Scrabble tiles with wellness written on them

An increasing focus on embedding mental wellbeing

Zoë Allman PFHEA, NTF

The last year has had an incredible impact on the sector, education more broadly, and across many aspects of our lives.  Prior to the pandemic activity was occurring around mental wellbeing in the curriculum but the pandemic has acted as a catalyst that has raised this as key topic of discussion amongst academic teams, a thematic area at national conferences, and a renewed strategic focus at the provider level.

Following the 2019 publication of the ‘University Mental Health Charter‘, there has been increasing activity in the area but particularly in light of the pandemic, for example with the Student Minds publication ‘Planning for a Sustainable Future: the importance of university mental health in uncertain times‘.  Just a couple of months ago, in May 2021, Student Minds launched the ‘University Mental Health Charter Award‘, inviting providers to reflect on mental health across the university for students and staff, exploring areas of strength and development to inform improvements.

The Universities UK ‘Stepchange: Mentally Healthy Universities‘ from 2020 calls for universities to “be places that promote mental health and wellbeing, enabling all students and all staff to thrive and succeed to their best potential”, an idea being embraced by the sector.  In January of this year JISC issued a “call for universities to embed wellbeing in curriculum, to save student mental health” and upon reading it’s clear that there is a focus on staff here as well, which is great to see.  As many of us working in this area have noted, if we are to ensure effective embedding of mental wellbeing for students we need to ensure the mental wellbeing of staff too. 

In the summer of 2019 thirteen universities joined Advance HE for the first iteration of the Embedding Mental Wellbeing in the Curriculum Project; a project that would bring providers together to review activity across the sector, explore readiness to implement change, share best practice, evaluate activity, and develop plans to further embed mental wellbeing in the curriculum.  Outcomes from this project were shared more widely with the sector through the Advance HE Student Retention and Success Symposium in September 2020 and the first Advance HE Mental Wellbeing and Staff in HE Symposium in February 2021.

A number of the collaborating partners from the initial Advance HE Embedding Mental Wellbeing in the Curriculum Project wanted to further explore this important topic, to provide definitions for embedding mental wellbeing, to share good practice examples for others to use, and to provide clarity around the associated benefits and benefits measures.  Earlier this year the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) kindly supported a proposed Collaborative Enhancement Project from the team focusing on these matters. 

The team representing seven higher education providers and a students’ union are now working collaboratively to develop a set of resources to enhance support in the sector for embedding mental wellbeing, with a view to making these available from ‘Blue Monday’ (17 January 2022) to refocus a day typically considered to be the most depressing of the year onto positive aspects of support and activity around mental wellbeing.  Outcomes will be shared in the form of open educational resources (OERs) to be housed on the QAA main website, and launched on Blue Monday with an online dissemination and professional development event.

The team include academic colleagues, professional services colleagues with backgrounds in mental health and wellbeing, and counselling, senior academic leaders, and leaders of academic professional development.  The insight, knowledge and experience across the group provides an excellent base for exploratory discussion, idea development, critique, and importantly action.  To date the collaborative team have sourced a range of best practice examples from the contributing universities and explored detailed discussions about the ‘embeddedness’ of embedding mental wellbeing.   Entering the summer period we are refining definitions, reviewing gathered examples alongside the emerging definitions, and exploring the wider benefits of such activity.

If you would like to know more about the project or this is an area of particular interest to you please get in touch, it would be great to hear from you.

Zoë Allman PFHEA, NTF

Project Leader: QAA Collaborative Enhancement Project 2021, Embedding mental wellbeing

Associate Dean (Academic), De Montfort University


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