Please note that What Works Wellbeing will close operations on 30 April 2024.  Read more
October 2023

Supporting student mental health and wellbeing

Resources and knowledge to help universities and colleges provide support for students.

Supporting student mental health and wellbeing
In partnership with

Mental health matters to overall wellbeing at all stages of life, and universities and colleges are an important context for supporting this.

Levels of depression and anxiety among young people have increased in recent years, particularly for disadvantaged young people, who also face practical and structural barriers to learning and progression.

Understanding the drivers and determinants of student wellbeing will not only help them thrive during their studies, but also establish the foundations for lifelong learning and their future wellbeing.

Understanding what works

The biggest drivers of adult wellbeing (16 years and up) are:

  1. Emotional and physical health
  2. Partner relationship
  3. Employment

From our work with University of East Anglia we identified an evidence gap on student mental health and wellbeing interventions.

So in 2020, together with the University of Liverpool, we published a review of reviews mapping which interventions work to better the mental health and wellbeing in higher education and adult learning. 

The review looked at a range of interventions including mindfulness, psychological, technological, recreation and setting-based interventions. The research established the global evidence base for the sector to build on.

You can explore the full report, as well as a shorter briefing which summarises its findings, in the resources below.

In 2023, we analysed UK data to understand how the wellbeing and mental health of students in higher education varies over time and in relation to demographic characteristics and circumstances.

Read the full reports on undergraduate and taught postgraduate students and doctoral students.

Synthesising a growing evidence base

It is a priority for higher education institutions to create the conditions to protect and improve mental health and wellbeing in an effective and safe way. 

Knowing what can be commissioned and done with confidence in the outcome is key to improving outcomes.

Knowing where the knowledge gaps are, what is truly innovative and working with partners to fill those gaps is key to accelerating learning, including working on methodological developments.

Student Mental Health Evidence Hub

Building on on our previous work, we are now part of a consortium of partners that is pooling its expertise to help universities and colleges to identify and make use of effective practice in supporting student mental health.

Together, we’ve produced a Student Mental Health Evidence Hub, an open access digital resource which provides information and guidance for the higher education sector on how they can improve student mental health support.

The Hub consists of five key elements:

  • A toolkit and associated toolkit pages which are underpinned by an evidence review.
  • Examples of practice from the sector.
  • Evaluation guidance on how to select and measure mental health outcomes in non- clinical settings, written especially for the project.
  • Student perspectives.
  • Project resources.

The hub does not include toolkit pages for suicide prevention interventions, online interventions or the use of data analytics as these were beyond the scope of this project.

Who is this for?

Anyone working with students or interested in supporting student mental health looking to use evidence to inform decision making, practice and future research.

For example:

  • Student mental health practitioners
  • Student services and related support staff
  • Leaders and senior managers of higher education institutions
  • Teaching staff
  • Evaluators
  • Education funders and commissioners
  • Policymakers
  • Researchers interested in student mental health and wellbeing

Knowledge use and generation

These resources are designed to be iterative and sustainable. If you’d like to let us know how you’re engaging with our resources, submit an evaluation or case study for inclusion, or let us know about a useful additional resource, please get in touch.

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In this project

Resource - October 2023
Student Mental Health Evidence Hub
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Blog - October 2023
What works to support student mental health – new evidence hub launched
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Blog - July 2023
Understanding student wellbeing: insights from latest analysis
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Full review and briefing - 2020
Student mental health interventions: state of the evidence
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Podcast - June 2020
Student mental health review of reviews: Nancy Hey's interview for SMaRteN
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Briefing & factsheet 2018
Adult learning and life satisfaction
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Briefing 2018
Barriers to learning
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Practice example 2019
Create a student health and wellbeing strategy
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Practice example 2019
Signposting mental health services at uni
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