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‘Moments for Movement’ at Hughes

During Mental Health Awareness Week 2024, Head of Welfare and Wellbeing, Dr Ben Marshall, reflects on what matters.

Personally I often find Mental Health Awareness Week (and any kind of ‘awareness’ week for that matter) brings some slightly mixed feelings when it rolls around.

On the one hand it seems a common sense thing to do, to increase awareness of the challenges anyone can face with their mental health, consider those that others do face and ideally ensure as many people as possible are aware of where they can turn to for support.

These are things few people would argue are not worth doing.

However I’m sometimes a little frustrated that we still need to do so –  it feels like our civilisation, with all its advances and resources, should be past this point. And, that good mental health should be a more fundamental right, that we should have designed societies to support it, and that ‘mental health progress reflection week’ or ‘recent advances in mentally healthy societies week’ should be taking place instead.

Unfortunately for most in our society though, progress remains slow and/or mixed (many members of our College are actively working to address this!). This said, I’m determined not to let the challenges that the week highlights obscure a chance to do genuinely helpful communication at quite a relevant time. We are, after all, in exam season, a time when our community’s mental health may be challenged more than it usually is.

Dr Ben Marshall (left), College Head of Wellbeing, works closely with Dr Ellie Greer (right), Pathways Programme Manager, to offer guidance and tailored support to our students to help them flourish during their time at Hughes Hall.

Thinking specifically about this year’s theme of moving around for better mental health, one of the most common barriers to moving around that I see in student advice sessions around this time is guilt. Students feel that in scheduling a walk break, time to lift weights or take a swim, they will be taking time that they could be spending studying. I make clear to them that it is not some kind of ‘zero sum game’ between studies and movement. There is a wealth of evidence that physical exertion has a host of beneficial effects on our capacity to learn, so by incorporating the kinds of movement that work for you, you really can ‘work smarter, not harder’. This week Professor Tamsin Ford from the Hughes fellowship, who is an expert in what really works to support mental health, encouraged us to reflect at the college formal hall on opportunities to move, as well as to connect, take notice, learn new things and give.

Beyond Tamsin’s guidance, there are some excellent tips from the Mental Health Foundation here. Within Hughes, you may wish to have an induction for the gym to help you incorporate them into your routine or look at our Pathways content on physical health. Once you have finished moving around, you may wish to drop by a Hughes Brews, College Co-work or No-work session to consolidate your study break. If you are still struggling with your mental health do book yourself space with the nurse or counsellor for friendly, non-judgmental guidance.

I also wanted to briefly mention some of the behind-the-scenes work our team is doing so that hopefully you’ll see some broader ‘movement’ is coming to the key areas of the University’s approach to supporting good mental health universally.  In particular, the College Wellbeing Leads network has recently been collaborating with the Students’ Union to produce new guidance on supporting students who need to take a break from their studies and on updating the university’s approach to engaging with students struggling with substance use. Wellbeing Leads and Senior Tutors are also very actively participating in the University’s Teaching Review, giving our perspective on areas like ‘what constitutes reasonable workload?’ and ‘how can the requirements of courses be best communicated to students?’.

With the very best of wishes for making movements that matter,

Ben

Further information

16.5.24