Mental health funding competition: Using innovation and intersectional approaches to target mental health support for students

With investment from the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education, we have awarded more than £3 million in funding to identify innovative and collaborative approaches to targeted support for student mental health.

In this section:

Funded projects

Many Hands Project: A collaborative approach to improving mental health solutions for students in small-setting higher education providers

This project seeks to better support students facing barriers to sustained educational engagement and attainment due to mental health concerns.

It will offer an accessible preventative, early intervention and ongoing support model across mature, creative and BAME students (addressing intersectionality).

This will be done through an innovative 10-partner collaboration between small-setting higher education providers and companies specialising in digital engagement, access and participation, and mental health.

The project will create and pilot a digital hub for students, facilitating a peer-to-peer mental health mentoring programme, initially across seven small independent higher education institutions (pilot providers) with potential to extend further.

It was also create a centralised space which aims to facilitate and broaden knowledge exchange and collaboration between staff. This, in turn, will support the development of more strategic approaches for small-setting higher education providers to improve outcomes for students experiencing mental ill-health.

  • SAE Education Limited
  • Point Blank Music School Ltd
  • Matrix College Ltd
  • Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust
  • Independent Higher Education (IHE)
  • Futureworks Training Ltd
  • Regent College
  • Applied Inspiration (AI)
  • The Ambassador Platform (TAP).

Lynn Blackadder

Higher Education Social Prescribing (HESP)

HESP is an education and health multi-agency collaboration bringing together 10 further education colleges from the North-West working in partnership with Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust; Lancashire & South Cumbria NHS; Elemental; The Lancashire Colleges; Merseyside Colleges Association and the Association of Colleges, to develop and implement a highly innovative Social Prescribing (SP) approach to improve mental health outcomes for higher education students.

With over 137,000 higher education students studying in a further education college, of which over 50 per cent are aged 25+, HESP will establish a network of higher education SP link workers, in partnership with local health agencies to develop preventative strategies for ‘non-traditional’ university students.

HESP will transform access to wellbeing services and support and will accelerate an improvement in access. It will provide a digital solution connecting students with non-clinical services beyond their college aligning with the NHS drive for digital transformation and improvement in mental health support.

  • Blackburn College
  • Burnley College
  • Hugh Baird College
  • Myerscough College
  • Nelson & Colne College
  • Preston’s College
  • Riverside College Widnes
  • St Helens College
  • Wirral Met College
  • Lancashire & South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust
  • MerseyCare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Director of Public Health for Lancashire
  • Director of Public Health for Liverpool
  • Elemental
  • The Association of Colleges (AoC)
  • The Merseyside Colleges’ Association (MCA)
  • The Lancashire Colleges (TLC)

Katherine Davey

Building Bridges to Wellbeing

This project aims to build bridges between the DMU’s diverse student community and timely recovery focused mental health support. It will target students in social economic and BAME groups whom are more likely to experience mental health issues as well as face additional barriers in accessing/engaging in mental health services.

The key aims:

  1. Increase the numbers of students in these groups accessing support from DMU Wellbeing.
  2. Access specialist mental health support in a timely way to enable the students in these groups to engage in mental health services.
  3. Support the student to feel in control of their recovery pathway via the use of a person-centred intervention plan that all partners contribute to.

How the project will run:

  1. Development and embedding of a specialist Mental Health Intervention Officer (MHIT) role who will create safe spaces and break down barriers that prevent key cohorts of students accessing support.
  2. Setting up new pathways into and out of services with Leicestershire Mental Health Partnership Trust with a shared ethos and focus on access and recovery.
  • Leicestershire Partnership Trust
  • Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Clinical Commissioning Group

Clare Jeeves

Mental Health: resources for hard-to-reach student groups

The aim of this project is to develop a sustainable student-centric set of resources to support the mental health of Coventry University Group’s (CUG) students from ethnic minority backgrounds to ensure they are seen, heard and supported from the point of entry to graduation.

This project is aimed at undergraduate BAME students, including international students and economically disadvantaged students.

The project has co-created a mental health awareness booklet, disseminated throughout the university and has developed mental health training for staff and students.

