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The university mental health charter: a preview

Rosie Tressler and Gareth Hughes outline the work Student Minds have done on developing a Student Mental Health Charter, and unveil their key principles.
This article is more than 5 years old

Rosie Tressler is Chief Executive at Student Minds.

Gareth Hughes is a psychotherapist and the Research Lead for Student Wellbeing at the University of Derby. He is also a Clinical Advisor for Student Minds.

In June, then-Universities Minister Sam Gyimah announced that Student Minds would develop a University Mental Health Charter.

Since then we have been hard at work behind the scenes, consulting with colleagues and experts, appointing the charter team and developing our methodology. We have now appointed a project manager and content development lead and are starting to shape our plans for developing this exciting piece of work.

Developing a fresh approach

In 2017, UUK’s Step Change Framework called for universities to think beyond the provision of services, towards a whole university approach to mental health. The charter will embody this approach and we are working with UUK to ensure it is aligned with the refreshed Step Change Framework, due to be launched in September 2019.

The charter will be designed to help universities develop genuinely holistic approaches and to recognise those that are already delivering excellent work.

Our intention is to make the charter ambitious and stretching. We want to ask the sector what the ideal approach to student mental health would that look like and how would we know? We want the charter to have a long-term and transformative effect on the mental health of all of university communities.

To deliver this, we hope that the final charter will cover a broad range of dimensions, accounting for every aspect of university life that can have a significant impact on mental health. We hope that in ten years, the majority of universities will have gained or will be working towards charter status and that this will represent another step change in improving mental wellbeing within our universities.

Key principles

We have established a number of key principles that underpin our work on the development and framing of the charter. These principles include

  1. The charter will embody a whole-university approach.
  2. Recognising the diversity of the sector. It will not be prescriptive about how each university should run its services or what specific interventions it should provide.
  3. The charter will recognise the diversity of the student body. We know that students have different needs and can face different barriers to good mental health; the completed charter will recognise this and embed inclusivity across all of its dimensions.
  4. The charter will be designed so every institution can potentially apply for and gain charter status.  Whether large teaching, research intensive, small scale specialist or private, the charter should be flexible enough to meet the specific context of each institution.
  5. The charter will be underpinned by a robust evidence base, gathered from relevant literature and from the large scale consultation and research that we will undertake. As a result, the charter will be iterative, responding and changing to new understanding and discovery.
  6. The charter will be developed with input from a broad range of university students, staff, leaders and other stakeholders, including counsellors and mental health advisers. We will be open and transparent in our consultation and evidence gathering, publishing our findings for scrutiny and inviting healthy challenge from colleagues across the sector.
  7. The charter will recognise the value of co-production and listening to and learning from a range of diverse voices and experiences.
  8. The charter will draw on the experiences of key developments in the sector, now and in future. This will include the work of SMaRTen, the innovations that emerge from the recent OfS Challenge Competition and the Catalyst projects on PGR Student Mental Health.
  9. Applying for the charter will be a robust and challenging exercise that will not simply require box ticking.

Next steps

The first year of development will focus on research and consultation with the sector, so that we can build a robust framework, firmly underpinned by evidence and the real experiences of students and staff.

We have started our work with a large scale literature review of research and published good practice, so that we can be certain our work is grounded in evidence, right from the start.

In January, we will announce details of our plans to consult with the sector. We are keen to hear from staff, students and leaders and will provide multiple opportunities to feed into the development of the charter. We will be working with our partners to bring these plans to fruition, in particular the NUS to ensure we tap into underrepresented voices and overcome barriers that may exist to some groups engaging.

Working with our partners, we will use the consultation phase to create the outline of the charter and agree on the dimensions it will measure. This will be aligned with the refresh of the Step Change Framework.

Devising the measurement of the charter will form a second phase of development and will be supported by the work to develop an audit tool for Step Change.

Staying informed

To date over 70 universities and a range of sector bodies have offered to help us develop the charter. As the work develops we will issue regular communications to those who have expressed an interest, as well as posting regular updates on the Student Minds website and on Twitter. You can sign up to our mailing list here.

The work of Student Minds is overseen by three bodies – our trustees, our clinical advisory group and our student advisory board. In addition, we have brought together a programme steering group composed of sector experts to support the creation of the charter. The development of the charter will be undertaken in partnership with UUK, NUS and AMOSSHE and supported by key our stakeholders in OfS and DfE. We are also extremely grateful to the UPP Foundation which has funded the development of the charter and are supporting the ongoing governance of the project.

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