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Sep 14, 2018

Mental health in young people entering uni

The big takeaway

  • Universities often put interventions into place without understanding what the issues are, and roll out interventions that are not evidence-informed.
  • It can pay to begin more intensive research as early as possible (particularly cluster controlled studies) – and develop an approach that focuses exclusively on campuses, rather than a more general approach looking at secondary school- and collage-age mental health.

Who was involved?

  • National charity, Student Minds
  • Southern Universities Network
  • Canadian charity TeenMentalHealth.Org

During a Winston Churchill Fellowship looking into mental health literacy initiatives in Canada and Australia, Student Minds CEO Rosie Tressler met with Canadian organisation TeenMentalHealth.Org (led by internationally-renowned psychiatrist Dr. Stan Kutcher) and learned of the success of their evidence based resources that were supporting students with this vulnerable transition period. Here, Rosie interviews TeenMentalHealth.org and shares what steps Student Minds took to incorporate the findings.

Today, half of all young people in the UK go to university. Whilst the student experience can be full of new experiences and mark the exciting journey into adulthood, many students struggle with the initial transition from school or college into university. At many universities, drop-out rates of first year students have risen for a third consecutive year (HESA) and UK universities have seen an increase in demand for student mental health support services (IPPR).

TeenMentalHealth.Org uses the best scientific evidence available to develop application-ready professional learning programs, publications, tools and resources to enhance the understanding of adolescent mental health. Dr. Stan Kutcher works to create, develop and deliver research, education and clinical programs by collaborating with its audiences.

‘Know Before You Go’ provides age-appropriate guidance to young people before they leave school or college, and ‘Transitions’ contains information to support the first few years in higher education.

Working in collaboration with TeenMentalHealth.Org, Student Minds licensed the two resources to bring them the UK, and adapt them as necessary for the UK student audience.

TeenMentalHealth.Org discuss the origins of the project in more detail below.

Why did you want to do something? 

Because of our exposure to students coming onto campus we became aware of increasing concerns related to student mental health. At the same time as we observed that youth were coming to campus with increasing challenges related to life skills and that students were beginning to label normal existential experiences as mental disorders and campuses were reacting to these student concerns without critical evaluation as to what the challenges were that needed effective address –  in short, we observed that neither students nor campuses were effectively addressing the transition into campus life.

What did you do – and how does this match with those drivers? 

Our response to this was to create a transitions resource that melded information about: key life skills necessary for campus success: mental disorders commonly found in the campus age group; understanding the normal stress response and how to use it effectively – and to make this freely available to students and campuses alike

Practically, what did you do and what steps did you take?

We created the resource, field tested it, modified it, field tested it, modified it again, applied it and researched its impact. We contacted campuses and on-campus student organisations to make them aware of the resource.

What were the challenges and solutions?

Our major challenge was scale up of an effective transitional resource. Our group had expertise in knowledge transfer and research, but we were not well positioned to impactfully distribute our work. Canada does not have a national vehicle that can easily or effectively reach campuses and there was substantial fragmentation in how different campuses approached the challenges that they were facing.

What were the impacts?

Over time, more and more campuses became aware of the resource and its two companion interventions – a faculty education program called Go-To Faculty and a clinical skills upgrading program designed for campus health care providers addressing the four most common mental illnesses seen on campus (identification, diagnosis, treatment and outcomes evaluation). As the research information spread more and more campuses took on the materials and approaches.

Were there any surprising or unexpected consequences?

It surprised us and continues to surprise us as how often campuses put interventions into place without understanding what the issues are and how often they implement interventions that have no evidence of effectiveness behind them.

What is one thing they would do differently, or definitely do again?

I would have begun more intensive research earlier (particularly cluster controlled studies) – and developed an approach that focused exclusively on campuses instead of how we initially addressed this, as part of a more general school mental health approach that included junior high, secondary school and campus.

What steps did we take at Student Minds?

The project was supported by funding from the Southern Universities Network who also led a launch event at Southampton Solent University on 6th June 2018, where members of local schools, colleges and universities were invited to a dinner and panel discussion around transitions. Student Minds has strong links within the university community and key contacts and stakeholders were informed of the launch date and given information to share through their own channels and platforms to allow for wider dissemination and awareness among the mental health/education community.

UCAS and the Department for Education will be supporting a further launch around A-Level results day on 16th August 2018, when the reality of going to university can really start to set in for prospective students.

In response to feedback we are currently working with interested institutions to create tailored versions of the resources to include support information, relevant to the local area/institution and student groups served by that university, school or college.

Challenges and solutions

Forging relationships with new partners in the schools (pre-entry) sector has been a positive outcome of the project. As a charity who works predominantly with students at university it was important to develop an understanding of how these resources would be received by pre-entry groups. Developing a strong working relationship with UCAS and the Department for Education has really supported this stage of the project as has attending teachers and advisors conferences and principle meetings to engage directly with staff in this area.

Evaluation and next steps

We will be collating feedback on how these resources are used over the next academic year and really encourage staff to get in contact with feedback on both how they utilised the resource(s) and the impact it has had. We are also very welcoming of any suggestions that may improve the resources for UK students.

We continue to liaise with our partners at TeenMentalHealth.Org who have been incredibly supportive of our launch in the UK and who will be providing their own evaluation and analysis of usage of the resources across the schools sector in Canada.

As we evaluate the resources over the next academic year we envisage the next phase of this project to include the creation of lesson plans/resource aids that support using the guides in an interactive way in classes, workshops or mentoring sessions.

The resources Know Before You Go and Transitions are available to download from Student Minds website http://www.studentminds.org.uk/transitions.html

Case study written by TeenMentalHealth.Org, Student Minds

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