UWE Bristol launches strategy to put mental wealth first

Issue date: 11 April 2018


Vice-Chancellor Professor Steve West with UWE Bristol students

One of the UK's most ambitious university-led approaches to mental health and wellbeing has been launched by UWE Bristol today (11 April 2018).

UWE Bristol has become one of the country's first universities to have a strategy that puts mental health and wellbeing - or mental wealth - at the heart of everything it does.

Its far-reaching Mental Wealth First strategy follows months of work by university professionals, who have looked at existing support and activities and how this can be developed for UWE Bristol's 30,000 students and 4,000 staff.

It sees the University commit to new approaches, investment in facilities and technological innovations, to build on more than 200 different types of activities already in place.

“Our Mental Wealth First strategy sets out our commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of all our students and staff,” said UWE Bristol Vice-Chancellor and chair of Universities UK's mental health in higher education working group, Professor Steve West.

“This is a big step change in our approach, to ensure that we are creating the best environment, culture, systems and support to enable everyone to thrive and succeed at UWE Bristol.

“This approach is grounded in innovation and evidence. We know that demand for mental health support services has increased considerably amongst students and the wider population in recent years, and our experience reflects this. But this is not just about providing support services for those in mental ill health. It is about looking at the full spectrum of activities to ensure we are putting mental wealth at the heart of everything we do. What we will deliver in the coming months and years will add significantly to the services and activities we already have. In doing so, we will explore and highlight new approaches that other universities can follow.

“This is a significant step in our response to a major national challenge for the higher education sector and wider society. It's vital that we play a part in supporting our students and staff when they need it, in ways that are right for them.”

Commitments included in UWE Bristol's Mental Wealth First strategy include:

· Investing in improvements on campus, which will include a new student centre and space to meet and relax from September this year. This facility, which will be based in the converted former Vice Chancellor's office on campus, will also host out-of-hours support staff and the student-led telephone support service Nightline. It would be supported with investment of around £200,000 from the university.

· New analytics tools that enable support teams to better understand how students are getting on at university. The University is in the early stages of developing market-leading software which will be used to provide insights on how students engage with lectures, online learning tools and coursework. This can be used to shape communication with students who may be struggling with aspects of university life because of mental ill health.

· Creating new 'programme communities' as part of an enhanced student curriculum. This is intended to provide more opportunities for students to get to know their peers and build stronger, mutually supportive environments. This approach is being led by the University's Student and Academic services and Academic Practice directorate and overseen by its Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Jane Harrington.

· Targeted information and support for students and their families, including an enhanced induction programme that provides students with clear, accessible information about the support on offer.

This support builds on UWE Bristol's work with staff and students over recent years. UWE Bristol was the first university in the country to introduce Kooth Student, which has been used by hundreds of students since its launch in September 2017. Kooth is a free, anonymous online platform for students to access advice and forums at any time of day.

This work is spearheading a nationwide drive to improve student mental health and wellbeing services, led by Universities UK and supported by the charity Student Minds. UWE Bristol is one of three universities piloting Universities UK's Step Change Framework, which sets out a new whole university approach for the higher education sector to support their students.

Assistant Director of Policy at Universities UK, John de Pury, said: “Mental health needs to be at the core of what universities do. It must be central to their offer to students and staff, enabling good mental health for all as well as helping those experiencing difficulties to access appropriate services.

“We welcome UWE Bristol's commitment to make this issue a strategic pillar. We encourage other university leaders to make it a priority at their institutions. UK higher education can lead the world in adopting and evidencing mental wealth approaches.”

Student Minds CEO, Rosie Tressler said: "The Mental Wealth initiative at UWE shows the power of collaboration in creating positive mental health communities at university.

“At Student Minds, we believe that those with mental health difficulties are experts by experience, and must be active participants and partners in shaping a whole university approach to mental health and wellbeing. For change to last, it must happen strategically with a long-term vision. As such, we are pleased to be working with UWE and their Students' Union to empower those with lived experience to contribute to and input on their mental health strategy.”

A copy of the UWE Bristol's Mental Wealth First strategy can be found at www.uwe.ac.uk/mentalwealthfirst

Student stories

The following students have agreed to have their stories used in the media to highlight the importance of seeking mental health and wellbeing support at university.

Jim Stretton: Twenty two-year-old Jim Stretton graduated from UWE Bristol last year with a degree in drama and now works for an events company in Swindon.

Jim said: “I'm fine now but when I was in the sixth form at school I developed body dysmorphia. I'd always been a little on the chubby side when I was younger – I suppose it was puppy fat. But as I got older I felt pressure to look a certain way, to be fit and have a six pack.”

Jim didn't confide his feelings in anyone. He began going to the gym every day and changed his diet to try and get his body to look the way he felt it needed to look.

“I don't remember ever having a single conversation with my friends about mental health issues; it's just not something boys tend to talk about,” says Jim.

Jim has now overcome his body dysmorphia and feels happier with himself. He has a girlfriend and a good job. But he wants to remove the stigma of talking about mental health, particularly amongst men.

He added: “I was lucky in that I got through my issues by myself eventually and didn't feel the need to get help with them. But there is a lot of pressure for men as well as women to look a certain way now, and it's not healthy.

