Lockdown: Researchers investigate mental health impact on academics

A team from the University of Northampton wants academics to discuss how the lockdown has affected their work and mental health

Academics from the University of Northampton are researching the impact of lockdown on university staff and student mental health – and they want those in HE to get in touch.

The project led by Dr Karishma Jivraj, a lecturer in mental health and health psychology, wants to establish what has caused students and academics to feel stressed during lockdown– and what coping mechanisms they have employed in response.

They also want to understand the short and long-term effects of the Covid-19 lockdown on physical and mental health.

The findings will help practitioners understand how best to support mental health and wellbeing within the HE community during future challenges. They also hope to use their findings to inform government policies, healthcare services and schools.

Dr Jivraj is inviting academics to complete an anonymised questionnaire, which includes questions addressing  participants’ sleep patterns, level of physical activity and work/life balance.

The team are also seeking participants to take part in qualitative research and share their experiences in an interview.

Researchers investigate mental health impact on academics
The project is led by Dr Karishma Jivraj, a lecturer in mental health and health psychology at the University of Northampton.

Ms Jivraj said: “Personally, I have noticed some changes to the way I am coping during this time. Although I’ve always been a fan of yoga and mindfulness, I feel being indoors more often has helped me engage with this side of myself more as well as doing some basic DIY and cooking exotic meals – these are my therapy.

“But on the flipside, I have noticed changes to my mood and satisfaction when I am out of my routine or see that others seem to be doing a lot more with their time.

“Every academic and student will have different and unique stories to tell, so to help get the fullest account possible of how we are coping and why, I hope colleagues across the academic spectrum will take part in this research.”

The issue of staff mental health is increasingly being documented, following freedom of information requests to institution staff support teams. A recent Higher Education Policy Institute report authored by Dr Liz Morrish and Prof Nicky Priaulx concluded that demand for mental health support from university has increased significantly over both the last 10 years and the past 12 months.

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

Speaking at the launch of the framework, UUK president and vice-chancellor of Brunel University London Prof Julia Buckingham, described the prolonged lockdown as a “difficult and unprecedented time” and urged vice-chancellors to “lead from the front and use this updated framework to help students and staff thrive and achieve their full potential”.

She told university chiefs: “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.”

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