by Rory Williams-Burrell, Trainee Technician, School of Archaeology, Geography, and Environmental Science (SAGES)
The Year 2020 has been a challenging one for our staff and students here at the University. Significant changes had to be made regarding the way we work and the way that we live. The world stage has not only highlighted the stresses surrounding Covid-19, but also that deep change is needed in our thinking around ‘race and gender’. This need for change was clearly highlighted in May this year due to the abhorrent behaviour and murderous act that led to the death of George Floyd. This act of racial hatred sparked rallies and marches across the world to show how racism is still prevalent today and that it needs to stop.
The extent to which racism and sexism is present in our everyday lives needs to be addressed, as well as the detrimental effect discrimination can have on our wellbeing. The term ‘race’ is often misunderstood. It derives from France and Italy in the 15th century, and the meaning behind the term translates as kind, breed, and lineage. This also incorporates the physical characteristics of skin colour, eye colour and facial form. This crosses over when we look at ‘gender’ which can be defined as having three aspects, each with an association spectrum. These three aspects are ‘gender identity’, which is how a person identifies themselves, ‘gender expression’, which relates to their behaviour, dress and how others perceive their gender, and ‘biological sex’, which depends on a person’s mostly physical characteristics, for example, these include a person’s genitalia, body shape, body shape, voice, body / facial hair, hormone balance etc.
Deep change is also needed in the ‘disability’ sector, surrounding physical and mental health. One definition could be that being disabled takes away the elements from you that make you able. For example, this could relate to a wheelchair user who requires more space for social distancing purposes than others. In another instance someone may not be able to wear a mask due to asthma and therefore keeping more than two meters away is important for their health and well-being.
I am a member of the Well-being Peer Support team here at the University of Reading. Our members consist of staff volunteers (not counsellors or mental-health advisors) who are trained to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health issues, whatever the cause, and can guide you to the right support. The Well-being Peer Support network is primarily geared towards staff members where we provide a space for listening and conversation with strict confidentiality in place. You can contact the network through: https://www.reading.ac.uk/human-resources/policies-and-procedures/health-and-wellbeing/wellbeing-peer-support#. Through the link above you will be able to see a list of our volunteers and be able to choose who to approach and speak to.
If you are a student at the university, there is a wide range of support and guidance available for you including being able to access links to professional counsellors and mental health advisors who can be reached 24/7: https://www.reading.ac.uk/essentials/Support-And-Wellbeing
There is also an excellent Wellbeing Toolkit produced by Student Services, with lots of useful advice and helpful links: https://www.reading.ac.uk/essentials/-/media/essentials/files/wellbeing-toolkit-nov.pdf
A particularly helpful resource presents five steps to well-being and shows how making small changes in our daily lives can result in a range of positive outcomes: https://www.reading.ac.uk/human-resources/working-at-reading/health-and-wellbeing/5-steps-to-wellbeing
There are of course many more steps to maintaining one’s wellbeing, particularly at this challenging time, and I have tried to focus my attention on implementing changes in my own life. Over the years I have been researching and finding ways to help myself through episodes of depression that started during childhood. When I was a toddler, I suffered a head injury when I was hit by a car and I was placed in intensive care for over three months. I was lucky to survive and I am forever grateful to have had the support over the years that have got me to where I am today. I would never have imagined that I would get through, school, college and then a university degree. So, I urge you, please, not suffer in silence but to seek support when needed. It is important that our University looks out for everyone, especially at this time of uncertainty.
There is a great podcast I recommend hosted by a British physician, Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, entitled ‘Feel better live more’. Dr. Chatterjee talks of four pillars of health; these pillars are nutrition, exercise, sleep, and meditation. I have tried and am still trying to create habits surrounding these four pillars. These actions have helped me reflect and change my perspective and outlook on life and I hope that they will be able to help others too.