The wellbeing of NHS staff and learners – the Mental Wellbeing Commission report and relevance in Higher Education

In February 2019, the Mental Wellbeing Commission published a set of recommendations for the NHS concerning the wellbeing of NHS staff and learners (The Executive Summary can be viewed here and the Full Report here). The recommendations for the report recognise the importance of supporting the wellbeing of learners within an NHS setting, and staff members generally.

What were the key themes outlined in the report?

Twelve themes emerged from panel discussions with staff working within the NHS, bereaved families (of those who had ended their life during their employment with the NHS), with organisations demonstrating best practice, and via site visits. Themes that emerged covered preparing for transitions (through school, to further/higher education and beyond), the need for self-care/caring for the carers, taking a break, and the role of technology amongst others.

What did the report recommend?

The commission published 33 recommendations for local NHS trusts to adopt. The primary recommendation focused on the creation of a workforce “Wellbeing Guardian”, who would be responsible for the wellbeing and mental health of their staff at a board-level, in every NHS organisation, from a national to local level.

Other recommendations within the report included the creation of a Workplace Wellbeing Leader, supporting transitions, as well as quick access referral pathways for staff (e.g., for psychological therapy). The commission recognised that more could be done to support wellbeing for staff, and this could include further provision of peer support, as well as safe psychologically safe and confidential spaces.

What is the relevance within Higher Education?

At present, the mental health and wellbeing of students is of focus within Higher Education and a variety of initiatives have been developed (e.g., UKRI Mental Health Research Networks; UUK StepChange Framework), or are in development (e.g., University Mental Health Charter), which are designed to improve this.

However, little attention is being paid to the staff members in Higher Education who may be supporting students, despite public calls for staff members to be more informed and to support the early identification and prevention of mental health conditions in students (e.g., Vitae recommendations for Postgraduate Researcher Supervisors).  The Commissions statement of “who cares for the people who care for the nation’s health” (p.17, Executive Summary), becomes one of “who cares for staff members who support the mental health and wellbeing needs of students?” and the general query of “how can staff be best supported” when applied within a Higher Education context.

The wellbeing and mental health needs of staff members in Higher Education should not be ignored (e.g., “More academics and students have mental health problems than ever before”). Levels of burnout are higher than the general working population and comparable to healthcare workers. In addition, staff members in Higher Education settings are reported to have poorer levels of wellbeing compared to types of employment such as health and social work, in areas of work demands and change management amongst others (RAND, 2018). Indeed, a recent Government review (Thriving at Work (2017)) tasked employers with adopting mental health core standards. National and local initiatives are needed to support the mental health and wellbeing of staff members, alongside improving offers of student support.

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss (Twitter: @DrRMoss), Research Associated on the PGR Wellbeing project at the University of Portsmouth (School of Education and Sociology).


The Healthy Minds programme in schools

Evidence suggests that half of mental health conditions start before the age of 14, and up to three quarters by the mid-twenties. Schools may be well placed to improve the wellbeing of their pupils, and to improve their quality of life, through delivery of effective Personal, Social, and Health Economic (PSHE) education. Researchers at the London School of Economics, in partnership with Bounce Forward, and the Education Endowment Foundation, secured funding to develop a model to improve the quality of life of pupils.

What were CYP taught in the Healthy Minds Curriculum?

The Healthy Minds curriculum was a four-year course consisting of one hour weekly lessons (113 over four years), designed for children and young people aged between 11- 15 (Years 7 – 10 in English Secondary Schools). Fourteen core modules were taught to students, and covered important general life skills such as resilience, mental health, and social and emotional learning. Each lesson was structured, with teaching materials, support, and training available per module (a total of 19 training days for the curriculum).

How was the Healthy Minds curriculum trailed?

Study recruitment in the intent-to-treat trial began in 2013-2014 and was phased over two years, with involvement of 34 schools, and 39 school-cohorts. Schools were recruited into in the treatment arm (3,021 students involved) or in the control (1,613 students involved). The study team were interested in evaluating whether the curriculum had an impact on CYP health-related quality of life outcomes (e.g., emotional wellbeing), and utilised the Child Health Questionnaire-CF87, as well as the Short Mood and Feelings Questionnaires, Life satisfaction ladder (0-10), and the Child Anxiety Related Disorders Questionnaire, to assess their aims. Data was collected at three points during the trial – at the beginning of the CYP school involvement (2013-2014), two years later (2015-2016) and at the end of their involvement (2017-2018).

What did the research find?

The initial analysis focusses on five outcomes – global health, life satisfaction, physical health, emotional health, and behaviour. Key outcomes from the preliminary analysis were:

  • Students who completed the programme had higher attainment in global health (by 10 percentiles, out of 100), compared to children in the control group, with improvements noted after two years of teaching the curriculum.
    • Similar results were observed for physical health, and life satisfaction.
  • An improvement in child anxiety-related disorders was noted for scores of pain disorder, separation anxiety, and school avoidance.
What was the impact of the trail?

The authors hail the Healthy Minds curriculum as an effective, evidence-based approach to teaching life skills in secondary schools. Moreover, the approach is described as low cost to schools, at £23.50 per pupil, per year. The full interim report for Healthy Minds, from researchers based within the London School of Economics, can be viewed here. The impact of the Healthy Minds curriculum on education outcomes (e.g., GCSE grades) will be published in 2020.

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss (Twitter: @DrRMoss), Research Associated on the PGR Wellbeing project at the University of Portsmouth (School of Education and Sociology).


Priorities for Mental Health Research in Children and Young People

There has been recent focus on the state of mental health for Children and Young People (CYP), and a variety of initiatives developed to improve this, such as the CYP Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, and the developing Government Green Paper for CYP mental health. However, there has been little focus on the role mental health research can play.

The McPin Foundation, a charity focussing on mental health research, recently published a report outlining their identified top ten research priorities for CYP, with the aim of influencing policy and practice.

How was the research carried out?

The McPin Foundation set up an Advisory Group with seven young people between the ages of 14 – 23 years, and a Steering Group that included a range of individuals – from research funding organisations to parents and teachers. The Groups created a Young People’s mental health survey, and asked members of the public to put forward research questions around the topic (n = 2566). The Groups then developed the largest theme identified from their data – Intervention and Services, and with the help of a second survey (n = 753), narrowed down the questions posed to 25.  The final 10 priorities were selected in a workshop which included the advisory and steering groups, in addition to new members to the project (e.g., young people, professionals, parents).

What kind of research priorities for CYP were identified?

The top 10 research questions included early identification and screening of mental health difficulties, calls for further evidence on the effectiveness of therapies/strategies/resources/training, and exploration of how family/parental relationships contribute to treatment outcomes for CYP. Further research priorities (Top 25) were also identified and were more varied, including exploring effective methods for supporting young men in recognising symptoms of mental ill-health (Priority 15), and the impact of waiting list times on treatment and mental health outcomes (Priority 21). The full list of research priorities can be viewed here.

What next?

The McPin Foundation are keen for young people, researchers, and potential partners (e.g., individuals, organisations etc.) to get in touch:



Young people

  • Young people can sign up to the Network and receive emails about taking part in research. To do so, sign up via


  • Researchers can ask the Young People’s Network for feedback on and help shaping their research that address the priorities identified in the report. In addition, the McPin Foundation are keen for researchers to keep them up to date with their research on the identified priorities. Get in touch via


  • Individuals may be interested in working with the McPin Foundation on the identified priorities – get in touch via

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss (Twitter: @DrRMoss), Research Associate on the PGR Wellbeing project at the University of Portsmouth (School of Education and Sociology).