Keele launches pioneering student mental health partnership

A regional partnership led by Keele University has launched a new integrated community approach to mental health and wellbeing for students in further and higher education, in collaboration with Staffordshire University and other partners, as part of a £2.2 million project.

In the 1960s Keele was the first UK university to introduce a counselling service, a concept which is now commonplace across the country, and the University is now leading a new partnership to develop an integrated community approach to mental health and wellbeing for students as part of a new funding award from the Office for Students.

The universities will be working in partnership with local colleges and authorities, police and NHS providers, to effectively support students’ transition into, through and out of higher education, especially those with circumstances that may contribute to them being more vulnerable to mental health issues.

The project, called Start to Success, was launched on Tuesday 28 January where all partners joined to discuss new and innovative approaches to mental health and wellbeing. Psychologist Dr Julie Hulme, School Director of Education at Keele University and Co-Chair of Teaching in Higher Education Network at Keele (THiNK), presented a talk on Mental health and wellbeing in higher education: A whole community issue?

The partnership was awarded funding of £750,000 by the Office for Students, as part of a major new programme to find innovative ways to combat a sharp rise in student mental health issues and spark a step-change in student support across the country. The funding has been match-funded by Keele and Staffordshire, together with financial support from all other partners, with the project totalling £2.2million.

Start to Success aims to develop new approaches that can be applied nationally in order to positively impact on student mental health, and as such a toolkit will be produced and shared across the further and higher education sectors.

Key priorities for the project include a connected training framework, interventions for at-risk groups, a regional mental health campaign, and new multi-agency approaches to student support. Through partnership working with the NHS, Keele and Staffordshire University will develop pioneering approaches to assessing and referring students, allowing a more streamlined and sensitive approach to supporting students effectively in both emergency and planned situations. Both universities are already engaged with the Stoke-on-Trent Suicide Prevention Partnership and will develop a regional student-focused Suicide Prevention Action Plan.

Keele University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Health and Wellbeing and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Professor Pauline Walsh, said: “The wellbeing of our students is paramount and mental health is a strong institutional priority for us at Keele. We are excited to be leading this project with the support of Staffordshire and to be working in partnership with regional colleges and NHS partners.

“This project could have a transformative impact not only on the wellbeing and mental health of our students but on the education sector nationally.

“We’re delighted to launch and lead this project which will complement Keele’s dedicated specialist student support services of which I’m already very proud of.”

Staffordshire University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Liz Barnes said: “The mental health and wellbeing of our students is of critical importance to us; we are as such proud to be working with our friends and colleagues at Keele University, as well as partners from across our region, as we commit to taking a whole community approach to mental health and wellbeing in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.

With a rich and diverse student population at Staffordshire we are focussed on establishing services and support that increase social mobility and make fundamental differences to the lives of our students. The collective commitment of this partnership is clear to see, and as such, we cannot wait to see the impact that this project will have over the course of the coming months and years.”

The project will be working with regional partners including Stoke-on-Trent City Council; Staffordshire County Council; Staffordshire Police; North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust; Midlands Partnership Foundation NHS Trust; University Hospitals of North Midlands Foundation Trust; Stoke-on-Trent College; Stoke Sixth Form College; Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group, and Sport Across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.