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Our Leadership Team reflects on Mental Health

See below to explore what our senior leaders have shared with us about their own mental health and the wellbeing of our University community. Thank you to everyone who has contributed. If you are a senior leader in one of these groups and would like to add to the below please email Emily. 

We hope these inspiring words encourage you to continue or begin opening up about how you're feeling, checking in with your colleagues and accessing support. If you would like some support please email us at Colleague Wellbeing or explore our Index of Support

Professor Lisa Roberts - Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive: “I take our community’s wellbeing and mental health very seriously.  We can only thrive when we all support ourselves and our own wellbeing and support one another. I would encourage everyone to find a moment to review the excellent resources available.”

Professor Janice Kay CBE - Provost: “Our sense of wellbeing has a profound impact on all aspects of our lives and those of fellow staff and students. I’m proud to have worked this year with some expert colleagues, both staff and students, to progress the way we support wellbeing at the University. You can read more about what’s available to support members of our community here.”

Mike Shore-Nye - Registrar and Secretary: “I have always prided myself on my personal resilience and being able to cope with pretty much anything so when I found that my anxiety levels were increasing and my sleep was suffering badly after managing the bomb incident at the University I really didn’t understand what was happening to me. Talking about how I was feeling to my colleagues really helped me understand that what I was feeling was entirely natural and reflected months and months of exhaustion from dealing with the impacts of the pandemic. This period of heightened tension and pressure had made my ‘fight and flight’ response become my default response to almost everything that was happening in my life which was a truly exhausting place to be.

After talking it through with HR colleagues and my line manager, I was advised to speak to our University support service, Spectrum Life, and after a couple of phone calls where I got a chance to discuss my feelings about the incident and identify ways to better deal with them I started to feel much better.

This experience has taught me that it is always best to share your challenges with your colleagues and that there is non-judgemental and supportive help there if you need it at the University. I think having been through this has made me a better leader and more empathetic manager and has enabled me to develop even more effective personal coping strategies such as sharing challenges with colleagues, the importance of exercise and fresh air and taking that much needed holiday as planned and also to recognise when I need my team and my line managers help and support to preserve my resilience.”

Professor Neil Gow FRS - Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Impact): “PGR’s are a vital part of the “engine room” of our research effort and I have always endeavoured in my own research groups to create an environment that nurtures and grows individuals. The wellbeing of our PGR community was also at the forefront of our Covid response work and each of our plans and responses considered the very special circumstances of PGRs and how heavily impacted they have been through Covid. The Doctoral College and I are committed to ensuring that we continue to support the mental health wellbeing for this group as we look to the future.”

Professor Tim Quine - Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education): “The wellbeing and mental health of all our students and colleagues is of paramount importance to the university, and is rightly a sector-wide priority. We have all lived, studied and worked through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, and felt the impact of this in many different ways - the pressures of work, family and caring responsibilities, and often a loss of connection from our colleagues, peers and friends. Strengthening this connection, and sense of community, has been a key focus for us all as many restrictions have lifted, and it has been extremely heartening to see and hear of students and colleagues benefitting from significantly increased levels of in person activity. It feels intuitive that connectedness, engagement, wellbeing, confidence and success should be closely linked, for both students and staff.

We also know that many student and colleagues face challenges in relation to their wellbeing and mental health, and that it's essential that we foster a supportive environment. Through our institutional Wellbeing and Welfare Review in 2018/19, we investigated in great detail the complex and diverse needs of our community, often at the acute end of a continuum where specialist support is essential. Personally, as Chair, I was determined that the Review engaged in the difficult, challenging conversations which emerged in this area. We also emphasised the value of a whole-institution approach in which supportive, preventative measures can encourage a proactive and positive approach to wellbeing.

The University has exceptional Wellbeing Services with support for students and staff, strengthened by close partnership with our own academic experts and partners such as our local NHS Trusts. We also partner with organisations such as Fika whose app encourages us all to actively train our skills of mental fitness. I would encourage all members of our community to take a proactive approach to their wellbeing - talk to trusted friends, colleagues or peers, make use of the support on offer, and of course seek help if you need it.”

Professor Mark Goodwin - Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement): “At the University of Exeter we all gain from being part of an inclusive and diverse global community of students and staff from over 150 countries. However, being separated from your loved ones is never easy, and it is especially difficult when you are unable to travel to visit your family and friends. I would like to encourage anyone who is feeling lonely or anxious to reach out for support, either from their colleagues, from their managers, or through accessing the free external support programme available to University staff.”

