Alumni

Alumni profile - Maisie Hall

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and are often misunderstood and misrepresented in society and the media. I really wanted to be part of a charity that was dedicated to helping everyone regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity or background. 

(English BA, 2018)

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Why did you choose to study English at Queen Mary?

Out of all the universities I’d looked at, Queen Mary felt like it had everything I was looking for: a great location, a campus university close to central London (which meant I could continue to work while studying), and opportunities to study modules, texts and time periods that interested and challenged me. The course had so many different avenues you could explore and specialise in which excited me.

What did you enjoy most about your degree and what were some of your most memorable moments?

There were quite a few opportunities throughout my degree to be creative in assignments which I really appreciated and enjoyed. In second year, one of my most memorable moments was writing an assignment for the Modernism module where I wrote a sound poem. I absolutely loved the Modernism module – all the lecturers were so passionate about the subject and the assignments were something I genuinely looked forward to and enjoyed writing. In third year, I loved my Writing Modern London module with Rachael Gilmour. Both assignments in the one semester module were fantastic but I loved writing my own London scene inspired by Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Street Haunting’. Rachael gave such lovely and encouraging feedback and I always looked forward to her seminars. Also in third year, I studied the ‘In an Ideal World: Utopias from Plato to the Present’ module and this was another challenging module that allowed me to emulate other texts and write creatively. One of the assignments was to write a utopia and I wrote my own socialist utopia in the format of a Guardian news article that I designed on Photoshop.These assignments were really refreshing and exciting to write and such a change from writing essays. These were some of the most memorable and enjoyable times during my degree and I’m grateful for these lecturers that gave us opportunities to be creative in assignments. 

My dissertation was another memorable moment that, despite all the stress toward the end, I enjoyed researching and writing. My dissertation was entitled ‘The Contagion of Modernity: Degeneration, Experimentation and the Spectre of Modernism in the Scientific Romances of H.G. Wells’, and my supervisor, kitt price, was so helpful, knowledgeable and encouraging in exploring a literary figure who is widely known yet seen as having lesser literary merit. Every session I had with kitt, I learnt something new, and they gave me encouraging, positive feedback and was so enthusiastic about my writing and the topic I had chosen for my dissertation. 

Can you describe your career path to date and tell us about your role at Beat?

Before moving to London for my degree, I was a bookseller and continued to work in a bookshop in central London until about a year after finishing my dissertation. I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do in my career – I’d always thought I’d end up working in publishing after my degree – but I knew that I was also interested in working somewhere that was not-for-profit or a charity. Within a month of leaving London, I was hired as a Communications Assistant at a housing association, covering the role for someone who was about to go on maternity leave. I spent about eight months there working on tenant engagement events and community projects.

For the last year and a half, I have been working as the Communications and Events Assistant at Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity. My role at Beat isn’t easy to define and I’m often working with various teams across the charity, not just the Communications team. I do a real mix of admin, marketing, creating content, events and social media. Compared to other national charities, Beat is smaller in terms of size of staff, but it is mighty and full to the brim with colleagues who are passionate about helping people affected by eating disorders.

What was it that attracted you to working for a charity that supports people who are affected by eating disorders?

I was passionate about working with people who were like-minded and who were dedicated to a cause (a lot of my colleagues are English graduates like me which is nice). Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses and are often misunderstood and misrepresented in society and the media. I really wanted to be part of a charity that was dedicated to helping everyone regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity or background.

There is a lot of work to be done in supporting those affected by eating disorders. I liked how progressive Beat was regarding the mental health of not only those who have eating disorders, but also the people who are supporting someone. Since the pandemic, Beat has supported so many more people across the UK and is continuing to have an important, positive impact on thousands of people during such a difficult time.

By talking about mental health issues more openly during Mental Health Awareness Week, more people will reflect on their own mental health and will feel empowered to get help if they need it.

What are some of your interests outside of work?

Outside of work, I’m still a big lover of reading (like most English graduates, I did take a little break from reading after my dissertation…) and have spent more time over the past year working my way through my overflowing bookshelves. I’m interested in social issues, politics and mental health and how they’re connected. I probably spend too much time on Twitter reading and thinking about it all. Now that the world is opening again, I’m hoping to get involved with a cause locally.

Since October, Beat have piloted a flexible work week which has had a great impact on my mental health and my work-life balance. With my extra day off a week, I’ve got back into writing and I'm hoping to start something book related online in the coming months – possibly a book club or an online literary journal.

Why do you think it is important to consciously acknowledge and spread the word about Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW)?

Mental health is certainly spoken about a lot more now than when I was a teenager, but I believe there is so much more we can be doing in all areas of society – in school, university, work, government and so on – to promote and achieve good mental health. If everyone acknowledges and speaks up about mental health during Mental Health Awareness Week (and beyond), then it’s more likely that changes will be made and funding in these vital services will be increased.

