The Eating Difficulties Peer Support Group was set up by alumna Leah Fuller.
Recent graduate wins award for student support group
Exeter alumna Leah Fuller (Psychology, 2016), winner of the first ever Students' Guild Alumni Contribution Award, set up the Eating Difficulties Peer Support Group in her final year of study. The group has been incredibly successful and received support from the Alumni Annual Fund in order to continue to develop its work.
We spoke to Leah about the group and what inspired her to set it up.
She says: "During my third year of university, I had a friend who had an eating disorder. She had to travel back and forwards from home just to get the support she needed, as there wasn’t any near to Exeter, and eventually it became too much and she sadly had to leave university. It was around the same time that I decided to run for Vice President Welfare and Diversity within the Students’ Guild and began researching ideas for my manifesto. Mental health was at the top of my agenda, and one of the ways I wanted to make a difference was to provide support for those suffering with eating disorders. It didn’t seem fair that we as an institution couldn’t provide students with at least low-level support so that they didn’t have to get to the stage where dropping out of university was their only option."
After finishing a close second in the sabbatical elections Leah was encouraged by the Students' Guild to try and implement a couple of her manifesto points and began exploring options. Having already worked with Student Mind’s, the UK’s Student Mental Health Charity, she was able to use their training and guidance to get the group off the ground.
Following this, Leah pitched for a grant from the Alumni Annual Fund and was awarded funding for three years to ensure the group can grow and develop.
She says: "After funding was received, I spent my summer creating social media platforms, advertising materials, and working with Student Minds on strategy plans. Recruitment then opened in October, and I’m pleased to say it was a huge success, with us having triple the national average of applications to become group facilitators (those who would run the support sessions). From then, Student Minds’ shortlisted candidates, appointed facilitators and trained them on running the sessions, which officially began in February 2017."
The sessions provide support to any student experiencing difficulties around food or body image or who have had eating difficulties. While the groups maintain a pro-recovery atmosphere and are not suitable for students requiring more in-depth treatment, they are also able to signpost to other services.
Leah adds: "With continued success, we hope to run a range of other support programmes in line with those offered by Student Minds and those that are needed by the students of Exeter. These include a Positive Minds Course, which is a six-week course for students suffering from low mood or mild depression, and Look After Your Mate workshops.
"The next immediate step for the support project is to hit the ground running for the start of the academic year. It’s about making sure that all new students who have just joined are aware of the service and keeping it at the forefront of people’s minds."
Since leaving Exeter, Leah has started a role with Place2Be, a children’s mental health charity that provides emotional wellbeing support to over 260 primary and secondary schools around the country. However she still supports the group with advice and marketing support and thinks it's unlikely she'll ever be able to let go completely.
She says: "I think personally, my proudest moment was when the first session ran in February 2017 and I felt all of the work I had put in over the last year had finally come to fruition. We had a record number of students turn up for support in that session, which to me demonstrated how important the group was and reinforced why I had set it up in the first place.
"A huge thank you is owed to all of those who felt the project was worthwhile, or donated to the Alumni Annual Fund last year."
For more information:
Students’ Guild: www.exeterguild.org/change/wid/worry/eating/
Student Minds’ Website: www.studentminds.org.uk
Date: 14 July 2017