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University scholar Mel Mitchell in a building on campus.The importance of mental health awareness and an active lifestyle have been key in University Scholarship winner Mel Mitchell’s role in Campus Sport at Edge Hill.

A talented sportsperson who captained the University hockey team’s second team to promotion in 2017/18, Mel from Burnley is currently undertaking a Masters in Sport. Yet her journey to achieving sporting and academic goals has not been without its challenges and her decision to study at Edge Hill came later than many of her peers when she initially embarked on a Psychology degree elsewhere.

“At the time I wanted to try to gain some independence and studied Psychology for a short period. However, unfortunately I became extremely ill with my mental health and had to take a leave of absence. I couldn’t bring myself back to study in the same environment where I had become so ill, and so it was at that time I made the decision to work full time.”

A few years spent as an insurance consultant was not quite the right fit for Mel, so she made the decision to return to higher education – with Edge Hill at the top of her list.

“This time around it wasn’t an option of where I was going… but rather what I was going to do. My friends had thoroughly enjoyed their time at Edge Hill and had recently graduated, finding success in various jobs. I knew it was the place for me, I just didn’t realise how much of a positive impact it would have on my life.”

Mel has grasped opportunities afforded to her at university. As well as her sporting achievements, her efforts in coaching recreational hockey were also a factor in her landing an accolade at the 2018 Edge Hill Community Sports Awards.

“It was the first time we bridged the gap between competitive and recreational hockey. It was great to see the journey of some of the players, who began with little self-confidence and ended up representing the university. The award was the icing on the cake for me to end my time as an undergraduate and cemented my decision to continue studying here.”

A volunteer before her time at university, Mel was keen to continue in her new environment, supporting the University’s recreational sports programme in aiding students’ health and wellbeing. Her involvement has enhanced her education and awareness in the challenges faced by students, and the importance of recognising mental health issues in young people.

“The scale of the problem with students’ mental health and wellbeing in higher education is a big issue. It’s something very close to my heart, and I’m extremely passionate about conducting research in the future to help reform how student support is coordinated.”

Mel is hoping to undertake a PhD examining how sport and physical activity can be used to aid student mental health in higher education, and believes universities need to do more to increase participation in sport, regardless of ability, to help encourage students to improve their health and wellbeing. However, it is an issue she feels Edge Hill is doing more than most to tackle.

“There are so many benefits,” she said. “The main problem with universities is that they are rooted in an elitist attitude to sport. In people that have little self-confidence, such an environment can be discouraging and may act as a further barrier to engagement.

“The great thing about Edge Hill is the Campus Sport programme, which provides everyone with many recreational opportunities, irrelevant of ability. Having worked on the Women Active Programme, I have seen the enjoyment of women exercising together and believe there should be lots more similar opportunities for both male and female students across UK universities.”

It is an issue she feels will only escalate with an increase in student numbers at a time when funding into UK universities has become stretched.

“It is inevitable that support services for mental health and wellbeing will become overstretched. It is so important that new innovative interventions are identified and developed so that students can help to support themselves. Sport and physical activity has so many personal benefits.”

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