George is one of our Wellbeing Champions, and he has some pretty important things to say about mental health and how important it is. He’s also got some really interesting things to say about the benefits of volunteering as a Wellbeing Champion… 

Studying, having a social life and sleep – pick two.

I read this, as most people read things nowadays, on the internet nearly two years ago when I was looking for advice about starting university. It was an early exposure to an attitude that I have witnessed many times since – that being a student necessarily involves sacrificing your mental health and wellbeing. From ‘freshers week’ to all-nighters and exam stress, there is an assumption that neglecting your health is a requirement to succeed and make the most of university.

Thankfully, there is currently a cultural shift of greater awareness and discussion of mental health issues, and I, and many others, believe that this is particularly needed for students. Volunteering with many other passionate individuals as part of the Wellbeing Champion project, we have done our best this year to raise awareness of student wellbeing and provide help to others, showing that there is a way to enjoy university whilst looking after yourself. In this piece, I shall attempt to answer some questions about the Wellbeing Champion role, and show why you should become one next year.

What is the role of a Wellbeing Champion?

Wellbeing Champions are volunteers for Student Wellbeing, Learning and Welfare Support (SWLWS) who raise awareness of the various services available for students (for more info on these services see here). This is an important role as students may not always be aware of, or use, these services, but as Champions we also do what we can ourselves to help and signpost our fellow students. On awareness days and in our everyday lives, we provide resources and tips about dealing with the mental health issues that many students face such as anxiety, stress and homesickness.

In September, all Champions received training on wellbeing and helping others, which last year included the certified Student Minds’ ‘Look After Your Mate’ workshop. The training is group-orientated and enjoyable, but also provides us with the skills and knowledge required to help others. One-to-one appointments and support are provided by the University staff, but by making others aware of these services and helping our friends and coursemates in our everyday life, we can also make a big difference.

As Wellbeing Champions we also act as role models of good student wellbeing, but this doesn’t mean that we have to be perfect. Rather, we simply do our best to look after our own health and wellbeing, and show that you can succeed in your studies and have a social life whilst taking care of yourself. There is no obligation to volunteer at every event- you put your studies and your health first, just helping out when you can.

What made you want to volunteer as a Wellbeing Champion?

Volunteering for any organisation is a great way to use your time, providing you with the experience and skills to make you stand out to employers. However, the Wellbeing Champion project stood out for me as I have always been passionate about mental health awareness and helping others. Volunteering for the university has many advantages- as well as all events being conveniently located on campus, it has allowed me to give back something to the University and feel part of the student community. If you have any interest in promoting positive wellbeing and helping others, I would highly recommend it.

What have you been involved in as part of the Wellbeing Champion project?

Where do I start! From WelcomeFest onwards, we are invited to take part in various events throughout the year, such as National Stress Awareness Day and Mental Health Awareness Week. In our bright orange t-shirts, we act as a visible presence on campus who students can approach for a chat about support. The stalls are stocked with resources such as (very popular) stress balls and the ‘Stress Less for Exam Success’ booklet created by the Student Engagement Officers (download here) that we offer to passers-by. We also engage with students by inviting them to write their coping strategies and wellbeing tips, encouraging others to think about their mental health and building a collection of people’s suggestions that can help others. For some events, we were even joined by Pet Respect’s adorable therapy dogs.

Personally, one of my highlights would have to be when I spoke at a ‘Health, Nutrition and Wellbeing’ Alumni Day about the Wellbeing Champion project. Being a Champion has given me the confidence to do things I previously wouldn’t have dreamt of, improving my confidence and public speaking skills tremendously. As a Champion, you are also invited to focus groups on mental health strategy, where you can provide your views and help to shape the University’s approach to student wellbeing. I also enjoyed volunteering for the Happy Café where we provided mental health resources and support in Johnny Mac, a project that, like the Wellbeing Champions, will be growing and developing in the next academic year.

Along with helping out on the stalls and awareness days, being a Wellbeing Champion involves using the skills you gain in your day-to-day life. Whether it be offering a listening ear to your housemates or talking to someone sat on their own in a lecture, you do your best to be mindful of how other people could be feeling and offer support on an everyday basis. Both on an event day and every day, you do your best to help the people in your life and make a positive difference.

Why is wellbeing important to you?

Our wellbeing is important as it affects so much – our health, how we are feeling and how we behave. We are slowly, but steadily, making progress in removing the stigma that has been attached to mental health, being open about our wellbeing and the issues that we face. Being honest and discussing how we feel allows us to help each other, by offering support and sharing our methods of how we look after our wellbeing. As Wellbeing Champions, we do what we can to promote positive wellbeing among our fellow students and show that by looking after your health, university can be an enriching and enjoyable experience.

If you are interested in becoming a Student Wellbeing Champion next year, please apply here or email wellbeingchampions@hull.ac.uk for more information.

Thank you for reading and take care.