7 questions with Alessandro Massazza
2 February 2016
This week we put seven questions to Alessandro Massazza, a UCL Anthropology student and UCLU Mental Health Peer Support Organiser.
Why are you interested in this subject and what do you plan to do in the future?
Studying anthropology has been a bit of a love-hate relationship as the subject is so varied, ranging from human fossils to religious practices.
Currently, I am particularly interested in the social aspects of mental illness, more specifically issues around post-traumatic stress disorder and disaster psychiatry.
Last summer, I conducted fieldwork among the evacuees displaced due to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan - analysing how the conception people had of radiation influenced their mental health status.
My dream project at the moment would focus on how the representation of a disaster, as caused by either humans or by nature, influences the mental health of survivors.
What is the most interesting thing you've done, seen or got involved with while at UCL?
I am currently working as a mental health peer support organiser at UCLU in order to improve the wellbeing of students going through difficult times while studying at university.
Peer support is basically informal help from other students who might have had similar experiences to you and who are willing to provide a friendly face when needed.
For example, I went through some pretty rough times during my first year studying at UCL and I thought that my experience navigating different forms of support could have been useful to someone else.
Sometimes when we feel low or stressed it can seem as if nobody understands our emotions, so having a confidential and safe place where people can speak about their thoughts can be really helpful.
Of course, peer support is not a one-size-fits-all solution to mental health issues and some people do need more structured and professional forms of help, but talking with someone is always an excellent place to start.
You can find out more about the support we offer on the UCLU Peer Support Services website.
Tell us about a project you are working on now that is top of your to-do list.
There are many aspects of student mental health that I would like to tackle during my time at UCLU, such as the stigma surrounding mental health problems or the imbalance between physical and mental health.
However, time is limited and I am currently focusing on the creation of a well-structured, coherent and effective peer support system at UCL.
Though the services provided by other psychological institutions such as UCL Student Psychological Services and UCL Student Disability Services are of excellent quality, having someone to talk with informally about your problems might also be really useful if you feel the need to vocalise your thoughts.
Also, whereas some problems might need professional help, a lot of issues that students might experience while studying at UCL can improve by simply talking to someone that shows empathy and understanding.
Several other UK universities have put in place effective peer support groups that allow students who are feeling low or particularly anxious to have a place where they can express their concerns.
All our facilitators have been trained by a UK mental health charity on managing support group situations and we meet twice a week in a confidential, understanding and helpful environment.
There are times when things can seem to get out of control and the world might seem like a harsh place to be in, but things always do get better and we are here to provide that little extra help.
If you were Provost for the day what one thing would you do?
I guess I would increase funding to the psychological services across UCL. Long waiting lists are often due to understaffed facilities, so having a few more therapists and mental health workers would ease the work of the services hugely. I would probably also fill UCL with baby rabbits - that would be fun!
Give us your top three things to do/see/go to in London.
This is probably the hardest question! If I really had to choose, I think my personal selection would include:
Battersea Park - it is one of my first memories connected to London. I remember walking along the reservoirs early in the mornings having dragged my father out of bed to feed the ducks and other birds.
I guess it was in those moments that I decided that I wanted to stay in London to study. I ended up living on the exact opposite side of the city but I still do try to get a glimpse of the park when I am nearby, and I always try to bring some old bread with me for the ducks.
Queen Mary's Gardens - a small garden within Regent's Park famous for its roses. During morning weekdays (and when the roses have not bloomed yet) it is a very peaceful place and I used to go running there during my first year of university as it was just 10 minutes' run from my student halls.
I remember not realising it was a rose garden until the beginning of summer when I suddenly ran into the colourful chaos of hundreds of different species of roses that had started blooming.
Hampstead Heath (yes, I do like parks!) - this huge green space in north London is usually the first place I bring people to when they are visiting.
In my opinion, there is no better view of London than from the top of Parliament Hill with the lights of the city slowly turning up (and possibly with a good cider during a warm summer evening).
I also love Hampstead Heath simply because it is really, really vast so it is one of the only places in London where you can get lost.
Who inspires you and why?
If I had to name a person that has truly inspired me it would probably be Franco Basaglia.
He was an Italian psychiatrist that worked in the 1960s and 70s in several locations throughout Italy and, together with his wife and other mental health specialists from all over Europe, reformed the national mental health system.
Thanks to his work, a series of laws were passed in the Italian parliament that made the brutal institutions that (mis)treated mental health patients illegal.
His work - together with that of other critics of the old-style psychiatric asylums - was the triggering point for encompassing reforms improving the lives of thousands of people that had previously been abused, and opened the doors for a more humane treatment of psychiatric patients.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
I generally wear mismatched socks - as I am quite keen on organisation, it reminds me to accept the chaos of daily life.