Seven student mental health projects receive SMaRteN funding

The researchers will share in the £77,000 award from the UKRI-funded, King’s College London-led network.

Seven research projects that aim to explore non-clinical approaches to student mental health have received funding from the Student Mental Health Research Network (SMaRteN).

Seven teams of UK academics will share in the £77,000 award from the UKRI-funded, King’s College London-led (KCL) network.

SMaRteN received 40 applications for funding in response to its funding call entitled: What can non-clinical approaches to student mental health achieve?

The seven projects are based at the universities of Glasgow, Ulster, East Anglia, Lincoln, Plymouth and UCL.

The team at the University of Glasgow, led by Dr Maria Gardani from the school of psychology, is investigating how postgraduate research students’ (PGRs) mental health can best be supported by their supervisors.

“Current research into postgraduate experience shows that PGRs who report mental health difficulties feel less satisfied about their life-work balance and their lives in general,” Dr Gardani said. “However, they are often reluctant to discuss their issues with their supervisor, either for fear of being judged negatively or reluctance to burden their supervisors with non-academic issues.”

She said supervisors are “uniquely well-positioned to help their PGRs” because they are often “the sole providers of learning, guidance and support” during training.

“With the proper training and experience, they could offer information and support on mental health, and provide access to relevant support services,” she added.

Ulster University will design, implement and evaluate a 12-week student-led peer support programme for first year undergraduates, which will be led by an older student trained to facilitate a Peer Assisted Study Session (PASS).

The project at the University of East Anglia (UEA) will ask students to research and produce short videos on the history of mental health using films at the East Anglian Film Archive, literary texts dealing with mental health issues, and asylum archival records from the Norfolk Records Office.

“The principles being tested are that the students benefit from the creative and collaborative experience and that engagement with mental health heritage allows them to reflect on their experiences, perceptions and wellbeing in a relaxed and safe environment,” said project lead Dr Georgia Walker Churchman.

Lincoln University academics will use their funding to develop a student-led induction package for doctoral study. The team’s research suggests the transition into doctoral research “could offer a valuable window of opportunity to better equip students to maintain and improve their mental health”. The team particularly want to focus on how to help doctorial students develop peer networks.

The team from Plymouth have devised a “social campus app designed by students, for students”. MAPP is a platform which helps students find others who might share social, extra-curricular or academic interests, and the researchers aim to evaluate usage of the app.

Two teams at UCL have won funding. One project seeks to understand what role cultural assets, including museum, collections, art galleries, libraries and the outdoors, play in supporting student mental health. The other will evaluate a five-year scheme involving the university’s division of psychiatry MSc programmes. Incoming students to the programme are placed in study groups with 10 peers; the UCL team led by Tayla McCloud hope to understand if these groups have improved social cohesion.

The SMaRteN is led by KCL’s Dr Nicola Byrom, a lecturer in psychology and a founding trustee of Student Minds. Dr Byrom led the charity through its first six years in operation, before stepping back to a trustee role.


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