  • It Takes Balls to Talk (ITBTT)
  • Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership Trust (CWPT)
  • Student Minds
  • Coventry University Students’ Union (CUSU)
  • Better Futures MAT

Ashleigh Hargrave

Proactive and Preventative Interventions for Black Students at LSBU

Nationally, Black students are significantly disadvantaged in terms of outcomes in higher education and this disadvantage further impacts those Black students with a mental health diagnosis.

At London South Bank University (LSBU), Black students are seen by mental health services proportionate to the student population. However, they are less likely to self-refer for support and are overrepresented within the university’s crisis referral pathways.

Working closely with Black students, LSBU will understand their perspectives on education, health and living well, including barriers to accessing support. It will co-produce digital interventions that the students believe in, focused on:

  • mental health promotion
  • prevention of mental health deterioration
  • improved access to early intervention

Through remunerated student collaboration, LSBU will remove financial barriers to participation and create interventions and resources that will be rolled out at scale, benefitting students in London beyond the university.

In the second year of the project, LSBU will draw on these resources along with student and organisational expertise to develop and run a complementary mentoring programme for Black students.

Both mentors and mentees will be remunerated for their participation in the scheme, which will go some way to mitigate against financial barriers for Black students wishing to participate. The scheme will foster community, belonging and holistic good health.

  • London South Bank University, Student Services
  • Healthy London Partnership/Good Thinking NHS London
  • South Bank Students Union
  • Lambeth College

Andy Owusu

Mental Health & Wellbeing Digital: Striving to improve the mental health of commuter students from low socioeconomic backgrounds through digital innovation

Mental Health & Wellbeing Digital is an innovative project aimed at commuter students from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds.

It aims to embed mental health literacy into the student experience and improve mental health through an enhanced range of prevention, support and intervention services.

As a further education college delivering higher education, a high proportion of NCUC's students are commuter students from low socioeconomic areas for whom COVID-19 and the subsequent transition to online learning has brought additional challenges.

The project will pilot the development of resources, interventions and digital access to mental health support services through targeted activity across five partner institutions.

It will combine NCUC's extensive experience of meaningful co-production through its Student Fellows programme with Student Minds, that bring additional expertise in student engagement and mental health.

Digital delivery is central to the project, including a partnership with Fika to tailor and embed a mental health literacy app into the student experience.

The project ultimately seeks to test ways in which NCUC can tackle the entrenchment of social inequalities seen every day at its institutions with a specific focus on mental health inequality.

  • Southwark College
  • Carlisle College
  • Kidderminster College
  • West Lancashire College
  • Fika
  • Student Minds
  • Mixed Economy Group (MEG)

Chrissy Watt

Mind the Gaps! First in family students and students without family support: managing transitions and mental health

Students who are first in their families to attend university, most of whom are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and students who are otherwise cut off from family support are at increased risk of poor mental health, social isolation and non-continuation as they make their way through critical transition points in their university careers.

Transition points include:

  • entering and leaving university
  • moving between academic years and semester breaks
  • adapting to and coping with academic and financial pressures
  • relationships, home and university contrasts
  • homesickness
  • other aspects of student life.

The project is led by a combination of expert higher education and mental health professionals, and co-designed and co-delivered with students.

It will provide a novel transition support package for first-in-family students including:

  • psychoeducation training
  • personal skills development
  • peer-to-peer support initiatives
  • mental health drop-in sessions
  • online resources.

It will generate much-needed evidence of what can improve mental health outcomes for this group of students.

  • University of West London
  • King’s College London (KCL)
  • South London & Maudsley NHS Trust: Maudsley Learning

Anna Lise Gordon

Positive digital practice: a holistic approach to wellbeing for part-time, commuter and distance learning students

This project will scale up, embed and sustain positive practices that proactively consider mental wellbeing in learning for part-time, commuter and distance learning students.

Taking a participatory knowledge-exchange approach, involving partnerships with students, higher education institutions and sector bodies, this project will consist of initiatives in three areas:

  1. Positive learner identities, including emotional awareness, encouraging help seeking behaviour, recognising achievements and valuing learning opportunities.
  2. Positive digital communities, that support students’ sense of belonging and purpose, provide informal peer support and facilitate meaningful connections that do not rely on a campus environment.
  3. Positive pedagogies, that support learners to take part in and demonstrate technology-enhanced learning in a way that is inclusive and supports mental wellbeing.

