Student mental health the focus of new peer support programme

A new peer support programme is being developed at UCL to support the mental health of our students, in a collaborative project involving academics, students, NHS and community partners.

The TRANSACT (Translating Insights into Action) programme, led by UCL Psychology & Language Sciences (UCL PALS) academics and involving UCLPartners, Students’ Union UCL, Camden Local Authority and London Higher, has received funding this week from the UK’s Office for Students, as part of a £6 million funding package for university student mental health across the country.

The new initiative forms part of UCL PALS’ PsychUP for Wellbeing (Psychology Informing University Practices for Wellbeing) programme, which was set up to improve mental health in universities by developing the knowledge base, designing models of care and supporting partnerships working between university and NHS services, to simplify access to vital support services.

Development of TRANSACT is being informed by a recent peer research project which showed that different groups of students experience different structural and social barriers to accessing mental health support; three groups identified as being at particular risk are young women, BAME and international students. The project also developed potential solutions, with one overarching theme being that students would value more peer support.

The programme is guided by the principle that support should be led by the student community, rather than being imposed ’top down’ by universities. However, the transient nature of student life means that knowledge and community resources which underpin peer support, may not become deeply embedded, so a more long-term structure is needed.

Professor Peter Fonagy OBE, head of UCL Psychology & Language Sciences and director of PsychUP for Wellbeing, said: "Peer support is crucial. We know that students are often well placed to help other students. We can do a lot to support students, but there is also a great deal that students can do to help their friends - and we have made resources available to guide peer-to-peer support. We are telling students to look for the signs of distress and are showing them appropriate, evidence-based support that they can put into action."

With TRANSACT, UCL experts will work closely with students currently leading peer initiatives focussed on mental health and important social stressors, in order to develop a plan for targeted support, sharing knowledge and helping them link with the community outside the university. Where there is a mental health focus to the initiative, NHS clinicians affiliated with UCL will help develop and support improved pathways into care. Accelerated initiatives will be led by the student community, connected with the local community and linked into health and university services.

Dr Laura Gibbon (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences), coordinating director of PsychUP for Wellbeing, said: "We are delighted the Office for Students is supporting the TRANSACT project, co-ordinated by PsychUP for Wellbeing for UCL. We are taking a place-based approach, providing multi-agency support for student-led peer support initiatives, to help student communities build resources and make links with local communities in Camden and beyond."

The project will build on the existing PsychUP for Wellbeing partnership with Camden Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service, helping to facilitate links with the NHS. The training will be informed by the Health Education England (HEE)/UCLPartners competence framework for student peer support workers, and will be delivered via an online training platform.

Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, said: "Having a mental health condition should not be a barrier to success in higher education, but for many students this is still the case. Data shows that students reporting a mental health condition are more likely to drop out, less likely to graduate with a first or 2:1, and progress into skilled work or further study - compared to students without a declared condition. We also know that students come to university or college from a range of backgrounds and that their individual journey, and the kind of support they require, is likely to be influenced by their specific circumstances.

"That’s why this funding of targeted interventions for student mental health is so important. By paying attention to the diverse needs of students, universities and colleges can fine-tune the support they offer and ensure that all students, regardless of where they are from, have the best chance possible to succeed."

Chris Lane

tel: +44 20 7679 9222

E: chris.lane [at] ucl.ac.uk


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