Spreading the word is important because mental and physical health are symbiotic: mental health is just as important as physical health, both should be treated equally as both can impact the other. Everyone deserves to have good mental health. We all have feelings and thoughts and are all surrounded by so many things that can trigger changes in our mental health. By talking about mental health issues more openly during Mental Health Awareness Week, more people will reflect on their own mental health and will feel empowered to get help if they need it.

In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, the theme for this year’s MHAW is ‘Nature’. Research has shown that being surrounded by nature has been one of the most popular ways in which people have sustained good mental health during this challenging time. How have you personally tried to sustain good mental health throughout the pandemic?

At the beginning of the pandemic, I was living in a flat with no garden space. For my own mental health during that time, I tried to get outside at least once a day for half an hour to get some fresh air and time away from screens. Just before the second lockdown I moved to a new house and am now lucky to have a decent sized garden space. I’m now spending more time outside growing vegetables and flowers. There’s a real sense of satisfaction in seeing your seedlings grow into full-fledged plants! I’m really looking forward to spending more time outside in the coming months.

On my weekends, I make a conscious effort to get out of the house for each day. Now that we can meet up with people outside of our household, my friends and I have started going on a walk once together a week and exploring areas of Norfolk we don’t usually go to.

I have been lucky to have a supportive and mindful employer during this difficult time and am so grateful for having an extra day a week to look after myself and establish a good mental health routine and work-life balance.

How does your current job, or any projects that you are currently involved in, allow you to be an advocate for mental health/actively help those who are experiencing problems with their mental health?

Every day at Beat we advocate for good mental health. During Eating Disorders Awareness Week in March, we shone the spotlight on Binge eating disorder – the most common but least understood eating disorder. I had an active role in the campaign, often engaging with beneficiaries and supporters, promoting our eating disorder information and resources to families, carers, services and schools.

One of the aims of MHAW is to reduce the stigma associated with mental health that can stop people from asking for help. In your opinion, what are some of the misconceptions associated with mental health and what do you think needs to be done to challenge these misconceptions?

Anyone can experience problems with their mental health and there are still so many misconceptions associated with mental health. Mental health issues don’t come from one aspect of life – they can be triggered by anything, at any time and can be experienced by anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or background. Rich or poor, young or old… we can all experience problems with our mental health. To challenge these misconceptions, we need to keep talking about mental health on a national scale and promoting good mental health during awareness weeks and days. To reduce the stigma, we need to ensure people have greater understanding of and empathy for people who are experiencing problems with their mental health. Supporting mental health charities like Beat and getting involved in campaigns and awareness weeks is a great way to start changing the conversation and challenging misconceptions.

Do you have any mental health advocate role models or anyone you admire for being open about their personal mental health experiences?

It’s refreshing to see more and more public figures speak out about their mental health. I admire everyone who has the courage to be open about their personal mental health experiences, it takes a lot of time to get to that place to feel comfortable and ready to be open about what they’ve experienced. Seeing public figures like Meghan Markle speak about their experiences proves that mental health impacts everyone despite what their life looks like to the outside world.

Based on your own experiences, is there anything you feel the University can do to improve the support and resources available for students experiencing problems with their mental health?

During my time at university, I found it helpful having time in the week working part-time where I didn’t have time to think about my degree. I strongly encourage students to find a good, sustainable university-life balance for themselves, whether that be through joining a society or getting a part time job or just trying to explore London beyond Mile End.

During first year, I found it beneficial for my mental health having an allotment on campus with my flatmate. I think the University should continue to provide allotments on campus and work with nearby local groups to promote gardening for mental health.

I feel that the University could do more in promoting the array of charities/helplines/local groups/resources that have support for students. I’m not sure what’s being done for students now, but perhaps they could send wellbeing reminder texts to students, display more posters around campus, send mass wellbeing emails out or amendments to the Queen Mary website with a banner or pop-ups linking to support available.

My time at university feels like a lifetime ago now so my memory might be a bit hazy, but I think students would benefit from more regular reminders that there are support services available, not just during critical times of deadlines. Perhaps lecturers could have more of an impact in this area too by featuring reminders in PowerPoints about wellbeing services available.

Third year is difficult for all students given the intensity of assignments and deadlines, and then the realisation that your time at university is coming to an end. Your mental health can suffer during that time but It’s best to just focus on what’s in front of you, rather than looking forward and worrying about your career. You might not end up in the role you think you will but there are other roles that might be perfect for you.

This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Coordinator, Nathalie Grey. If you would like to get in touch with Maisie or engage her in your work, please contact Nathalie at n.grey@qmul.ac.uk.