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Mental health and wellbeing in UK Higher Education current initiatives

12 March 2024

Cristina Higuera Martín, Education Developer in the Education Development Service outlines current strategic approaches and evidence-based practices in the UK HE sector to prevent or address mental wellbeing issues, and to promote a healthy and positive learning and teaching experience for all.

In her previous blog, Cristina outlined the multiple drivers that are shaping mental health and wellbeing decisions in UK universities.

What is considered best practice?

The Advance HE mental health and wellbeing conference (2023) highlighted as best practice adopting whole-university approaches that promote wellbeing through:

  1. Physical spaces
  2. Online presence and
  3. Learning and teaching experiences

Moving forward, the ideal landscape would reflect an optimal balance between practical and pedagogical considerations, and the wellbeing of staff and students.

Current initiatives

A wide range of evidence-based initiatives are currently being deployed in the sector to support the mental health and wellbeing of students and staff. These include:

  1. Coaching, mentoring and buddy systems
  • coaching training (Bordogna & Lundgren-Resenterra, 2023) for doctoral and master supervisors
  • hybrid mentoring programmes for staff and students
  • student buddy support systems which give students access to an experienced peer who can provide friendly advice and support
  1. Drop-ins, counselling and wellbeing advisers
  • peer-led drop-in hybrid sessions structured around mental health and wellbeing topics
  • peer-led drop-in service supported by clinical staff available to any student feeling lonely, homesick, worrying or upset
  • four free counselling appointments for solution-focused brief interventions, which can be extended via GP referral
  • access to a wellbeing adviser. Wellbeing advisers facilitate proactive wellbeing skill building, offer advice and signposting to staff and student representatives, and provide specialist support to students with a history of trauma
  1. Continuing professional development
  • role-based training in restorative supervision (Walker and Jennison, 2023) for personal tutors and front-line staff
  • compulsory training in pastoral support for personal tutors and doctoral supervisors (Hayball, 2023)
  1. Mental health profiling

Used for prevention as well as to target and personalise interventions. Descriptive data about students is collected, clustered via a statistical modelling process and then interpreted to inform decision making.

  1. Self-help tools
  • A survey around different wellbeing related topics (Meyer and Sidiropoulou, 2023). Participants completing the survey receive feedback, information about self-care strategies and personalised recommendations based on their responsesa
  • Online materials exploring emotional awareness, encouraging help seeking behaviour, recognising achievements and valuing learning opportunities (Positive Digital Practices, 2023).
  1. Retreats in nature

Master dissertation writing retreats have been found (Stevenson, 2020) to counteract stress and feelings of isolation among students during their dissertation experience.

  1. Targeted newsletters and leaflets
  • Newsletters are being sent at key points to students to support them through transitions such as going through summative assessments
  • Leaflets are being deployed with a harm-reduction approach. Content includes guidelines targeting initiations into student societies.
  1. Toolkits
  • strategic approaches to create a university mental health strategy in line with Stepchange (Universities UK, 2020)
  • positive digital practices around learner identities, digital communities and positive pedagogies (Positive Digital Practices, 2023)
  1. Wellbeing modules
  • an online module for students, fostering a compassionate mindset towards self and others (Meyer and Murgatroyd, 2023)
  • an online module which guides students to discover and better understand wellbeing Positive Digital Practices (2023)

Get involved

We would like to hear your views on the impact and effort required to implement these mental health and wellbeing initiatives at whole-university level.

Find out more

Advance HE (2023) Mental wellbeing in HE conference 2023: putting theory into practice – creating a whole university approach to student and staff wellbeing | Advance HE (​

Bordogna, C. M., & Lundgren-Resenterra, M. (2023) Integrating and normalising coaching as a routine practice in doctoral supervision. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 18, 99-118.

Cardiff University (2020) Enabling Success: A Strategy for Creating a Mentally Healthy University

Hayball, J. (2023) Pastoral support training for personal tutors and doctoral supervisors

Meyer, D., & Murgatroyd, C. (2023) The make a difference leadership curriculum: Embedding student-led community for authentic belonging, wellbeing and learning success

Meyer, D., & Sidiropoulou, M.P. (2023) Understanding your wellbeing self-help tool – a case study of a whole university approach to student and staff

Positive Digital Practices (2023) Project – Positive Digital Practices (

Stevenson, N. (2021) Developing academic wellbeing through writing retreats.

Journal of Further and Higher Education, 45 (6), 717-729.

Universities UK (2020) Stepchange: Mentally healthy universities Stepchange: mentally healthy universities (

Walker, J., & Jenninson, L. (2023) Can restorative supervision positively impact the emotional wellbeing of HEI lecturers in healthcare?