Jane Chafer - Director of Marketing, Recruitment, Communications and Global: “Being in a workplace where you can be totally yourself is the most important thing for me. That means feeling accepted, supported and valued and I want my direct reports and their teams to feel that.

However we all have to play our part in looking after ourselves and looking out for each other. Find out what makes you happy and lift your mood and actively put that into your day. I feel lifted on even the direst of days with a laugh in the corridor or a joke on teams and I make sure I get regular exercise and fresh air even if I don’t feel like it at the time I always feel better after.”

Imelda Rogers - Director of Human Resources: “I believe everyone at the University should feel able to talk freely about mental health. Much like physical health we need to look after it to stay fit and well.”

Professor Alexandra Gerbasi - Acting Pro Vice-Chancellor (Business): “As a researcher, I have seen how important individual wellbeing is for the success of individuals and their organisations, as a result, I try to make sure it is embedded in how I behave as a leader and how I help to shape our workplace.  Having a healthy and happy team is one of my key priorities and fundamental to our success as a Business School and University.”

Professor Clive Ballard - Pro Vice-Chancellor (College of Medicine and Health): “It is absolutely critical that we look after our mental health; we all have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other. In our busy and demanding environment, we all need to take steps to maintain our own wellbeing, which may mean taking time out, speaking to colleagues or seeking support from line managers or senior staff. It’s so important to seek help and support at an early stage, and I’d urge all colleagues to take full advantage of the suite of wellbeing services the university offers.”

Linda Peka - Deputy Registrar and Chief College Operations Officer: “Having a focus on mental health and wellbeing has always been an important part of our team discussions,  Covid has only highlighted its importance further, making it even more paramount in our day to day interactions.

In our All Staff Meetings we have been so grateful for the support of academic colleagues who have provided us with expert guidance in terms of how we can all look after ourselves and each other’s mental health and wellbeing.

From personal experience, I was particularly struck when I voiced my own worries during Covid around concerns for the health of my elderly mother how supportive colleagues were and thanked me for sharing concerns so openly and honestly. They said it gave them permission to share their own worries and in turn encouraged a safe space for such dialogue within their own teams.

It seems to me essential that we should create an environment where we all feel comfortable to discuss mental health and wellbeing and I welcome the focus that the University has applied to this over last few years and continues to do so.”

Matt Davey - Director of College Operations (Business School): “Life is wonderful, and is full happiness, I am definitely someone who see the positives…That said, I have had many moments when life has been challenging and tough. In these moments, talking has always helped. I am fortunate to have an amazing family and friend network who have been there to listen, provide advice and share experience. When needed, I have also used the many services offered through the University and other online tools, they have helped me take time to reflect and identify positive action. You are never alone.”

Cathy Durston - Director of College Operations (College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences): “Over the past few years CEMPS senior professional services team have been fortunate to have worked with a company called Insights to aid development both as individuals and as a team.  During the pandemic we have continued to work with Insights including sessions on wellbeing and managing change.  These sessions have been extremely useful to understand both my own wellbeing needs and also, importantly, how others in my team are feeling.”

Neal Whitfield - Director of College Operations (College of Life and Environmental Sciences): “Mental health is important for everyone. Checking in with your team and colleagues and providing a safe space to listen is something I strongly believe in. The University offers a wide range of support to both staff and students as well as providing links to external organisations at national and community level. Taking time to look after your mental health is vital and these resources provide a great way to do this.”

Rachel Burn - Director of College Operations (College of Medicine and Health): “Looking after our mental health is equally important to our physical health. We all need to seek help from time to time, whoever we are, and I have always found talking to people has helped me.”

Amie Fulton – Director of Cornwall Operations: “As a manager, I am always recommending to my staff that they look after themselves, but I don't usually consider whether I might need some support. I generally think of myself as a resilient person, but recently I've starting to feel very burned out. So, I decided to seek some help and support myself. I attended the Penryn Campus Staff Mental Health training course in November, and it helped me to take time for myself and to reflect on what is truly important to me.”

Professor Rob Freathy - Academic Dean for Students / Dean of the Faculty of Taught Programmes: “Last year, members of the Occupational Health team joined our regular Check-Ins with Directors of Education to tell them about the support available to colleagues, particularly with regard to the uncertainties and challenges created by the global pandemic and our new ways of working. The reaction was extremely positive as we all learned so much about the extent of the services on offer, especially the advice, training, therapies and counselling available relating to mental health. Whether a manager wanting to know how to support a colleague, or an individual member of staff in need of support, I would thoroughly recommend visiting their webpages.”