In partnership with students, the project will co-create resources and initiatives to scale up positive practices in these areas, embed them across the three higher education institutions and pilot them more broadly in higher education.

See the Positive Digital Practices resource hub

  • University of Bradford
  • University of Warwick
  • Student Minds
  • Jisc
  • University Mental Health Advisory Network (UMHAN).

Kate Lister: [email protected]

Translating Insights Into Action (TRANSACT): Improving mental health outcomes and pathways by accelerating peer support

TRANSACT will establish a peer support accelerator and associated training programme, to improve mental health outcomes and pathways into care and support.

The TRANSACT peer support accelerator will be informed by an intersectional framework and will be supported by Students’ Union UCL to ensure student engagement.

UCL will work with Camden Local Authority to pilot a place-based approach, linking student peer support with the local community.

The project will build on the existing OfS-supported partnership with Camden Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service, helping to facilitate links with the NHS.

The training will be informed by the Health Education England (HEE)/UCLPartners competence framework for student peer support workers, and will be delivered via a UCLPartners online training platform.

An implementation toolkit will be developed and shared initially with higher education institutions in London by UCLPartners and London Higher, before wider national dissemination building on existing OfS-supported partnerships.

  • UCLPartners
  • Students’ Union UCL
  • Camden Local Authority
  • London Higher

Rosemary Ellis

Digital solutions to cultural barriers to accessing mental health support for South Asian students

University of Bradford will partner with Bradford District Care Foundation Trust (BDCFT) and Working Academy to improve the take up of mental health support by South Asian students.

The project aims to support students to maintain good mental wellbeing throughout their studies, and encourage them to seek support as required, contributing to improvements in attainment.

The project will build on digital innovation undertaken by BDCFT, creating a mental wellbeing and mood assessment app. This aims to:

  • support students to remain in tune with their mental wellbeing
  • engage with preventative, self-help support
  • recognise when they may benefit from increased support
  • offer a low-risk access point to university and NHS mental health services.

The app rollout will be supported by an enhanced ‘Student Mental Health Ambassador’ role, which will enhance peer support for wellbeing work to promote the benefits of engaging in mental health support and overcome stigma and fear.

  • University of Bradford (UoB)
  • Bradford District Care Foundation Trust (BDCFT)
  • University of Bradford Students’ Union (UBU)
  • Working Academy (WA)

Emma Young

Supporting the mental health of autistic students

Of 2.38 million UK university students, 2.4 per cent are autistic. Of those nearly 60,000, around 80 per cent will have clinical anxiety, up to 70 per cent clinical depression and a third will attempt suicide.

There is currently a huge unmet need for tailored mental health support in this group, who are more likely to drop out regardless of academic ability, often due to increased demands compounded by a lack of knowledgeable support staff.

This project seeks to address this problem by developing, delivering and evaluating the first Autistic Mental Health training programme for university staff in the UK.

Phase one will involve the team working with autistic students to design online training, then delivering that training to staff at several universities, with evaluation and refinement processes.

Phase two will evaluate the medium-term impact across an academic year, looking at changes in staff practices and investigating student experiences with staff who have completed the training.

  • Dr Hannah Hobson, University of York
  • Dr Trang Tran, University of the West of England (UWE)
  • National Autistic Society
  • Spectrum First

Dr Felicity Sedgewick

Creative Mental Health Framework: reducing mental health stigma for the LGBT+ community.

UCLan’s Creative Mental Health Framework (CMHF) will be delivered by students for students, harnessing creativity to raise profile, reduce barriers and stigma around mental health.

Students will learn how to support each other, practise self-care and understand mental health triggers.

Through the production of arts and media content, they will develop a strong mutual understanding of the LGBT+ community and Mental health issues.

Creativity is at the heart of this peer-to-peer, interdisciplinary offer with student experience content breaking down engagement barriers.

