Launch of UK Mental Health Networks

On the 6th September, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announced the creation of eight new national mental health networks, funded by UKRI and the Government.

What do the new mental health networks address?

The networks are a collaborative effort between charities, researchers, as well as a wide variety of other organisations (e.g., regional and national arts councils) across the UK. The networks aim to understand the causes and development of mental health problems, as well as to explore new treatment options.

What are the research topics that the networks will focus on?

The research topics that the networks address are far reaching, and range from youth and student mental health, to addressing health inequalities in people with severe mental health problems. The eight mental health networks are as follows:

  • The Emerging Minds: Action for Child Mental Health network (led by Professor Cathy Creswell , University of Reading) will explore ways in which children, young people, and their families can experience the benefits of advances in research.
  • The ‘Closing the Gap’ Network+ (led by Professor Simon Gilbody,  University of York) to understand and close the life expectancy gap between those who do and do not have severe mental health problems.
  • The Loneliness and social isolation in mental health network (led by Professor Sonia Johnson, UCL) aims to reduce loneliness and social isolation in those with mental health problems.
  • The MARCH: Social, Cultural and Community Assets for Mental Health network (led by Dr Daisy Fancourt, UCL) aims to understand how social, cultural and community factors can improve and support mental health and wellbeing, as well as preventing problems from occurring in future.
  • The SMARtEN: Student Mental Health Research Network (led by Dr Nicola Byrom, King’s College London) aims to provide data on the state of mental wellbeing in students in higher education, as well as to support them.
  • The Nurture Network: Promoting Young People’s Mental Health in a Digital World (led by Professor Gordon Harold, University of Sussex) aims to explore the effect of digital technology on the mental health of children and young people, as well as with their interactions with their family, school, and peers.
  • The Transdisciplinary Research for the Improvement of Youth Mental Public Health (TRIUMPH) network (led by Professor Lisa McDaid, University of Glasgow) aims to explore ways to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people, especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged.
  • The Violence, Abuse and Mental Health: Opportunities for Change network (led by Professor Louise Howard and Dr Sian Oram, Kings College London) aims to explore how domestic and sexual violence, as well as abuse, impacts mental health and wellbeing, and to assess interventions.

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss, Research Assistant (University of Portsmouth) for the Office for Students postgraduate research student wellbeing project.

 

 

Emotional and Mental Wellbeing in UK Higher Education

Dr Laura Hyman, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Portsmouth

http://www.port.ac.uk/school-of-social-historical-and-literary-studies/staff/dr-laura-hyman.html

Student wellbeing and happiness have become increasingly visible and significant in UK higher education in recent years. Not only has it become something that universities increasingly attend to and seek to facilitate, but it is also something that now appears to be diminished for many students. The reasons for this are manifold; however, one key explanation may lie in the marketization that has taken place in higher education in recent years. Ever since tuition fees were introduced in the 1990s, the position of the student has been paralleled with that of the consumer, and tertiary education with that of a service. Students, then, develop expectations of the ‘service’ that they should receive from their institutions in exchange for their fees; and, since these rose to upwards of £9,000 per year in 2012, such expectations are arguably higher than ever before. It could be said that students are now paying for an ‘experience’ (Williams, 2013) – and their feelings about this experience are of prime importance as universities seek to satisfy as well as educate them.

Whilst for many students, university is one of the happiest times of their lives, others have been found to experience poor emotional and mental wellbeing. This could be because their expectations of higher education do not match the reality; but it is also likely to be because most students are in high levels of debt, many are forced to take on paid work alongside their studies in order to survive financially and pressure to be seen to be ‘having a good time’ is stronger due to the presence of social media and other communications technologies. Furthermore, their job prospects for post-graduation are also less certain due to the condition of the economy and the higher numbers of other graduates with whom they must compete. As a result, mental illness diagnoses amongst the UK student body have increased steadily in the last ten years (Burns 2017).

Some sociologists, such as Furedi (2017) and Ecclestone and Hayes (2009) have responded to this critically, suggesting that one reason for such an increase is the rise of “therapeutic education”, in which students (and individuals more broadly) are more commonly regarded as vulnerable. Such as “turn” has promoted a “narrative that continually raises doubts about people’s emotional capacity to deal with physical and emotional harms.” (Furedi, 2017, p.21). However, others have praised such therapeutic practices, highlighting its importance in allowing increased recognition and acceptance of human emotional suffering (Wright, 2008).

Regardless of how one responds to this, it is fairly evident that the working lives of university staff have changed as a result. The numbers of support staff have steadily increased in recent years (although student counselling and wellbeing services are now oversubscribed, with many students on lengthy waiting lists – see Buchan 2018 for discussion of this). Academic staff with pastoral responsibilities are also finding themselves discussing emotional wellbeing and mental health issues with their tutees on a more frequent basis than ever before, despite the fact that the vast majority are not trained in this area. So, how have this latter group responded to this so-called wellbeing “crisis” that students are witnessing? And, more importantly, how do universities attend to staff wellbeing when an increasing amount of their jobs involve attending to that of their students? Evidence shows that, at many institutions in the UK, staff wellbeing has been largely overlooked. Whilst several offer access to an external employee assistance programme that offers support over the telephone (Inge and Bhardwa, 2018), few provide anything in-house. This is despite the fact that a report by RAND Europe has highlighted that 37% of academic staff suffer from mental health problems (RAND Corporation, 2017), which may be exacerbated by increased pressures to obtain research funding and to provide teaching “excellence”, job insecurity for those on fixed-term and hourly-paid contracts, and a more general expectation on the part of academics themselves to maintain excessively high standards that are often required by the profession. Perhaps it is this very culture of high standards that also renders academics reluctant to seek help for their health problems (Inge and Bhardwa, 2018); as any admission of weakness would immediately prevent them from achieving the perfectionism and “excellence” needed to do their jobs well.

