Mental Health Awareness Week: UUK publishes improved mental health strategy

The university collective releases a refreshed version of its strategic framework for Mental Health Awareness Week – and calls on vice-chancellors to “lead from the front”

To mark the start of Mental Health Awareness Week today (18 May 2020), Universities UK (UUK) has released a revised version of its strategic framework for mental health and wellbeing at universities.

First published in 2017, the Stepchange framework asked universities to view the mental health and wellbeing of the whole university population as a priority.

A refreshed version of this framework, Stepchange: mentally healthy universities, again calls on universities to prioritise the mental health of their students and staff by considering it across all practices, policies, courses and cultures.

The updated guide comes shortly after a new report into university staff mental health by The Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), which found that demand from staff for mental health support had increased significantly over the past 12 months, with increases in referrals since 2010 as high as 500% at some providers.

The revised framework’s advice to universities:

    • Demonstrate visible leadership and senior ownership of mental health as a priority to promote open conversations and sustain change
    • Work closely with students and staff to develop mental health strategies and services
    • Ensure accessible and appropriately resourced support for mental health and wellbeing for all students and all staff
    • Focus on staff mental health; inclusion of mental health in staff performance discussions and provision of appropriate training for line managers and supervisors
    • Clarify the key role of academic staff in supporting the mental health of students through appropriate training and development
    • Commit to assessments and course work that stretch and test learning without imposing unnecessary stress

The Stepchange approach and shared set of principles inform the Student Minds University Mental Health Charter which will provide a voluntary accreditation scheme for universities. UUK has also published an open access self-assessment tool developed with the Child Outcomes Research Consortium.

We are calling on vice-chancellors to lead from the front and use this updated framework to help students and staff thrive

“At this difficult and unprecedented time, during which universities have moved all of their student support provision online as well as supporting those students still living at university, we are releasing this framework because the top priority for all universities remains the safety, health and wellbeing of the entire university community,” said Professor Julia Buckingham, UUK president and vice-chancellor of Brunel University London.

“We are calling on vice-chancellors to lead from the front and use this updated framework to help students and staff thrive and achieve their full potential. Significantly, the framework encourages a new focus on staff mental health, starting with open conversations.

“Universities must be healthy spaces. By taking a whole university approach to mental health and working more closely with the health and care system, universities have the ability to change the lives of students, staff and communities.”

Supporting students’ mental health is important all-year round, but it is even more crucial during this uncertain and troubling time

Universities minister, Michelle Donelan added: “I understand this is an incredibly difficult time for students and it is one of my top priorities to do all I can to make sure students have the support they need.

“Supporting students’ mental health is important all-year round, but it is even more crucial during this uncertain and troubling time. That is why I wrote to universities at the very start of this pandemic outlining that protecting student’s mental health and wellbeing during this period is an absolute priority.

“I am proud of the hard work and dedication shown by universities towards this issue. There is still more that can be done and I hope the updated framework will help providers improve the support on offer and create a university-wide approach.”

UUK is running a free webinar exploring how universities can come together to support student and staff mental health during the Covid-19 crisis on Thursday 21 May 2020.


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