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Small Development Projects show the value of innovation in addressing mental health issues

10 Oct 2019 | Advance HE On World Mental Health Day, we share six creative media projects from universities dedicated to tackling student mental health and wellbeing.

Advance HE has 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. 

Student mental health and wellbeing is highlighted in Advance HE research which found that:

  • 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 Advance HE reports and surveys demonstrate that despite the rise in students experiencing mental health issues, under-reporting remains a serious cause for concern for higher education institutions. The SDPs detail steps taken to address and raise awareness of mental health issues. Each project showcases research using creative media.

The six Advance HE member institutions undertook different approaches to raising awareness and addressing mental health issues with their projects.

The University of Derby created a short film about the implementation of their mental health training programme for staff. By moving away from generic guidance, the training was able to equip staff for responding to the individual needs of their students. The film highlights the importance of cross institutional co-operation and the value in co-creating the experience between students and staff.

The University of Hertfordshire also used film to share the experiences of students involved in the universities’ peer mentoring scheme. The film highlights the two-way nature of support, with the mentors benefiting as well as the mentees.

Using animation, Norwich University of the Arts showcased new approaches for encouraging the student community to seek help with mental health and wellbeing issues.  The following three films dramatise the triggers for, and experience of, wellbeing issues.

Cardiff Business School also developed a series of short films and other creative outputs in order to raise awareness within the teaching programme.

Queen Mary University of London developed a project to explore the role of the art and creative enquiry in combating the rise in stress, burnout, anxiety and depression amongst medical students.

Finally, the Ulster University undertook a study to identify the extent to which teaching approaches contributed to improving the self-confidence and wellbeing of students.

Our Small Development Project scheme has been running for a number of years, supporting our member institutions in developing new research, testing ideas and sharing knowledge to benefit the HE sector.

“We are delighted to support these projects. Student wellbeing is self-evidently critical to student success and I know the sector will be extremely keen to learn from the findings and outputs of these projects.

“I’m confident that the learning will contribute to supporting better mental health and wellbeing for students, as well as embedding approaches to address mental health issues."

Gary Loke, Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery at Advance HE

Advance HE’s Small Development Projects provide a platform for our members to explore and share research of value to the HE sector.

A second cohort of Advance HE’s Mental Wellbeing collaborative project for learning and teaching will be taking place soon. For more information contact

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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