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Leading the way in mental health

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Published on 28 July 2021

Sunderland has signed up to the University Mental Health Charter
Sunderland has signed up to the University Mental Health Charter

The University Mental Health Charter Programme, led by Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity, brings together universities committed to making mental health and wellbeing a university-wide priority to share practice and create cultural change.

Universities on the Charter Programme form part of a UK-wide practice sharing network with access to events and opportunities to come together to improve their approach to student and staff mental health. Programme members can also work towards the Charter Award, an accreditation scheme which recognises universities that demonstrate excellent practice.

The University of Sunderland's Chief Operating Officer Steve Knight is Chair of the University Mental Health and Wellbeing group. He said: "The University welcomes the early opportunity to engage with the Mental Health Charter.

“This framework is one that aligns closely with our established strategy for student and staff wellbeing. We recognise the value of a whole University approach and we look forward to realising the many potential benefits for our student and staff community.”

The University of Sunderland Wellbeing Team already have a strong track record of working closely with students and staff to ensure their mental, emotional and physical health. Throughout the pandemic the team has offered advice and support, with its Wellbeing Champions network, frequent Wellbeing Workshops and online mental health resources.

Student Debra Simpson, 41 from Fulwell, recently graduated from the University with a First in BSc Psychology with Counselling. She says: “I was approached by the Wellbeing Team when I contracted COVID-19. On more than one occasion I was emailed by a member of the team asking if there was any way in which they could support me. Being a single mum of two children and feeling quite isolated when my daughter also felt ill, knowing that support was only a phone call or click of a button away was extremely reassuring.

“As Wellbeing Champion for the School of Psychology, I was a lot of students first point of contact on any issues of mental health concerns in which I would signpost to the Wellbeing Team. All feedback I have received from other student is all extremely positive of their experience with the Wellbeing Team.

“I feel that the University signing up to the Mental Health Charter is a positive step forward in ensuring a whole university approach to mental health.”

Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister said “The past year and a half has been an unprecedently difficult time for students and staff, and I am personally committed to ensuring they receive the consistent, effective mental health support they deserve. This is why I strongly support the University Mental Health Charter, which aims to drive up standards in promoting student and staff mental health and wellbeing on campuses across the country. I thank all those providers who have already signed up to the Charter Programme. I hope all universities will work towards the principles of good practice set out in the Charter, as part of their whole university approach to mental health and that all universities will apply for the Programme in the coming years.”

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, Office for Students shared: “Students have faced an extraordinarily difficult time and it is important that universities have plans, programmes and procedures to effectively support and promote good mental health. It is good to see such strong interest from universities in the University Mental Health Charter Programme, and a continued collaborative approach to responding to these challenges.

“Sharing good practice and taking a cross-university approach to bring about cultural change are important factors in helping to support the mental health of students. The OfS was pleased to be able to part fund the work to bring about the Charter. We will continue to support efforts to ensure that all students receive effective, timely and tailored mental health support. This includes through our Student Space resource, as well as our mental health challenge competition which supports innovative approaches to improving student mental health outcomes.”

Rosie Tressler OBE, CEO of Student Minds said: “Even before the pandemic, universities were facing increasing reports of poor student and staff mental health. The last year has highlighted even more the need for a renewed focus and investment in the mental health and wellbeing of our university communities. Now is the time for the universities to come together as part of a collaborative effort to enact long-term, strategic change.

“We are inspired by the number of universities that have committed to coming together as part of the University Mental Health Charter Programme to ensure improved and more equal mental health and wellbeing outcomes for the whole university community. Creating a higher standard of mental health support across the whole higher education sector. Together, we can create a future in which everyone in higher education can thrive."

The University Mental Health Charter website: https://universitymentalhealthcharter.org.uk/

About the Mental Health Charter

By joining the Charter Programme, universities have committed to working towards a set of evidence-informed principles of good practice. This includes a commitment to working with staff and students to provide adequately resourced and effective support services, as well as creating an environment and culture that reduces poor mental health and promotes good mental health for the whole university community.

The Charter Programme was developed in consultation with staff and students, with initial funding from the UPP Foundation and the Office for Students and further funding from Jisc and the Charlie Watkins Foundation. The Charter Programme was piloted at the University of Derby, Hartpury University and Glasgow Caledonian University in 2020.

Even prior to the pandemic, the prevalence and complexity of mental health difficulties in students was on the rise. The number of students declaring a pre–existing mental illness to their university has more than doubled since 2014/15 and staff reporting that they are responding to increasing numbers of students experiencing suicidal ideation, self–harm and episodes of psychosis.

During the pandemic, students and young people were more likely than the general population to feel anxious and worried, unable to cope and experience self-harm and 58% of students say their mental health is worse than when the pandemic started. Staff, too, have reported increased workload and burn out in responding to the
pandemic. Supporting our university communities mental health has never been more important.

Universities that have joined:

● Arts University Bournemouth
● Aston University
● Bath Spa University
● Birmingham City University
● Canterbury Christ Church University
● Glasgow Caledonian University
● King's College London
● Kingston University
● Leeds Beckett University
● Leeds Trinity University
● Newcastle University
● Norland College
● Northumbria University
● Nottingham Trent University
● Plymouth Marjon University
● Teesside University
● University Centre Leeds (Leeds City College)
● University College London
● University of Bath
● University of Bedfordshire
● University of East London
● University of East Anglia
● University of Essex
● University of Gloucestershire
● University of Greenwich
● University of Lincoln
● University of Manchester
● University of Sheffield
● University of Southampton
● University of Sunderland
● University of the West of England
● University of Westminster

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