This summer I finished my third year of studying at Exeter, and the cricket club (EULCC) has been a huge part of my university experience. This year I had the privilege of being on the club’s committee as the welfare secretary. The role focuses on monitoring and proactively improving the wellbeing of club members, which is incredibly important given the student mental health crisis currently being experienced in the higher education sector.

This is exemplified by the regular news reports of student suicides; in the UK, one student dies by suicide every 4 days(1). The demand for university mental health services has long been increasing, with a five-fold increase in the number of students disclosing a mental health condition to their university between 2008 and 2018(2). In addition to those with a diagnosed illness, concern has been growing over students’ general levels of stress, anxiety and low mood(3).

The typical university student is at a vulnerable age, given that 75% of adults with a mental illness experience symptoms before the age of 25(4). Alongside this, university is a time of great transition for a young person, with increased academic, social and economic demands.

Given the pressures students face and the effects such pressures can have on wellbeing, it is alarming that the mental healthcare provision is so inconsistent. In particular, the semi-permanent, boarding-school model of university in the UK does not fit with current healthcare rules which prevent an individual from registering with more than one GP. As a result, many students must repeatedly jump through hoops to register as a temporary patient when moving between university and home, and even then, can still only receive basic care (5,6).

The student mental health crisis is incredibly frightening, but sport is able to play a role in tackling these issues. I have seen this year, as EULCC’s welfare secretary, how sport can be a great platform for engaging people in positive mental health initiatives and the benefits these can have for both individuals and a club as a whole. At the start of the academic year I had three main goals: to introduce welfare schemes at individual, small group and whole club levels.

Individual level support

During my time as welfare secretary, I learned that perhaps the most valuable thing I could offer was simply to listen. With the fast-paced university lifestyle, I wanted to create an opportunity for people to feel heard, and so LBWs were born. A play on the classic cricket dismissal, in this case LBWs were ‘Little Breaks for Wellbeing’. The initiative was simple, once a week for 30 minutes, before a whole club training session, members had the opportunity to drop by to talk about any concerns, to vent frustrations or even just for a chat and a catch-up in a relaxed, open and confidential environment.


Small group level

Within EULCC we have multiple training squads, but one of my favourite aspects of the club is our socials, which bring everybody together, from social members to those on the high-performance programme. To expand social connections and branch out from what is often a highly enjoyable but booze-filled Wednesday night, the club developed our family scheme. Mixing up ages and cricketing experience, each family had around 11 members, with two parents and an aunty who led the group.

The family scheme provided another opportunity, on top of regular socials, to mix with others in the club you might not see on such a regular basis. I personally felt this was most effective and rewarding when the family groups worked and trained together in whole club sessions and you could really see and appreciate the friendships and support networks that had been made.

Whole club schemes

As well as being able to create opportunities for individual and small group level support, I was also excited about working at club level to introduce proactive mental health initiatives for everyone. If there’s one thing I’ve taken away from having workshops through Opening Up Cricket with Mark over the last couple of years, it’s that it is always applicable and never too early to practice and be proactive about good mental health. Because of this, we introduced monthly welfare sessions; some focused on caring for your own mental health, others aiming to raise awareness.

I think my favourite session was in December where the focus was on moving your mood and taking breaks over the period leading up to the exams many of us were facing on our return to university in the New Year. Thanks to some kind volunteers, we ran two mini-workshops, one dance and one yoga. They were both a great way to exercise and to add some variation into our normal activities; the dance session in particular was very entertaining – I think it’s fair to say a number of us have since decided to keep our moves to a private dance around the house or to the club floor on a night out. The workshops helped us de-stress from the busy period all together as a club and provided a reminder to incorporate breaks and time for exercise during the revision period.

Final thoughts

I loved being EULCC’s welfare secretary as it not only gave me the opportunity to support and give back to the club but allowed me to do so in a way that was very important to me. I’m quite sure many of our members have enjoyed their break from my endless enthusiasm on the subject, but I’m excited to handover to the incoming welfare secretary and watch the club continue to develop as I study for my masters next year.

With the current climate and unpredictable next few months, the groundwork EULCC has done this year in terms of wellbeing initiatives has potentially become even more important and I know the club members are excited to get back next month, in whatever form that may be.

References:

  1. Top Universities (2018, August 14).  One UK Student Dies by Suicide Every Four Days – and the Majority are Male. Why? Retrieved from: https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/health-support/one-uk-student-dies-suicide-every-four-days-majority-are-male-why
  2. Universities UK (2018). Minding our future: starting a conversation about the support of student mental health. Retrieved from: http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/minding-our-future
  3. NUS (2015). Mental Health Poll Nov 15. Retrieved from: http://appg-students.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Mental-Health-Poll-November-15-Summary.pdf
  4. Thorley, C. (2017). Not by degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s Universities. Retrieved from: https://www.ippr.org/files/2017-09/1504645674_not-by-degrees-170905.pdf
  5. Student Minds (2014). Grand Challenges in Student Mental Health. Retrieved from: http://www.studentminds.org.uk/uploads/3/7/8/4/3784584/grand_challenges_report_for_public.pdf
  6. Education Policy Institute (2016). Prevalence of mental health issues within the student aged population. Retrieved from: https://epi.org.uk/publications-and-research/prevalence-of-mental-health-issues-within-the-student-aged-population/#_ftn23