So, what must be done for student and staff wellbeing? Ultimately, this post has raised more questions than answers. However, it is evident that more investment is needed in both student and staff support. Furthermore, more research must also be done in order to understand how poor wellbeing is perceived and managed both by individuals and institutions.

References

The Future of Education: Learning Throughout The Life-course Conference

This year’s conference was hosted by The School of Education and Childhood studies in collaboration with the Higher Education Forum. The conference was organised by Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten and Dr Jessica Gagnon who led a team of academics and administration staff.  It is the sixth annual conference and this year focused on ‘The Future of Education: Learning throughout the Life-course.’ This year over 120 delegates attended the event and lots of participation took place in the form of questions and comments. The event was organised around 4 themes that are central to the work of the department: Mental Health and Wellbeing in Childhood and Education, Childhood and International Development, Education Perspectives, and Inclusion and Diversity. 

Wendy Sims-Schouten and Stephen Corbett begin the conference
Wendy Sims-Schouten and Stephen Corbett begin the conference

The scene for these themes was set by the two keynote speakers, both professors exploring current themes relating to educational and life-course outcomes for future generations. The first speaker was Professor Nigel Thomas, Professor of Childhood and Youth Research in the School of Social Work, Care and Community at the University of Central Lancashire on ’Human Beings Need Something from One Another when they come to places Like Schools’ Participation, Recognition and Wellbeing and Professor Kalwant Bhopal, Education and Social Justice and Bridge Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for Research in Race and Education, in the School of Education at The University of Birmingham on BME Academic Flight from UK Higher Education. 

Top: Keynote speaker Professor Nigel Thomas. Bottom: Dr Jessica Gagnon introduces keynote speaker Professor Kalwant Bhopal
Top: Keynote speaker Professor Nigel Thomas.
Bottom: Dr Jessica Gagnon introduces keynote speaker Professor Kalwant Bhopal

The keynote speakers raised a number of important issues which generated a whole host of questions to be addressed through future research and collaboration. In particular, Professor Kalwant Bhopal, University of Birmingham, delivered an array of alarming statistics regarding the disadvantages faced by BME students through her research which is linked to the inequalities still experienced by those from BME backgrounds at all levels. In particular, the discrepancies between the number of, not only BME students, but those from other WP groups, who gain access to Oxbridge and Russell Group Universities and the under-representation of BME academic staff across all HEIs (ECU 2015), (HEFCE 2016), (Bhopal 2016), (Independent Schools Council (2016)).

Professor Nigel Thomas delivered his findings from a current research project working in collaboration with various Australian universities and organisations in partnership to look at the link between wellbeing and participation of students. Findings were generally optimistic, but he raised a key point that although students rated ‘having a say’ as particularly important, they need more than ‘just a voice’. That it is important to them that their voice is ‘heard’ by influential people and taken seriously so that they have real choice and influence. Professor Thomas reported that overall, meaningful participation led to recognition and improved student wellbeing.  He also discussed how this would work within the school context and the feeling of threat faced by teachers when pupils are openly invited to participate in what are traditionally adult conversations, should this strategy be implemented (Bingham 2001).  One of the key take home messages being that, “effective participation has a key payoff in enhanced wellbeing.”

Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton are editors of the SECS department's most recent publication: Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century - UK Perspectives on International Concerns
Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten and Dr Angie Dharmaraj- Savicks discussing the departments most recent publication: Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century – UK Perspectives on International Concerns, of which Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton are editors.

The conference also introduced new and ongoing research themes within the department including; Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten’s Mental Health in Childhood and Education Hub, Dr Jessica Gagnon’s multiple projects around the themes of Higher Education Experiences: Equity and Inclusion, Dr Francesca Salvi, Dr Angie Dharmaraj-Savicks and Dr Ann Emerson’s Global Education, Childhoods and Outreach, among others.  Important issues and questions were raised that researchers in the department will be working on during the coming year. The conference provides a fantastic opportunity for staff to showcase their work and to meet and listen to academics and practitioners from other universities, colleges and educational organisations.

Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century - UK Perspectives on International Concerns. Editors - Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton
Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century – UK Perspectives on International Concerns. Editors – Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton

 

References:

Bhopal, K., Brown, H. and Jackson, J (2016) ‘BME academic flight from UK to overseas higher education: aspects of marginalisation and exclusion.’ British Educational Research Journal. 42, 2: 240-257. DOI: 10.1002/berj.3204

Bingham C (2001) Schools of Recognition: Identity Politics and Classroom Practices. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

ECU (2015). Equality in Higher Education: Statistical Report 2015. Part 1: staff. London: ECU.

Funding for higher education in England for 2016-17: HEFCE grant letter from BIS (2016) http://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/newsarchive/2016/Name,107598,en.html

Independent Schools Council (2016) Annual Census Report (2016). Retrieved from: https://www.isc.co.uk/research/annual-census/isc-annual-census-2016/