also suffering from serious clinical depression as a result of his then undiagnosed bipolar disorder. He subsequently walked out of the production and went missing for several days, during which time he contemplated suicide. He abandoned the idea and fled from the United Kingdom by ferry, eventually resurfacing in Belgium.

stephen-fryFry has since spoken publicly about the experience of living with bipolar disorder and has made and presented a documentary about the condition and his personal experience of it, Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic-Depressive where he interviewed other famous sufferers of the illness including Carrie Fisher, Richard Dreyfuss, and Tony Slattery. He also interviewed Rick Stein, whose father committed suicide, Robbie Williams, who talked of his experience with unipolar depression, and comedienne Jo Brand, who previously worked as a psychiatric nurse.

Efforts such as his go a long way towards explaining mental illness to the public at large who may have no experience of such things and therefore are more likely to be fearful of, and more likely to stigmatise, those suffering mental ill health. Giving the public information is the best way to normalise sufferers. With the correct treatment to manage their condition, patients are no different from anyone else.

Many eminent writers, artists, sculptors, philosophers, politicians, scientists, composers and actors have suffered from depression. With so many in the same boat, depression sufferers must remember that they are not alone and the days of being brushed aside and dismissed are long in the past. The identification and treatment of depression is the best it has ever been and there are support networks in place to help sufferers. Depression, and mental illness in general, is not a death sentence, even though it may sometimes feel like that.


Depression 3 part series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Not the end of the world

By Kirsty Topping 20 October 09

People without experience of depression fear the condition. It does not help that sufferers are sometimes thought of as violent and it is this reason that people are afraid to admit to thei suffering for fear of being branded in a certain way. What they really have to remember is that depression is a treatable disorder. The recovery rates for any mental health problem is between 70% and 80% and suffers can live a normal life with proper help.

Treatment of depression varies broadly and is different for each individual. Various types and combinations of treatments may have to be tried, but but may not provide a complete solution to the problem. There are two primary modes of treatment, typically used in conjunction: medication and psychotherapy. A third treatment, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), may be used when chemical treatment fails.

Continue reading Not the end of the world

Pull yourself together!

At the start of the twentieth century, if you spent an extraordinarily excessive amount of time stating how brilliant you were, you would simply have been dismissed as simply being arrogant and a bit bigheaded. Now, it may be possible that you are suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. We have all heard the stories of First World War soldiers being court martialed and executed by firing squad for supposed cowardice, when in reality the intensity of fighting and the stress it brought led them to suffer from shell shock, now thought to be a subset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Depressive people were simply told to pull themselves together.

Continue reading Pull yourself together!

An ill Wind in the Willows?

By Kirsty Topping – 9 October 09

There’s trouble brewing on the riverbank. The animals are in trouble. Long gone are the days of affluence that their forefathers enjoyed. Indeed, nearly a century has passed since the gentle riparian misadventures of Messers Toad, Badger, Mole and Ratty and their descendants are not faring so well.


Dear old Badger, the poor chap’s consumptive. Seems it’s passed through the family because of them living so close to each other. Night watchman business went down the drain as well.

Moley has been disowned by his family. Coming out was a step too far for his grandfather and Mole has had to sell everything except his velvet smoking jacket just to pay the rent on a hole in Drumchapel. The jacket may soon be gone too.

As for Mr Toad, gone are the days when he would be satisfied by anything as mundane as a yellow and green gypsy cart with red wheels or a red motor car circa 1908. Not for him the meandering delights of the models that followed a little red flag in days gone by. Oh no, Mr Toad Jnr III proudly parades a stunning shiny vehicle that sports all the right status symbols – spoiler, alloys and the all important baked-bean-can exhaust that makes it sound like a herd of flatulent cows.

Of course, there is a cost to this. Toadie’s insurance is sky high and the cost of petrol and speeding fines don’t exactly help. Yet he holds it together by renting out the dilapidated Toad Hall as a HMO for students, as well as working two jobs (Safeway shelf stacker and McDonald’s counter assistant – he never was the academic type) to finance his pride and joy. He himself resides in what was once the scullery in the affluent days-of-old.

Yet it seems to be Ratty, the water vole, who has suffered the most in recent times. Several failed yachting Round the World record attempts bankrupted him, and

Water Vole
Water Vole

his riverside home has been repossessed by the Mink Mafia and the Farming Community Housing Association, making Ratty homeless.

This is the synopsis “The Wind in the Willows” would have nowadays. Grahame wrote of Edwardian society but made the stars of the piece the abundant river and forest life he knew. In the modern society, however, the animals are few. Ratty, the humble water vole, is doing far worse than any of his companions. In recent years, and in spite of the species being protected by Schedule 5, Section 9(4) of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, numbers across the UK have dropped by 90%. Yet on the continent they are considered vermin as they weave paths of destruction in search of food, even going as far as to attack the roots of fruit trees.

Arvicola terrestris, the largest of the vole species, does not attract the same sympathies as a panda or a rhino when it comes to the prospect of extinction. Presumably this is because it is not deemed exotic enough as it, rather stupidly, decided to reside in the United Kingdom. It is everything the public demand for them to start caring about an animal – fluffy, cute and with a little chubby face – we should care. We should care a lot. Surprisingly though, we don’t. Not really. A nation of animal lovers? Fat chance.

It doesn’t seem to matter to many people that farmers have encroached so far onto the riverside boundary that they are making life incredibly easy for the mink, and as a consequence incredibly difficult for the vole. Many don’t give a stuff if some invading foreign species is hunting it to extinction. What most people worry about is avoiding putting their hands in their pockets to do something about the problem. “People expect the Countryside for nothing” says Les Hatton, Countryside Ranger at Craigtoun Country Park near St Andrews “and water voles are not deemed sexy”.

Measuring 140-220 mm from head to tail and weighing only150-300 g, water voles are quite often mistaken for rats, which leads to them being poisoned by householders ignorant of the true nature of this wonderful little animal.

As a result of so many pressures heaped on the population, these little creatures could quite possibly become extinct in Britain. The situation is exacerbated by


the farming community. The intensive methods of modern day British farming, required to compete with the industrial-scale prairie farming in the USA, mean that land is cultivated almost to the river’s edge and this makes life much easier for the invading Mink.

Imagine a game of hide and seek. It’s much easier when you have lots of hidey-holes, isn’t it?  If the complex river side habitat is no more, then the hiding places are fewer and chances of being found are much higher and, in the case of the Vole, so are the chances of becoming the main meal.

However, this story is not over. The chapters that follow are very much full of hope. Bio-diversity plans have been established by many local councils around the country and schemes such as Mink trapping programmes are beginning to make a difference. In addition, some farmers have been persuaded to move agricultural boundaries back from the edge of the waterways to promote the healthy habitats needed to support a sizeable eco-system in which the water vole is a key species.

Perhaps if people can be persuaded to give more thought to the plight of Ratty then he will begin to prosper again. If we were to do the equivalent of buying a Big Issue from a human homeless person, that is putting your hand in your pocket once in a while, then the fortunes of the water vole could well see a dramatic turnaround.