From education to employment

Creating a Whole University Approach to Mental Health

Amy Dicks, Universities UK

Good Mental Health for Everyone 

The Covid-19 pandemic is normalising conversations about mental health and wellbeing in mainstream media, politics, and in people’s homes and workplaces. Previously, dialogue often focused on mental illness, but there has been a positive shift towards the maintenance and promotion of good mental health for everyone, as well as supporting those in need.

Universities have a huge opportunity to promote good mental health for students and staff as communities, employers, educational settings, accommodation and healthcare providers. Last year we published Stepchange: mentally healthy universities as a refreshed call to action for universities to see mental health as foundational to all aspects of university life, for all students and all staff. It provides senior leaders with a framework for a whole university approach to mental health including a self-assessment tool (pdf).

Transforming University Services

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, university staff have been working at pace to transform support services to meet the challenges of the pandemic, moving counselling and advice online, building digital communities, developing new services to identify those in difficulty and to meet new needs. For many universities, mental health has never been discussed so widely across the institution as it has been during the pandemic.

Now that vaccination programmes are underway, we are beginning to see a path through the pandemic and reflect on the impact it has had on us as individuals, families, and communities. There is an opportunity to draw on this experience and shift our perceptions of mental health, wellbeing, and health more broadly. Places where we learn, live and work should be healthy settings, places that are supportive of, and enhance, our physical and mental health and wellbeing, including universities (Healthy Universities).

In practice, here are five key considerations for universities:

  1. Health promotion: encouraging healthy behaviours for all staff and students to improve wellbeing, such as physical activity, healthy eating and sleeping, and discouraging unhealthy behaviours such as abuse of alcohol and drugs.
  2. Healthy cultures: creating safe and open cultures that encourage inclusion and diversity and actively oppose bullying, harassment and marginalisation.
  3. Healthy environment: designing work, learning and living spaces that promote good mental health, encourage access to nature and reduce physical risks.
  4. Healthy community: working in partnership with students’ unions and guilds to actively support the social integration of students, support academic achievement and retention, and reduce loneliness and improve wellbeing.
  5. Visible leadership: to bring about sustainable change it is essential that senior leaders actively encourage open and supportive conversations about mental health and wellbeing.

Support in Partnership

We must also remember that universities cannot support student mental health alone and should not be expected to do so. Partnership working is vital locally and nationally, with the health and care system as well as with accommodation providers, parents, schools, colleges, and employers.

Students are part of a generation that are essential to post- Covid-19 recovery and must be a priority across government, with the NHS, public health bodies, the third and private sectors working with universities as key partners.


Universities UK is asking government to step up support for students. .

Recommendation 1

The government should provide additional funding for student support services in England which have seen demand double or even quadruple in some cases during the pandemic. The Scottish and Welsh governments have both provided or confirmed significant additional funding to universities over the past 12 months.

Recommendation 2

The Department for Health and Social Care, the Department for Education and NHS England should work closely with universities to transform NHS services to meet student needs including the creation of Student-facing NHS mental health services. Students make up half of the young adult population but continue to experience variation in mental health provision and gaps in care despite the commitment to student mental health in the NHS Long Term Plan.

Recommendation 3

Universities and their senior leaders must take this opportunity to prioritise creating healthy universities, leading by example to drive institutional wide culture change.

By Amy Dicks, Universities UK

Understanding and Overcoming a Mental Health Crisis in 2021

This article is from the new publication Understanding and Overcoming a Mental Health Crisis in 2021: issues for post-16 education, employment, the world of work and retirement’. 

Some of the issues and concerns for mental health discussed existed prior to the pandemic, but Covid-19 has caused additional pressures on young people and adults. 

The authors make specific recommendations to support apprentices and students at colleges, university and in adult learning, as well as people in and out of work.

The important role of education, lifelong learning and good work in promoting mental wellbeing and reducing mental health problems is also addressed. 

Published by the Campaign for Learning, it brings together sixteen specialists from mental health and post-16 education and employment to set out what needs to be done to prevent or limit a mental health crisis in 2021. 


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