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Ensuring students' wellbeing at UCL

How have we been improving our service in UCL Student Support and Wellbeing?

Columns on the UCL Portico

6 December 2017

UCL believes our students’ wellbeing is as important as their academic progress. We are committed to supporting you to look after your wellbeing as we recognise that increasing numbers of our students are experiencing mental ill health.

Studies suggest that around three-quarters of adults with a mental illness will first experience symptoms before the age of 25. It is a societal issue, and we at UCL also know we have an important part to play.

We know there are students starting university who come with pre-existing and complex mental health conditions. Others may find they develop problems after they have joined UCL. We help and appropriately support all students who need us.

UCL established a new department in 2013, Student Support and Wellbeing Services (SSW). SSW brings together core support services including psychological and emotional therapeutic support, specialist advice and support for students with a disability or a specific learning difficulty, support for students experiencing long-term mental health conditions and wellbeing information and advice to help students maintain a healthy and balanced student life.

UCL recently commissioned an independent review by SUMS Consulting, to look at how to use resources to respond to changing students’ needs and to contribute to the development of best practice within the sector.

From the findings, we have developed a UCL Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Action Plan and have already made excellent progress implementing many of the recommendations made to us.

In addition, the Action Plan will form a fundamental part of a UCL Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Framework, which SSW are currently developing. The Framework, which will follow Universities UK (UUK) recommendations and guidance, will reaffirm student wellbeing and mental health as a strategic priority for UCL.

It is a university-wide approach, working with you as the student and external health and care services, designed to help keep you safe and well.

Following the review, we have introduced some positive changes in the past 12 months and improved the face-to-face aspect of our service:

Increasing our advisers' availability and service

  • SSW has introduced a daily drop-in service providing students with the chance to have immediate access to speak with a wellbeing, mental health or disability adviser. These sessions provide a confidential space for you to discuss any issues relating to your wellbeing or mental health that may be affecting your studies. You can also book a face-to-face, telephone or Skype appointment.
  • Since June 2017, SSW has expanded from one to six Student Support and Wellbeing Advisers and Co-ordinators with various specialisms in student wellbeing and mental health.
  • SSW has secured longer-term funding for an Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Adviser, Mental Health Adviser and Disability Adviser.
  • One of the new SSW Advisers has a special focus on male mental health, with the aim of engaging with male students and breaking down the barriers that might dissuade them from seeking support.

Providing vital information and online services

  • To promote the wide range of support available, SSW has created a series of support guides,     short videos and social media campaigns, advising how to access support both at UCL and at other external organisations.
  • UCL are working towards a single point of entry for students to approach us with any issues they may be experiencing. Student Disability Services have already successfully merged under the SSW name. This will mean that you can be directed to the most appropriate specialist to support you at the point of access.
  • The SSW website is in development to merge and improve the information previously contained across three separate websites, namely the Student Psychological Services, the Student Disability Services and the Current Students websites. This development will enable you to obtain the relevant information by visiting a single and accessible website dedicated to your support needs.
  • A bespoke version of the Expert Self Care (ESC) student health app is available at no cost to all UCL students, providing easy access to information about services from one single location. It provides health information, techniques for self-care and links to relevant local resources, including mental health and crisis support information for Camden and other London boroughs.
  • SSW has collaborated with Ieso, a digital health company, to produce an online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) service for UCL students. The UCL CBT service is accessible to blind students and has branding tailored to UCL students and collects anonymous data. It was used by 112 UCL students from September 2016 to July 2017.

Working with our partners to deliver an excellent service

  • UCL provides a free and confidential telephone counselling and information service for all students. The service is provided by Care first, and available out of core hours, 365 days a year. An enhanced version of this service, UCL Global Assistance Programme, is also available to students on a period of study abroad.
  • SSW and Care first have enhanced previous arrangements to allow postgraduate research students and other appropriate UCL students to access structured telephone counselling with the same counsellor. This service is a fully integrated part of SSW support.
  • UCL is working collaboratively to better support students with the most complex mental health conditions, including students with suicidal behaviours, substance abuse, self-harm and mood disorders. In 2018, UCL is aiming to pilot a Complex Case Clinic. Academic experts from UCL’s Division of Psychology and Language Sciences will manage the clinic and will offer a Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) treatment model.
  • We have arrangements in place to improve support and identify the risks for students attending UCLH A&E and other local mental health centres. Information sharing is with consent from the student and in accordance with Data Protection Legislation.

Training to deliver better advice

  • For students hampered by barriers to seeking help, SSW is introducing different ways to present mental health support, to improve uptake and encourage earlier engagement. A calendar of engagement and outreach events promote SSW services and encourage students to use the services if required. The SSW Blog, ‘Countdown to UCL’ for new students and the #UCLcares campaign encourage communication between the SSW team and the student community.
  • SSW coordinate comprehensive training for the Warden teams responsible for pastoral support in UCL student accommodation. Supporting students experiencing mental health issues is a core component of this training.
  • SSW staff complete an extensive series of training activities including coaching skills, to ensure appointments with students are effective and efficient. 
  • SSW collaborates with UCL Arena to deliver training workshops for staff including ‘Helping students develop a sense of belonging: the benefits of an effective induction’ and ‘Working together to support students’.
  • In partnership with Rethink Mental Illness and the NHS Camden Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), UCL provides Mental Health First Aid training UCL staff working in student facing roles.
  • SSW and UCL’s Occupational Health and Wellbeing have confirmed seven Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Trainer places. Post qualification, these MHFA Trainers will have a responsibility to deliver a number of sessions to staff each year.
  • UCL Occupational Health and Wellbeing is working with Papyrus to deliver Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training to UCL staff and community members external to UCL.

Learning from best practice

  • SSW’s Student Psychological Service (SPS) will launch a pilot based on the Cardiff Model to reduce the waiting time for appointments, increase capacity and provide a broader range of therapeutic support. SPS have researched the effectiveness of this model, how other universities implemented and interpreted the model and the outcomes.
  • In partnership with The Positive Group, SSW is developing psychological wellbeing and resilience tools specifically focused for postgraduate taught students. This is modelled on a similar programme successfully implemented at Oxford University.