UEA has become one of the first 32 universities in the UK to join the new University Mental Health Charter Programme led by the mental health charity Student Minds.
This news comes after the publication of this year’s annual National Student Survey, run by the Office for Students (OfS), which found only 42% felt their mental wellbeing had been adequately supported in the previous academic year.
Commenting on UEA’s involvement, Aaron Campbell, the current Welfare, Community, and Diversity Officer at UEA Students’ Union, stated: “I believe the steps the university are taking will mean that students, both present and future, will have a more positive experience and be able to access timely and good quality support if they need it”.
Published in December 2019, the Charter document was drawn up to address the need for greater clarity on “how universities should support the mental health and wellbeing of the members of their community”. The document was created with two main aims: creating an evidence-informed Charter which can act as a reference point for their ‘whole-university approach’ to mental health and developing a Charter Award Scheme to provide a standard to assess universities.
The Charter is categorised into four main domains. ‘Learn’ covers the transition into university, including pre-application and entry support, learning and teaching styles, assessment, and progression between academic levels. The ‘Support’ domain focusses upon mental health services, risk related to mental health crisis and suicide, external partnerships and pathways, and information sharing. The ‘Work’ section operates slightly differently, in that it also addresses university staff wellbeing and development, including maintaining a healthy workplace culture and implementing role-specific mental health training. The fourth domain, ‘Live’, covers awareness raising to promote a mentally healthy environment, residential accommodation, social integration, and reducing risk through physical environment.
Previously led by Universities UK’s StepChange framework and the Healthy Universities Network, the Charter promotes a ‘whole-university approach’. This is motivated by Student Minds’ “ever-increasing understanding of the factors that contribute to mental health and the importance played by context”. This addresses a wide range of societal and environmental factors alongside student’s “thoughts, behaviours, experiences, biology and learning”.
Members of the Charter Programme can also become accredited on the Charter Award Scheme which assesses the university’s progress, identifies areas of both strength and improvement, and recognises excellent approaches to student and staff mental health.
CEO of Student Minds, Rosie Tressler OBE stated: “If we get this issue right, it will benefit every other policy agenda for education. People are still asking what universities are for, but I hope this Charter helps us to create environments where all people and their minds can meet their potential”.
UEA’s membership in the University Mental Health Charter Programme is part of the Vice-Chancellor’s Task Force for Mental Health and Wellbeing. The Task Force has overseen a range of initiatives and work, such as Embedded Student Life and Wellbeing Advisers for Faculties, a third-party opt-in scheme for students, and a 24/7 Residential Life Team for UEA residences.