“I really want to raise awareness about this and encourage people to talk about these pressures and how they're feeling. If you feel you can't talk to family or friends, there are lots of different options to get help and support at university.”

Edie Woolf: Third-year illustration undergraduate Edie Woolf has a clear message for students dealing with mental illness: get the help that's right for you.

The 21-year-old has managed her obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for as long as she can remember. She uses strategies ranging from regular exercise to meditation and has the support of her family, some of whom also have the condition. Despite this, she found 'intrusive thoughts' made it very difficult for her to lead a normal life during her first two years at university.

Last year, she sought medical advice which led to a formal diagnosis. She is now taking medication, which she says has made a huge difference to her life.

“I've always done the things that are good for my mental health, like sleeping well, eating well, generally looking after myself and I have a supportive family,” said Edie, who lives in Clifton, Bristol.

“Despite this, it was difficult to work effectively and make friends. I want other people who are struggling like this to know that it's important that they get the help they need.”

When she graduates, Edie hopes to set up a creative collective in studio space in the heart of Bristol.

“There's a lot of stigma around taking medication for mental illness, but I tried everything else and it wasn't enough,” added Edie.

“If you are stressed to the point where it's causing a disruption to your daily life and your relationships, then maybe you should think about getting help because that's not OK.”

Raha Eskafi: Raha Eskafi, a second-year psychology student, practises mindfulness and takes more exercise to help ease her anxiety. The 21-year-old began experiencing panic attacks in her first year.

She said: “I would feel my chest getting tight and heart going really quickly, along with feeling a bit faint and dizzy. It feels like you can't breathe and things get really frantic.

“I'd always been an anxious person but didn't realise how bad it was until I came to university. I was living with 12 people and it was quite an overwhelming environment. It was scary and hard to wrap my head around.

“Although I appreciate that it can help other people, I wasn't interested in taking the medication available to me and looked for alternatives. I got support from my family and am more open with them than I used to be.

“Mindfulness has really helped, and I still try to do it every day. I improved my diet, took more exercise, managed my time better and became really choosy about who I spent time with. I'm now much better now and feel I've come a long way.

“If I was starting university again, I would benefit from the awareness that you don't need to do what everybody else is doing. I would advise anyone suffering from a mental health issue to speak to someone from the Wellbeing Service, even if it's just to get some initial advice.”

Raha now works as a volunteer with Nightline, a free and anonymous counselling telephone service running between 8pm and 8am available to all UWE Bristol students.

She said: “Working on Nightline has been enormously rewarding and given me the reassurance that you are not the only person going through this; hundreds of others are too. I would encourage any student to make use of this service if they need it.”

Courtney Wiltshire: UWE Bristol third year photography student Courtney Wiltshire started experiencing a panic disorder when she was 16.

“I developed agoraphobia and would get really panicky about being in certain situations,” says Courtney.

She confided in her parents and they were very supportive, helping her to find the right support.

“The treatment that really helped me was almost like a kind of Reiki,” she added.

“It would help calm me down and over time it taught me how to manage my symptoms.”

Courtney felt her condition was under control enough to be able to go to university after A-levels.

She said: “My parents live in Yate so I've been able to carry on living at home whilst going to UWE. I know I've missed out on some of the social side of university and nights out, but I know I couldn't have coped with it.

“I've still been able to make some good friends and really make the most of my course.”

Courtney's advice to anyone suffering with a mental health issue is to tell someone about it.

She said: “I got the help I needed early on so I didn't need to seek wellbeing support at university and could manage my symptoms myself.

“But it's really important to let someone know how you're feeling and to know that there is help if you need it. Once I told my parents, it made it much easier for me to get help. Without it, I might have struggled to go to university.”

For more information please contact the media team on 0117 328 2208 / 07866 407 329.

Notes

A copy of the UWE Bristol's Mental Wealth First strategy can be found here www.uwe.ac.uk/mentalwealthfirst

Videos featuring UWE Bristol students talking about mental health and wellbeing can be downloaded at https://we.tl/n7Gb2x2ADA and images are available upon request from PressOffice@uwe.ac.uk.

Key facts:

· There are more than 2 million students studying at UK universities

· 50% of chronic adult mental illness starts in teen-age, and 75% before the age of 24

· Approximately 1 in 4 people report a mental health problem each year. This could equate to 500,000 students per year.

· Universities have a duty of care to their populations

· Good mental health has a positive impact on learning, the ability to concentrate, and overall performance levels

More information is available at http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/facts-and-stats/Pages/higher-education-data.aspx

About UWE

UWE Bristol (the University of the West of England) has approximately 30,000 students. The University has strong industry networks and connections with over 1,000 employers as well as a global and inclusive outlook. Research at UWE Bristol focuses on real world problems and the University plays a pivotal role in the regional economy. With over £300 million invested in infrastructure, buildings and facilities across all Campuses, UWE Bristol is creating a place for learning that is innovative, ambitious, connected, enabling and inclusive.

About Student Minds

Student Minds is the UK's student mental health charity. We empower students and members of the university community to look after their own mental health, support others and create change. Together, we will transform the state of student mental health so that all in higher education can thrive.

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