Mental health funding programme supports more than 3,000 students

Funding from the Office for Students has led to the creation of 18 pilot projects supporting students at greater risk of poor mental health

20th March 2024 about a 4 minute read
"Equality of opportunity is vital for students to thrive and succeed in higher education, and it is essential that we continue to implement robust evaluation practices that help us to understand what methods of support are effective for students.” John Blake, director for fair access and participation, Office for Students

More than 3,000 students have been supported through a series of mental health projects funded by the Office for Students (OfS).

The OfS’s Mental Health Funding Competition (MHFC), which drew on investment from both the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Department for Education (DfE), supported 18 pilot projects led by universities and colleges. These projects developed ways to support the mental health of particular groups of students at greater risk of poor mental health or facing barriers to support.

The approaches piloted by the 18 projects included peer-to-peer mentoring, awareness raising campaigns, connecting with NHS services, and digital solutions such as virtual reality experiences.

An independent evaluation carried out by Wavehill looked at how the MHFC addressed barriers to mental health support among target groups, what impact the programme has had, how these approaches could be adopted by other universities and colleges, and how they might be sustained.

Staff improve understanding of barriers changed

The evaluation found that the MHFC programme has:

  • Engaged 1,057 students in the development of the programme, through activities such as peer-to-peer support and student-led workshops
  • Established or developed strategic partnerships across the sector, including with 83 partner organisations that were involved in the design or delivery of projects

The programme also effectively delivered on its aim of changing staff understandings of the barriers to accessing support experienced by different groups of students. The evaluation found that:

  • Nearly two-thirds of students involved in project development agreed that the support now available is more relevant to student needs
  • There has been a considerable improvement in staff knowledge of the barriers faced by target groups, as a result of staff facilitating student co-creation activities or receiving training
  • Short-term outcomes suggest that the programme has had a broadly positive impact on students engaged in interventions – including early positive improvements in mental health or wellbeing, improved equity of access to support, raised confidence to disclose and seek help for mental health issues, and improved sense of belonging and perception of support services.

John Blake, director for fair access and participation at OfS, said the report had highlighted the value of targeted mental health support for students. He added: “The legacy of this programme, however, relies on the sector’s determination to share, learn from, and embed these insights. We encourage all universities and colleges to read this evaluation and learn about what evidence-based interventions may be appropriate for their own students.

“Those providers crafting their access and participation plans should consider how this work can inform those. Equality of opportunity is vital for students to thrive and succeed in higher education, and it is essential that we continue to implement robust evaluation practices that help us to understand what methods of support are effective for students.”

New grant to help improve mental health of young people

Young people are also to benefit from a grant of £5m to the charity YoungMinds. The Paul Hamlyn foundation has made the award to enable YoungMinds to design and deliver a new strategy for young people’s mental health. The grant will enable YoungMinds to reach and engage more young people experiencing disadvantage, inequality and injustice, which are key contributors to mental health problems.

The charity will further develop its youth-centred approach, expanding the way YoungMinds connects with young people to generate ideas, share stories and inform the design of their support and services.

Laura Bunt, chief executive of YoungMinds, said: “Every day we hear from young people who need support for their mental health but are unable to get it. They are growing up in an increasingly unstable world, with the impact of the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and global instability all taking a toll on their mental health, and help is too hard to find.”

She added that the grant would give the charity “confidence to take the bold and decisive steps we believe are needed.”

FCC Insight

Data has shown a steep increase in mental health difficulties among young people in the past five years, with one in five of those between the ages of 17 and 19 now estimated to have a probable mental health disorder. Students in particular can experience problems such as loneliness, anxiety and stress, often caused or compounded by financial difficulties. Initiatives such as the OfS’s Mental Health Funding Competition will go some way to addressing those problems, particularly among groups who face barriers to support. The substantial grant to YoungMinds to reach more young people experiencing inequality and disadvantage is also very welcome.