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New guidance on mental health and wellbeing: supporting staff and students more important now than ever


An improved approach to mental health and wellbeing at universities is being set out by Universities UK to mark today’s start of Mental Health Awareness Week.

The importance of mental health and wellbeing is in focus now more than ever as people adapt to new ways of living, working and studying. For universities, this means enhancing support for students and staff alike.

UUK has published a refreshed version of its strategic framework, Stepchange: mentally healthy universities, calling on universities to prioritise the mental health of their students and staff by taking a whole-university approach to mental health, meaning that mental health and wellbeing is considered across every aspect of the university and is part of all practices, policies, courses and cultures.

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.

Recommended actions within the new framework include:

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

Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, Vice-Chancellor and President of Brunel University London, and President of Universities UK, said: “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.

“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.”

Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, said: “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.”

Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West of England – UWE Bristol and Chair of UUK's Mental Health in Higher Education Advisory Group, added:“It’s absolutely vital for universities look after their communities of students and staff, to support them through mental health difficulties and help them to thrive and succeed, and even more so during the current challenges we’re all facing due to COVID-19.

“The Stepchange framework provided us with an opportunity to develop a whole-university approach. The new framework builds on the learning of Stepchange and moves us forward by extending our scope and thinking. It is about getting universities to think about mental health and wellbeing across all their activities and people and implement a whole-university approach, with students and staff involved at all stages of the journey.

“Universities must also work in close partnership with parents, schools and employers to prepare students for the transition to higher education and with the NHS to coordinate mental healthcare for students, and to ensure that mental health continues to be a strategic priority.”

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