Mental wellbeing in higher education is where all staff and students can work and learn productively, contributing to and engaging with university life and their community whilst coping with the normal stresses of life. It is important to consider that poor mental health and mental wellbeing do not need to exist in parallel. It is possible for an individual to have a good sense of mental wellbeing yet be living with a diagnosed mental illness. Institutions should strive to maintain the optimum wellbeing of its staff and student population by providing the appropriate tools and support to allow them to engage productively with the learning experience.
How is the sector performing?
Mental wellbeing is an issue that affects both students and staff. Poor student mental health and wellbeing is highlighted in Advance HE research under the prominent statistic that the proportion of disabled students who disclosed a mental health condition has more than quadrupled since 2003/4 (Equality in Higher Education Student Statistical Report 2019). Furthermore, levels of anxiety among both the undergraduate and postgraduate population remain some way below the general population of young people as measured by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The Higher Education Policy Institute also indicated that from 2009-2015, referrals for staff to university counselling services had risen by three-quarters further. All of the aforementioned statistics highlight the need for the sector to adopt a holistic approach to mental health.
Advance HE support
Advance HE recognises that mental health and wellbeing in higher education is a pressing priority, and actively support research and innovation in this field. Earlier this year, it was agreed that Advance HE would host the Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education Working Group, an expert network of representatives from the field of student mental wellbeing. Advance HE is working closely with universities in three cohorts of a collaborative project on Embedding Mental Wellbeing into the Curriculum. Advance HE is confident that its work will complement that of the wider sector, and will establish best practice within mental health and wellbeing through the lens of leadership and management, teaching and learning and equality, diversity and inclusion.
The Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education Expert Group (MWBHE)
MWBHE exists to support and promote the mental health of higher education students and staff.
The Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education Expert Group supports and promotes the mental health of higher education students and staff
The aim is to increase collaboration between the different sectors, agencies and professional groups responsible for mental wellbeing in higher education.
Embedding Mental Wellbeing in the Curriculum collaborative projects
The Embedding Mental Wellbeing in the Curriculum project is a collaboration involving Advance HE and universities or colleges. Following high interest in the first cohort we recruited to an online international cohort as well as a second UK cohort which are currently taking place.
The project aims to:
- develop a clear picture of what embedding mental wellbeing in the curriculum looks like
- understand current levels of institution/department/subject readiness to implement change
- gain first-hand knowledge of how others have implemented and embedded change in relation to student wellbeing
- obtain practical guidance and advice to harness change and support to students.
Small Development Projects 2019
The focus of our 2019 Small Development Projects was mental health and wellbeing of students.
Advance HE published six Small Development Projects (SDPs) focusing on the mental health and wellbeing of students.
The projects, which received funding of up to £4,000, are part of Advance HE’s innovation work and provide an opportunity to develop and share innovative practice with the wider sector.
The SDPs detail steps taken to address and raise awareness of mental health issues. Each project showcases research using creative media.
Research and resources
- The proportion of disabled students who disclosed a mental health condition has more than quadrupled since 2003/04 (Equality in Higher Education Student Statistical Report 2019)
- Levels of anxiety among the undergraduate population remain some way below the general population of young people as measured by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and appear to be increasing. Just 16% of undergraduates report that they are not feeling anxious, compared to 37% among the young population as measured by ONS.
- Our Student Academic Experience Survey 2019 asked, hypothetically, whether students would be happy for their institution to contact their parents if there were a concern about their mental health. Overall most students (66%) were happy for their parents to be contacted in the event of extreme circumstances, with a further 15% happy in any circumstances and only 18% not happy for their parents to be contacted at all.
The following pages bring together Advance HE resources and external links to help higher education providers consider student mental wellbeing.
Nailing jelly to a wall: Providing wellbeing support in a time of uncertainty
Episode 2 - 24 November 2020
The newly refreshed MWBHE (Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education) Expert Group housed at Advance HE is delighted to invite you to join the first of two events hosted by frontline practitioners for frontline practitioners.
With an ‘on the sofa’ informal style, our one hour Autumn webinars will kick off and round up one of the strangest terms ever witnessed in higher education.
Mental Wellbeing in HE Symposium
The Mental Wellbeing in HE Symposium will offer insights and solutions on how to identify and improve instances of poor mental health and wellbeing among students and staff in higher education.
Mental Wellbeing in HE Conference 2021
Delivered in collaboration with MWBHE (Mental Wellbeing in Higher Education) Expert Group, this one-day conference will address issues of mental wellbeing across all aspects of higher education. Further information will be available shortly.