Universities pioneer £300,000 mental health initiative

The Courage Project will look at how higher education institutions can support good mental health and wellbeing among postgraduate research students

£300,000 project to research and pilot innovative approaches to support the mental health and wellbeing of postgraduate research students will be explored jointly by the University of East Anglia, UEA Students Union, University of Suffolk and Norwich Bioscience Institutes over the next two years.

A total of £150,000 funding has now been approved by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Catalyst Fund, and this will be match funded by the University, UEA Students’ Union and other partners.

The Courage Project will look at how higher education institutions can support good mental health and wellbeing among postgraduate research students, and run from February 2018 to January 2020.

The project will include activities led by both students and staff and have eight key areas of focus. Student-led activity will concentrate on:

 – Building research community culture across UEA’s four faculties, Norwich Bioscience Institutes and the University of Suffolk

 –  Resilience training for students

 – ‘Low commitment’ sports and fitness activity, including exercise and walk groups to support health and build community among staff and students

 – Evaluating current online support programmes

Staff-led activity will focus on:

 – Supporting staff who supervise postgraduate research, through improved training, to recognise mental health issues

 – Creating a tutor support network

 – Developing a Health Impact Assessment to embed good mental health and wellbeing into everyday practices

 – Research and advocacy: a review of mental health issues around postgraduate research to inform all the other activities in the project. Also pulling together the lessons from the Courage Project to share with other higher education institutions, through a national mental health summit

“The project’s called ‘Courage’ because it will need courageous conversations and actions.”

Dr John Turnpenny, Associate Dean for Postgraduate Research at UEA’s Faculty of Arts & Humanities, who is leading the project, said: “Mental health is a big issue in higher education, and being a postgraduate researcher brings its own unique challenges. As well as supporting people in difficulty, we’re looking at addressing some of the causes of mental health problems in the first place.

“The project’s called ‘Courage’ because it will need courageous conversations and actions, both in raising things often not spoken in public, and in challenging how we do things as institutions. Mental health is a top priority for us, and this project – a partnership between staff and students – is a great opportunity to take this commitment even further.”

UEA Students’ Union Postgraduate Education Officer, Madeleine Colledge, said: “The debate around mental health in higher education has tended to focus on students on taught programmes, but our own research demonstrates that the process of completing a PhD has a unique impact on the mental health of PGR students, too. This group of students is, in fact, more likely to experience ill mental health than other students. This exciting student-led project will help tackle these issues, building a community of support for students and focussing on ways PGR students can build resilience.”