Dr Vrinda Nayak - Associate Academic Dean for Students (Racial Equality and Inclusion): “The current challenging times mean we need to take care of our mental health and wellbeing in a proactive manner. I believe those who identify themselves as ethnic minority, face unique challenges in terms of their mental health and welling due to their lived experiences. The Student Wellbeing team at University of Exeter has partnered with Nilaari, a culturally sensitive counselling service specifically for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) clients. This counselling service has received excellent feedback by those who used it and I encourage our BAME community to use this service in their times of need.”

Professor Beverley Hawkins - Associate Dean (Education): “Kindness shouldn't be a revolutionary act - but according to the Carnegie Institute, it can be a radical sign of leadership.  The coronavirus pandemic has taught us so much about the importance of kindness in how we relate to one another at work - and about our responsibilities to one another's wellbeing. There have been times when I've had to ask for support from my managers and colleagues, and the conversations that resulted have always been compassionate, helpful, and honest.  It's normal to need help sometimes - please don't hesitate to ask.  And when someone who is struggling comes to you, remember your kindness could be the moment things start to turn around.”

Professor Ian Fussell - Associate Dean (Education): “Our mental health is central to our quality of life and at least 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lifetime. We must de-stigmatise mental health problems and improving mental health and mental well-being is all of our responsibility. Please check-in with colleagues regularly and make yourself aware of the support services available at the university and sign post people, or yourself, appropriately.”

Professor Adam Watt - Associate Dean (Research): “As Academic Lead to several Heads of Department whose roles are highly demanding, I’m very aware of the importance of regularly checking in with them, to make sure they are well supported and to talk about how they feel about workload and the challenges they face. These conversations are extremely important.”

Professor Sallie Lamb - Associate Dean (Research): “I find sport and exercise really helps me with my mental well-being. Having a routine including regular exercise is helping me through the pandemic.”

Ian Blenkharn - Director of Education and Student Support: “We all have a responsibility to look out for each other’s mental health and wellbeing.  During the pandemic, one of the few bright spots was the way communities came together to look after one another and sharing mental health struggles undoubtedly helped lessen some of the impact of Covid.  As we look beyond the pandemic, we need to make sure we don’t lose this focus and we need to continue to talk about and share our experiences.  So do speak to your colleagues, your line manager, to support services at the University – there is support there for you.”

Peter Scargill - Director of Commercial, Residential and Campus Services: “Being able to recognise the signs of stress and have strategies for coping is something I have found to be extremely useful. No one is immune from feeling overwhelmed and struggling to cope regardless of their job, background or experience. Taking time for yourself is hugely important and should not be overlooked.”

Alison Davidson - Director of Sports and Grounds: “Everyone’s journey is different and its important to remember that, don’t assume to know how someone else is feeling. Taking time out of your day to reflect and give yourself some headspace is something I have really valued and realised how important it is for my own wellbeing, especially over the last 18 months. Just half an hour, for me it is about getting outdoors and exercising. We are all different and will do it our own way but make wellbeing time valued and talked about across your team.”

Hugh McCann - Director of Estate Services: “The importance of listening cannot be underestimated, ask someone how they are and listen to the response, taking the time to have a conversation, even if just for 5 to 10 minutes. This relativity small intervention can make a big difference to colleagues and help highlight or resolve possible concerns.”

Chris Evans - Interim Director of Innovation, Impact and Business: “In IIB we take everyone’s mental health and well-being very seriously and from having started out with 2 Mental Health First Aiders, we now have a team of 10. They have arranged a series of events for staff to join, which have included Personal Resilience & Positive Patterns and an Introduction to Mindful Meditation as well as setting up a WhatsApp Group for the IIB team to stay in touch during Lockdown, having a Spotify playlist (Quarantunes) and also a regular newsletter which goes to everyone highlighting the various events as well as circulating the names of the MHFA so that people are able to contact any one of them if they need to have a chat and talk things through.  We also check in with Line Managers to ensure that their teams are ok and they are able to flag any concerns.”

Drs Astrid Wissenburg - Director of Research Services: “Take time. Create time when speaking with colleagues to go beyond day to day work in your conversation. Give them ‘space’ to raise any concerns about their mental health and wellbeing they may have and listen actively. Share some of your own pressures to open the door if needed.”

Chris Lindsay - Director of Compliance, Governance and Risk: “In these very challenging times, sustaining good mental health is even more important than ever, and the University needs to ensure, through its duty of care, that staff should feel able to discuss the challenges they are facing with their line managers and also seek support when it is required. In CGR, all managers are asked to ensure that their team members feel free to discuss their mental health as part of regular well-being checks at 121 meetings. We are also developing a directorate mental health and well being plan, building on the priorities identified in the recent University staff well-being survey.”