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UEA introduces initiative to tell parents about students’ mental health issues

The vice-chancellor’s mental health taskforce has announced during next semester students will be able to opt in to an initiative allowing UEA to inform a third party, such as a parent or guardian, about significant concerns over a student’s wellbeing. 

The taskforce is also introducing 15 other projects to support what the head of student services believes is a strong student support network at UEA.

The Vice-Chancellor’s task force was introduced in March, in the light of concerning mental health issues following four deaths in ten months on campus. The team is comprised of 11 people, including 2 members of the student union. Following a petition to address the mental health crisis at UEA vice-chancellor David Richardson said the university would be “immediately investing an additional £250,000 now for this year and from the start of August we will spend £1.4m in mental health and wellbeing services, a 63% increase in budget compared to this year.”

The taskforce also funded recruitment of 18 new staff across Student Services in order to increase the support services over the summer and autumn. 

The opt in initiative would allow the University to contact a nominated friend or relative in the event of significant concerns about their welfare.

A survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute this year found 81% of students would not complain if universities contacted their parents or guardians about their mental health.

Vice-Chancellor David Richardson said: “I set the taskforce up and at the start we were reviewing what we needed to do, enhancing already strong provision and exploring the areas we need to address in order to put in place a whole institutional approach to tackle the challenge around mental health and wellbeing for the whole community. 

“Six months on we have done a lot. We have put in place projects to prevent, intervene and support, to create fora to have conversations, to embed wellbeing into the curriculum and to build on our research and do new interactions into intervention and prevention.”

Concrete launched the Mental Health Crisis campaign in September this year, and informing parents or guardians about their child’s mental health issues was one of five points in the campaign’s manifesto. 

The campaign has gained support from the mother of a UEA student who took his own life on university grounds, several MPs, the Chief Executive of Norwich City Council, and prominent figures such as mental health activists Stephen Fry, Sir Norman Lamb, and Brexit activist Gina Miller. UEA’s vice-chancellor also supports the campaign. In a statement he said: “Removing stigma and being able to have honest conversations about mental health is absolutely vital.”

The taskforce has launched are 16 initiatives in total, including working with universities such as Bristol to spot the best approaches to mental health, embedding wellbeing in the curriculum, and introducing a staff wellbeing and mental health strategy.

UEA vice-chancellor’s mental health taskforce’s 16 initiatives:

  1. Embedded wellbeing

Eight student life advisers and three wellbeing advisers will be located in schools, as well as 1 embedded team manager.

Student life advisers will offer support on issues around housing, money and engagement with studies.

Wellbeing advisers with offer support on issues surrounding emotional wellbeing and mental health.

  1. Academic adviser review

UEA has launched a formal review of the role of academic advisers.

  1. Embedding wellbeing in the curriculum

UEA is working with Advance HE and 12 universities to develop an idea of what is the best practice in embedding wellbeing in the curriculum. The project will consider the structure of the academic year as well as how and when assessments take place.

  1. Welcome Week 2020

In 2020 UEA will introduce a new ‘week zero’ to help students better transition into university life. There will be no formal teaching during this week. The focus will be on helping students engage in the university and learn what support services are available.

  1. Mental health literacy

UEA has appointed a wellbeing training manager. There will be a range of in-house wellbeing and mental health training for staff. UEA are also developing online wellbeing kits for staff.

  1. Staff wellbeing

UEA will launch a strategy for wellbeing and mental health for staff. The university will introduce its first Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) launched under the strategy. EAP will offer all staff and dependents free anytime access to advice and support (financial, legal, wellbeing and counselling). Health Assured will provide the service.

  1. Identifying best practice

Working with a range of other universities (inc. Bristol, University of West England, Northumbria, Sussex, Exeter) plus external agencies to identify and implement best practice, both from within UEA, and wider afield around wellbeing and mental health.

  1. Enlitened app

UEA aims to work with The Student Room and uea(su) on their app Enlitened to signpost students to wellbeing and mental health advice and support. The app also allows students to suggest improvements to university life.

  1. Residential life

UEA has appointed five residential life managers to provide welfare advice and support to students in residences. They will support student services residents (previously known as wardens).

  1. Close monitoring in concerning situations

A wellbeing team with monitor individual cases of concern.

  1. New opt in scheme for third party contact

From next semester students will be able to consent to UEA contacting a nominated person in the event of a significant wellbeing concern. Specific consent will be sought from students in the event of wanting to make contact about their wellbeing.

  1. Peer review of Student Services

An external peer review of UEA Student Services has concluded. UEA say the report was positive report but there were recommendations around the need for a more robust case management system.

  1. Management information for Student Services

Introduction and embedding of provision of regular MI to improve wait times and service provision.

Information on wait times is now being regularly collected, so peak times can be anticipated and staffing adjusted to enable target wait times to be met at all times.

  1. Review of student protocols

UEA has reviewed and updated its protocols. It will now review the processes and protocols in the event of any student death.

  1. New booking and case management system

UEA has started to look for a case management system for Student Services.

  1. Updating information for students

UEA has reviewed tone and content and updated letters it sends to students. The university has also updated online material for students wanting to access Student Services or seeking support.


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Bryan Mfhaladi and Chris Matthews

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June 2022
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