Student Mental Health

Student Mental Health

The Wellbeing Ecosystem and the Step Change Framework

Universities UK (UUK) launched the ‘Step Change’ framework in 2017 to address student mental health in higher education. Step Change is all about adopting a whole university approach to mental health and is an emphatic call to action for universities based on a compelling case for improving the way students and staff are supported in relation to mental health. The vision is clearly laid out, promoting mental health, resilience and wellbeing at the level of the individual, the institution and the wider local system. UUK states that ‘Universities must work in close partnership with parents, schools and employers to prepare students for transitions and with the NHS to coordinate care for students.’

Though the human case and business case are clear and unambiguous, less than 29% of universities have yet to implement a system-wide strategy to address mental health. It’s ironic that despite being leaders in research on mental health and wellbeing, universities are currently failing to meet the needs of their own students.

A Whole University Approach

The Wellbeing Ecosystem system devised by Embrace Resilience, a social enterprise in Manchester, was originally developed with Big Lottery funding for primary schools in Salford, Greater Manchester in 2018. The platform was co-designed with schools to apply a whole school approach to improving the emotional resilience of children and families together with teachers and non-teaching staff at the schools. It has since been adapted for any organisation looking to adopt a whole person, whole organisation approach to mental health, emotional resilience and physical wellbeing.

It is essentially, a digital learning platform comprising e-learning modules, a wellbeing policy in the form of an interactive guide, together with a wellbeing charter and audit tools for the purpose of establishing baselines and data management for evaluation and research.

It is difficult to imagine a more cost-efficient way of raising awareness, training and measuring learning and engagement across a large dispersed audience. Some of the e-learning modules are generic, whilst others are targeted towards specific audiences such as students, the university workforce, families and health & care practitioners.

While the Wellbeing Ecosystem may run through the core of the prevention strategy, it needs to be backed up with other tools and some form of traditional face to face training methods. E-learning can go a long way to supporting students and staff in developing Mental Health Literacy to develop the behaviours that lead to improved emotional resilience, mental health and physical wellbeing.

Wellbeing Ecosystem and Step Change

The system addresses several key aspirations of the Step Change framework identified by UUK.
1.  Leadership in making mental health a strategic priority
2.  Early intervention accessible for the entire institutional population
3.  A whole university approach including staff, students and families
4.  Engagement with other partners outside the university
5.  Measurement of baseline data and aligning analytics to student wellbeing outcomes.

The Wellbeing Ecosystem is not a ‘one size fits all’ package. Rather it is an approach that offers off-the-shelf components that can and should be tailored to meet the needs of particular audiences.

Underpinning the adoption of the Wellbeing Ecosystem is the opportunity for the university to demonstrate leadership in Mental Health Literacy across the local education, health and care economy. There is also the potential for the university to generate income by becoming a leader in the provision of online learning to local strategic partners.

In summary, here are some more reasons why the Wellbeing Ecosystem should be part of any university mental health strategy:

It offers:

• An effective adjunct to other interventions including face-to-face training and therapy and other services
• Delivery of an interactive Wellbeing Policy across the entire university
• A springboard to achieve self-care and personal development goals for both staff and students
• Improved student retention and engagement
• Constant access to relevant learning materials
• The option of discreet learning, allowing sensitive topics to be explored in private
• The option for learners to learn at a time, place and pace that suits them
• Evidence-based engaging content delivered to a consistent standard
• Interactivity and online assessments to help embed and demonstrate learning
• Learners the chance to return to modules repeatedly for revision and refreshers
• A learning management system (LMS) featuring a comprehensive audit trail of all learning across the institution and other tools which can help with establishing baseline data for research, monitoring and evaluation
• A clear demonstration of intent to move towards Mental Health Charter status once the Charter is launched in September 2019
• A cost and time-efficient delivery method for the entire university population and beyond.

Embrace Resilience have adapted the Wellbeing Ecosystem to deliver e-learning courses on Mental Health Literacy across the university and beyond. It can work as a stand-alone platform or be delivered using existing channels at the university.

To find out more contact Michael Burke