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Peer mentoring for supporting students with mental health and wellbeing: Stories and outcomes

As part of the Advance HE Small Development Projects 2019 focusing on the metal health and wellbeing of students, the University of Hertfordshire (UH) developed a short film project which captured the experiences of peer mentors and mentees. Professor Helen Payne, Professor of Psychotherapy, details the project below.

Student mental health has become a major concern for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) due to the huge increase in numbers of students entering or being diagnosed with a mental health difficulty during their learning journey. This project was conceived of as one strategy for supporting student mental health and wellbeing. All the stated aims and objectives were achieved. It aimed to capture, through an engaging eight-minute film, stories from volunteer student peer mentors and mentees reflecting on their experiences of peer mentoring providing support for their mental health and wellbeing. The film’s objectives were to: a) raise awareness of peer mentoring as a university-wide approach to supporting students with mental health concerns, and b) demonstrate the way it improves student experience and academic outcomes demonstrating the effectiveness of the intervention. 

The project approach was to engage students in the project team and as participants in the film. New activities included a blog for Advance HE about the process and piloting the film and guidance document with some staff in another school. Seven staff reported their responses to the following questions: any general feedback; does it motivate you to want to start this type of peer mentoring scheme; are the student reflections sufficiently engaging; is the call to action in the best place? Feedback was very positive (see appendices). They thought it was engaging and clearly conveyed the message about the advantages of peer mentoring to support mental health and wellbeing. One thought the ‘call to action’ was a bit lost as she could not recall seeing it, another thought it should go at the end. Another noted the gender imbalance (only one male since the other did not attend). However, we know from research that more women than men enter higher education and more women than men present with mental health difficulties. We also requested staff feedback on the guidance document (see appendices) in response to the question ‘would it be helpful to you if motivated by the film to set up your own peer mentoring scheme?’ – this was also very positive. One person wanted more detail on the training for student peer mentors as clearly it was an important aspect.

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Peer mentoring for supporting students with mental health and wellbeing: Stories and outcomes
Peer mentoring for supporting students with mental health and wellbeing: Stories and outcomes View Document

Key learnings and challenges

For the staff and the student assistant, the greatest challenge was the editing of the film footage to eight minutes. Additionally, ensuring all student volunteers had sufficient information to make an informed decision about being part of the film. A challenge for students was sharing their personal responses publicly. Another was setting up the impact data collection protocol for the student assistant. Learning for the research lead included collaborating with the film maker; editing film footage, engaging students as partners and how to make a document for guidance easy to read. For students, there was learning to be pro-active to take care of their mental health via peer mentoring and reflection on their experience promoted learning from each other when they viewed the final film. The student partners demonstrated learning to collaborate with staff, actively engage in research tasks and activities with supervision and to understand the complexity of such a project.

Engagement, communication and impact

The project engaged with key stakeholders by approaching them to become partners. Two student volunteer partners were recruited to the project team, others to participate in the film and two of these will share in the presentation at a conference. Staff and students in another school, as potential stakeholders for developing their own peer mentoring scheme, were invited to pilot the film and guidance document. Other stakeholders e.g. Student Minds and the Student Union are involved in disseminating the film. Impact within the university from the pilot has been encouraging, measures of impact via online analytics from platforms (Facebook, YouTube etc.) will be monitored systematically.

Dissemination and next steps

We have disseminated the project in a number of ways:

• Shared the film via social media
• Promoted the film on the UH and School of Education websites, UH Students' Union webpages, Student Minds website and Twitter
• Uploaded film to YouTube and Facebook and monitored viewing metrics
• Presented the project and film at the UH learning and teaching conference, June 2019, collaborating with two participant students to contribute to this presentation
• Developed the scheme and the small scale project within the UH School of Education

We will collect and monitor the metrics from YouTube/Facebook viewings to assess the impact of the film by reporting on the number of requests from the ‘guidance document’ prepared. Following these requests, we intend to contact the receiver of the guidance to ask about their progress setting up their peer mentoring scheme. From their responses we anticipate an evaluation on the impact of the film and further recommendations in promoting the development of peer mentoring schemes at other HEIs. Further steps include:

• Since a central body has been instituted at UH (to develop a whole-university approach to mental wellbeing including peer mentoring) we expect this film and the accompanying guidance to be shown across schools to staff and students. We anticipate that it will motivate and support colleagues to develop a peer mentoring scheme for supporting student mental health and wellbeing, whether students have a diagnosed condition or not. Research shows such initiatives may promote learning, sustain retention and improve student experience
• We intend to present the film at a range of events and request feedback on impact. Additionally, this feedback could refine the film into a revised version