max whitlock and the panel on the stage


Three-time Olympic champion Max Whitlock OBE joins discussion for mental health awareness event on campus

Being kinder to yourself – particularly when things don’t go as planned – was one of the main messages at a mental heath awareness event on campus this week.

The event, which was attended by staff, students, pupils and other members of the local community, focused on the lived experiences of the guest speakers as well as the coping mechanisms available to deal with anxiety and other challenges related to mental well-being.

max whitlock with the panel for the mental health talk
"It's good to talk": Olympic champion Max Whitlock was joined by (l-r) Professor Jacquie White, Kelly Robson and Nick Minns.

Olympic Champion Max Whitlock OBE, who has been a Team GB Ambassador for the University since 2019, shared his story and described how he hit an all-time low after his success at the Tokyo Olympics, once the euphoria wore off and he made an important career decision.

Max said: 

The decision to stop gymnastics hit me like a tonne of bricks. I felt completely lost. I looked forward – I didn’t have a pathway or any goals. I felt like a complete waste of space, a failure.

Max Whitlock

Max also described how even when he knew he was struggling, and when he knew that there were things he could do to help himself – he had no motivation.

Kelly Robson  – who joined Max, presenter Kofi Smiles and the other speakers onstage to share her insights into mental health – and is Deputy Head of Student Support & Experience and Clinical & Service Delivery Lead for the Mental Health & Wellbeing Team at the University, said:

“It was a genuine privilege to share a conversation with Max, Nick, Kofi and Jacquie. I was really proud to take part in an event which highlighted the immense impact talking with others about our feelings can have.

I felt Max shared such an important message about the need for us all to be a little kinder to ourselves as we experience the pressures of work, study and life and I hope that everyone who attended today takes that away with them.


Professor Jacquie White and University of Hull student, Nick Minns, who runs The Beard Podcast which is centred around mental health, also shared their own experiences as part of the discussion.

Nick, who is a second-year Sports Coaching and Performance Science student, said:

“These events are crucial not only as they allow us to talk about a highly stigmatised subject, but also because it gives a platform of opportunity for lived with experiences to be shared which in turn may allow others to come forward and seek help themselves.

I believe these events or mental health days should be a regular occurrence and continue as a focal point for students and staff to engage with and bring the University community closer together.

Nick Minns

Jacquie White, Professor of Nursing and Head of the University’s Nursing and Midwifery School, said: “It felt very relaxed, open and collegiate and I felt we were all in a safe and accepting space that enabled us all to share experiences and ideas together with the audience.

“It demonstrated what I believe is the great strength of the University of Hull, that we are warm and welcoming and open to hearing other’s experiences to learn what we can from each other without judgement.

max whitlock at the event meet & greet
Staff and students were able to grab a picture with Max at the event.

“We benefited greatly from Kofi’s style of interviewing and hearing Max’s and Nick’s experiences which kept us all (audience included) engaged and welcomed into the conversation, which was so enjoyable to be part of.

“We touched on important topics such as how to manage thoughts, feelings and blocks that get in the way of what we want to achieve, how feeling overwhelmed when we face new challenges, change and uncertainty is normal and how connecting with others and talking about how we feel can make a real difference and help us find the motivation to bounce back from periods of lost confidence and low mood.

“And, of course, when we struggle despite trying various techniques on our own taking that step to reach out to the services and support available to us is a healthy and positive thing to do. The main take away for me in this Mental Health Awareness week is that we are stronger together and I would like to see more opportunities for these types of events and conversations.”

max whitlock and kofi smiles
BBC presenter Kofi Smiles encouraged the guest speakers to share their stories as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.

The “It’s good to talk” event was organised as part of Mental Health Awareness Week and ties into the University-wide wellness project which is being managed by Tim Purdy, the Wellness and Performance Manager at the University.

Ahead of the day, Tim said: “It’s fantastic to welcome Max back on campus again and gain an insight into his experiences with mental health. And we’ll be able to learn about the support tools he has used to overcome and get back on track for the Olympic Games in Paris next summer.

The event sees us understand how staff, students and the community can access support within the mental health space. We’ll also be looking at what Hull is doing to break down mental health barriers.

Tim Purdy

The event, which took place in Middleton Hall, started with a meet and greet photo opportunity prior to the discussion. Later in the day, Max also visited St Mary’s College to carry on the topic of mental health.

For most of the discussion, a backdrop signposted mental health support for staff and students. For students: a search for ‘mental health’ on the University’s website will lead to options including MyHull portal, the central hub team, live chat and a 24-hour student assistance programme. For staff: start by searching ‘Healthy Hull’ which provides the following options: Lifeworks – the employee assistance programme, access to free counselling service, and telephone support service.

max whitlock holding his olympic gold medals
Max with his medal haul.

During Mental Health Awareness Week, the University is hosting other activities on campus to highlight health and wellbeing:

Wear It Green Day: Thursday 18 May. The Clinical Psychology Doctorate Programme and affiliated Helping Others Learn and Develop Committee have invited all staff and students to attend a ‘Wear it Green’ day event in the Brynmor Jones Library.

Dog Therapy: Friday 19 May, 10.30am-12noon. De-stress by meeting some lovely dogs from the Pet Respect Foundation at the Central Hub (first floor, Student Central).

The “Good to Talk” event was just one of the opportunities provided to students, at the University and in the wider area, through the University of Hull and Team GB partnership.

Team GB athletes regularly take part in joint events, with the University welcoming many sporting stars to campus including three-time Olympian and Olympic bronze medallist Beth Tweedle MBE, Olympic silver medallist BMX-er Kye Whyte, two-time Olympic hockey medallist Hollie Pearne-Webb MBE and many more.

The University of Hull and Team GB partnership spans the Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024 Olympic Games and the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

To read more about the partnership and the benefits it has brought to both the University of Hull and Team GB, read on here.

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