UCL School of Life and Medical Sciences


Aisling O’Sullivan

Spirit of SLMS Winner (Community Engagement & Citizenship)

Aisling is currently in her 5th year of studying MBBS Medicine in the UCL Medical School.

Tell us a bit about your community project.

In December 2016 my sister Maeve, following a long battle with mental illness and repeated misdiagnosis, was finally diagnosed with emotionally unstable personality disorder. I didn't know anything about it and I realised there was a huge lack of public understanding regarding more rare and often stigmatised mental health problems.

After learning more about her illness and visiting a group that supported the siblings of people with similar issues, I had the idea that a day which explored people's personal stories and helped people to engage in their own mental health might be something that could help people experiencing problems.

The “What Do You Think?” Mental Health Awareness Day consisted of nine different speakers, talking on a range of topics from struggling with eating disorders, schizophrenia and being the sibling of someone with a mental health disorder; something close to my heart. There were also four classes on mindfulness through origami, creative writing, yoga, and meditation.

We had discussion groups focusing on how sexual health influences mental health and the influence of the media on our mental health as a society. We closed the day with a session where people could perform poetry regarding their own experience of mental illness. I was honoured at people standing up and that not just the speakers but the audience felt moved and safe enough to be able to share their own story with the other guests. My sisters also stood up and shared a poem about the mental health we've experienced in our lives and I was touched to hear their take on it - the day gained a beautiful family moment for the three of us.

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What have been some of the great milestones and/or achievements for you during your time at UCL?

A huge achievement for me was getting the UCL ChangeMakers funding for my mental health day - it made it all seem real and it was such an honour to be supported in such a way. From then, every stage of the planning including the day itself were all achievements!

Another achievement was becoming director of the MDs comedy revue society in RUMS. I was selected by my peers with one of my very good friends and it was a very proud moment for me.

Every year of being at UCL has felt like a milestone, especially this year in graduating with a BSc in Medical Sciences with Anatomy. I have been doing clinical medicine since my graduation and it has felt like a huge and important step in my future!

What role do you think public engagement of science plays in wider society?

I think it’s really important for people to engage in the science of mental health. I think we need to respect that people aren’t just “overreacting” or being “difficult” - but that there are actual chemical imbalances going on in the brain like a lot of medical conditions. People engaging with this will make mental health a more acceptable topic to discuss and be open about; holding in your mental health problems can let thoughts and feelings ferment and get worse and I think it helps to be able to express yourself.

I hope that we continue to do research into mental health so it is acknowledged as something that we as a society need to take seriously. The “What Do You Think?” Mental Health Day was hopefully a good step in letting people know that mental health isn’t just ok to talk about - it should be actively encouraged!

Top 3 places/things to do in London?

  • I love Southbank, I like the energy there and the river - it just always seems so beautiful and vibrant!
  • Hampstead Heath ponds and swimming when it’s nice and sunny, and getting to read my book beside the ponds! It makes me feel like I’m on holiday!
  • I like seeing West End shows - it’s not something I get to do very often because it’s quite a luxury but when I do I always love it and it lets me immerse myself in a different world for a few hours.

What would surprise people about you?

I think people would be surprised to know that I love music and it was a huge priority in my secondary school. I love to sing, play the piano and the bassoon!