For World Mental Health Day we caught up with alumna Grace Hodgson, a Health and Wellbeing Coach for the GORSE Academies Trust. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like working in Mental Health, Grace gives us a flavour of her role, how her time at university helped shape her career and she’s got some wellbeing tips that might be worth a try.
What did you study at University of York and what college were you in?
I studied Psychology and then took the Developmental Pathway for the Integrated Masters. I was in Alcuin college and graduated in 2021.
While you were at York University, we noticed that you were the Wellbeing Ambassador for the Psychology Department. Can you tell us a bit about that role?
While working as part of the Student Wellbeing Ambassador Team for the Psychology Department, we were able to set up a quiet room. This is a room within the department that had been designed to be a calming space, filled with mindfulness activities where students can get away and take a short break if things start to become overwhelming.
We also set up a notice board full of super useful mental health and wellbeing resources and information that students could take discreetly to access further support.
I think that being a student myself gave me a greater understanding of what type of support students wanted at the time and this was really valuable when working alongside lecturers in my department.
Do you have any fond memories or achievements you’d like to share from being the student Wellbeing Ambassador?
I think establishing the quiet room was really beneficial because studying at university can certainly be challenging at times and having this room within the department provided a safe space where fellow students could take a breather, have a private space to collect their thoughts and allow their emotions to show.
It also showed the students that the department was there to support them with their wellbeing just as much as with their studies.
After setting up the quiet room, I remember standing up in front of the lecture hall full of my year group and doing a short presentation to explain what it is and where they can find information and resources.
I was really nervous to be getting up and speaking in front of all of my friends and peers. But I found that as soon as I started talking about it and saw the positive reactions from my audience, it became so natural to be talking about wellbeing and I totally forgot that I was nervous about public speaking.
How do you think that role has impacted your current career?
I think that my role as Wellbeing Ambassador at university has really helped me in my current role, as it gave me the opportunity to be an advocate for young people’s wellbeing and gave me the confidence to be able to represent the needs of others.
Designing the quiet room and setting up the wellbeing notice board also introduced me to a wealth of amazing resources and mindfulness tips that I didn’t necessarily know before and I still use these every day in my role as a Wellbeing Coach.
What about your degree – do you feel like studying Psychology has helped your career?
Studying Psychology provided me with an incredibly in-depth knowledge of the human mind, development, the history of psychology and therapies, mental health, and developmental disorders.
By extending my studies and deciding to study the Integrated Masters Developmental Pathway, I was able to access a wealth of extremely informative modules entirely focused on child and adolescent mental health. This helped to develop my understanding and knowledge of how mental health problems can present differently in children and young people. Additionally, my degree provided me with an excellent understanding of a range of developmental disorders and differences. This has really helped me in my current role when working with children and young people with special educational needs or social and emotional mental health needs.
What does a typical day as a Health and Wellbeing Coach look like?
One of my favourite things about my job is that no two days are ever the same. When students first arrive at school, I will make sure to be a friendly face in the corridors and check that they are feeling positive and ready for the day. If any pupils are facing issues or need some time to relax, I will address their issues and take them to complete some mindfulness activities or just for a time out so that they are calm and prepared for their classes.
Once lessons begin, I will take a pupil for a pre-planned individual wellbeing session. Each day I will work with around 6 or 7 pupils. The sessions are designed around the needs of that child or young person, but may include: anger management work, targeted emotional work, check-ins following difficult days or events, work around physical health and hygiene, or completing some wellbeing assessments, to enable us to see how we can better support that individual.
In between the wellbeing sessions, I will catch up on admin, join the pupils on the playground during break times and provide any necessary support on the corridors if any pupils are struggling or upset.
I am lucky enough to be able to work for a through school which has both primary and secondary provision on-site. This means that I get to work with young people from Year 1 to Year 11, which is really nice; I love getting to hear about the pupils’ interests and how their days are going.
Why is health and wellbeing important to you?
Health and Wellbeing is incredibly important to me because I believe that it is a vital part of living a happy and successful life. Wellbeing is a very personal thing and will be different for everyone, but I believe that it boils down to happiness and being able to cope with the challenges life can throw at you, or being able to recognise when you need help. Having a solid sense of wellbeing allows us to achieve our goals and overcome challenges.
While it is more widely understood that it is important to look after your physical health and make sure you’re eating well and exercising, many people are less confident in their understanding of mental health. Including how to support themselves and others when facing difficulties in this area.
Physical and mental health are interconnected. Increased mental wellbeing has physical benefits, such as reducing the risks of strokes and heart disease.
In my role, being able to provide an open and safe environment where young people can voice their concerns, ask questions, access help and develop their understanding of their difficult emotions is such an honour. Over time, supporting young peoples’ mental health and wellbeing will lead to a shift where mental health can be discussed just as openly and without judgement as physical health.
Understanding emotions and thoughts, and developing a more positive relationship with mental health goes on to help us form more positive relationships with others. It can also help us to achieve our potential in other areas, such as in our studies and careers. In short, it enables us to be the best version of ourselves.
This year the theme for World Mental Health Day is ‘make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority’. How does this theme resonate with you?
I truly believe that mental health and wellbeing does need to be a priority for all. I believe that Mental Health is just as important as physical health and therefore should be everyone’s business. We must all take steps to develop our understanding of mental health and to challenge any stigma that has previously been held around it.
While I am fortunate enough to be working in a role dedicated to wellbeing and living in a society in which mental health is beginning to get increased recognition and greater awareness, this is not the case globally. So, we must continue to prioritise mental health and wellbeing for all people.
Everybody should be able to access quality mental health support if they require it so that we can all be the best versions of ourselves.
Finally, what tips do you have for improving mental health and wellbeing?
Wellbeing is a deeply personal thing which will be different for everyone. However, here’s some things that I do to improve my wellbeing:
· Spend time doing hobbies
· Set boundaries – I make myself step away from my work/studies after a certain time on an evening
· Listen to calming music
· Go outside for walks
· Take time for yourself – I put on my favourite Netflix show with a cuppa and some snacks
· Spend time with loved ones
You won’t always know what activities will work for you until you try them, so don’t be afraid to try new things and be open to new experiences. I recently learned how to crochet – it helps me feel so relaxed and I never would have thought I’d like it before trying it!