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University of Sussex wins funding to improve mental health of new students

A University of Sussex project to improve the mental health of students transitioning to university life has been awarded funding by the Office for Students (OfS).

Sussex is one of just 10 universities in England to be funded as part of a new OfS programme, which seeks to find innovative ways to combat the rise in student mental health issues and spark a change in student support across the country.

Dr Jeremy Niven, in the School of Life Sciences, along with colleagues from the School of Psychology and Sussex’s U-Doc project, entered a bid for funding as part of the OfS’s ‘Challenge Competition’, launched last year.

From a shortlist of 60 universities, just 10 have been awarded funding – selected for developing innovative and strategic methods that have potential to be shared across the sector.

Dr Niven’s project will support undergraduate mental health by focusing on students’ social networks and how they change across educational transitions, such as when they move from school or college to higher education, or from there into postgraduate study or employment

In collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation, and with assistance from colleagues involved in Sussex’s U-Doc project, he’ll design a programme to improve mental health and wellbeing across these transition stages.

Dr Niven said: “This project is an opportunity to assess the difficulties our students face in making the transition into higher education, and to develop ways to mitigate those difficulties.

“It represents an opportunity to work together with students in co-production to improve their university environment and higher education experience.

“I am looking forward to collaborating with students, academic and professional services colleagues at the University of Sussex and our partners in the Mental Health Foundation to deliver this project.”

Jayne Aldridge, Director for the Student Experience at the University of Sussex, said: “The mental health and wellbeing of our students is our absolute priority and we are committed to working with staff across the University, the Students’ Union, local authorities and health professionals to continuously improve our services in this area.

“Alongside services provided centrally, academics play a crucial role in supporting students into and throughout their university life, so it’s great to see Dr Niven playing a leading role in addressing this sector-wide issue.”

The proportion of full-time UK undergraduate students reporting mental health concerns when they enter higher education has more than doubled over the last five years.

According to a recent poll, over 87 per cent of students said they struggle with feelings of anxiety, and one in three experienced a serious psychological issue which required professional help.

Data published by the OfS shows that full-time students with a declared mental health condition are more likely to drop out, and less likely to achieve a first or 2:1 degree or secure good jobs after graduation.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, said: “We know that many complex factors impact on students’ mental health and wellbeing, so addressing mental ill health is always going to be challenging. But universities and colleges are uniquely placed to rise to that challenge: through the expertise of their staff, insights from their own students, and their ability to bring groups and other organisations together to tackle complex problems in partnership.”

A total of £6 million has been awarded by the OfS for ten projects which will address one or more of the following areas:

  • Transitions – for all types of students, whether from school or college to higher education, or from there into postgraduate study or employment
  • Early intervention – by providing new forms of mental health awareness training to staff and students; or using data to improve or enhance interventions
  • Improving support – for example by developing links between university- or college-level support services and those of local primary care and mental health services.

The 10 projects will see collaborations between 67 universities, colleges and organisations including the NHS, police and mental health charities, with an additional contribution of £8.5 million in matched funding.

Details of the successful projects are available at www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/skills-and-employment/improving-mental-health-outcomes/

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