'Talking about mental health should be easy, but we aren't there yet'

September 23, 2005

Scottish Green Party chief Robin Harper, the new rector of Aberdeen University, vows to battle depression taboos

It is not often a politician is paraded through city streets astride a stuffed bull, but that is the price Robin Harper, leader of the Green Party in Scotland, had to pay to become rector of Aberdeen University.

Mr Harper, an Aberdeen graduate, had no misgivings about accepting the post, having already proved an effective and popular rector at Edinburgh University.

The only cause for concern was the ceremony that followed his installation as the student-elected rector - being carried to the St Machar Bar on the student mascot, Angus the Bull. "My legs were clamped very firmly round its middle," he said.

Mr Harper is a contrast to "celebrity" rectors who are rarely seen during their tenure. He will chair the university court and has named a Nigerian postgraduate, Edward Obi, as his assessor. "I'm pretty sure he's the first black member of court, and he's very worthy of the post. I thought it would be a very good thing to send a message to foreign students," he said.

Mr Harper believes that as chair of court he should avoid being a policymaker, but plans to be active in fighting the taboos around mental health.

"I suppose I come across as a relentlessly happy and optimistic person, but I had my problems at university - depression." At Edinburgh, he instigated a card in freshers' packs listing five helpline phone numbers, including the Samaritans and university counselling service.

"Talking about mental health should be as easy as talking about whether you take sugar in your tea, but we aren't there yet."

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