UCLan’s Creativity Innovation Zone (CIZ) will work closely with mental health academics, students and researchers to apply creative thinking and problem solving to bring diverse students together to reduce barriers to better mental health. The aims are to:

  • produce and deliver peer-to-peer MH framework for 300 LGBT+ students
  • harness creativity to deliver intersectional MH and LGBT+ experiences
  • train MH/Arts ambassadors to educate and support peers, discuss and reduce MH & LGBT+ stigma.
  • Student Union LGBT+ REP
  • Glenn Duckett – EAT, GROW, THRIVE
  • Paula May (MIND – LANCASHIRE)
  • Lindsay Hallworth (SOUTH CUMBRIA NHS)
  • Lewis Turner Lancashire LGBT

Emma Speed

A strategic approach to mental health support for students with autism spectrum condition (ASC)

The project will focus on preventative strategies to support the mental wellbeing of students with ASC.

Young people and adults with ASC are at increased risk of experiencing poor mental health and wellbeing, and data suggest that the intersection of these conditions has a significant impact on students’ retention and attainment.

To address these challenges, the project partners will develop a combination of online and face-to-face tailored support, not only aimed at students with ASC, but also stakeholders (including parents, carers, employers) in order to cultivate a more positive autism environment.

Support will target the key transition points of starting at university and then entering the workplace, with a holistic approach to positive mental health and wellbeing throughout the full university experience.

  • West Cheshire Autism Hub (WCAH)
  • The Bren Project (BP)

Ryan Miller

Collaborative immersive remote clinical undergraduate support (CIRCUS)

The CIRCUS initiative is a 3D immersive virtual reality (VR) environment that facilitates remote peer and tutor support to health students on clinical placement who are at risk of isolation, anxiety and depression.

The software, in conjunction with 3D VR headsets, places users into a calming 3D environment that facilitates tutor support, mindfulness group sessions and peer support.

Users create their own “avatar” and engage with others through the avatars and real-time speech. The project provides a more immersive social experience than existing remote solutions such as “Zoom”. It aims to reduce feelings of isolation and depression by providing an enjoyable and interactive forum for accessing support and interactions.

Quantitative evaluation of the project will measure the impact of the intervention on student wellbeing using validated measurement tools.

Accompanying qualitative analysis using rich focus group data will identify the lived-experience arising from the project.

  • Draw & Code Ltd
  • MerseyCare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Innovation Agency

Pete Bridge

Care Leavers Access, Support and Success (CLASS)

Care leaver students are underrepresented in higher education, but those who access it are more likely to have poorer education outcomes than other students, higher levels of mental health difficulties and experience barriers to seeking support for mental health.

The aim of the project is to empower these students through the provision of a Supportive Transition Programme delivered across each stage of the student cycle, starting with their transition from school to university and onward to a successful career.

This ambitious programme will bring together care leavers to collaborate with academic experts, student support services, clinicians and national and local stakeholders.

This will develop students’ personal and social skills, lifestyle management, academic skills, employability skills and succession planning to ensure a smooth and successful transition and progression at university and beyond.

Finally, it will be a unique opportunity for all care leavers attending any London university to build a supportive network.

  • NHS IAPT (Wandsworth)
  • Aim Higher (AH)
  • Care Leaver Association (CLA)

Aleata Alstad-Calkins

Wellbeing for People Like Us

Racial and culturally competent wellbeing support, designed and delivered by people from our community

The project will deliver racially and culturally competent mental health and wellbeing support to black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students, who are underrepresented in accessing early intervention mental health support.

This will be achieved through co-produced and co-delivered interventions using BAME peer trainers with lived experience of mental ill health as well as practitioner trainers with clinical expertise.

The interventions will incorporate face-to-face and digitally innovative initiatives using social media, podcasts and VLE.

This collaborative project between the University of West London (UWL), West London NHS Trust and UWL Students’ Union aims to achieve a reduction in the risk of BAME students developing mental ill health.

The project aims to achieve this and provide evidence of effective interventions that institutions should adopt to help BAME students overcome racial and cultural barriers, which may prevent them from engaging in early intervention support within both university and NHS settings.

Watch a video about the People Like Us project.

  • West London NHS Trust
  • University of West London Students’ Union

Chackervarti Afghan

UniVRse: Co-developing, evaluating and implementing a virtual reality intervention for first-generation university students with social anxiety

Social anxiety is a common but debilitating mental health problem amongst students. It is more than simply being ‘shy’ and can instead prevent any and all engagement and attendance in lectures, seminars and the social aspects of university, which in turn can worsen future employment prospects.

First-generation students (FGS) are especially vulnerable to social anxiety in the university context and its negative effects due to imposter feelings and worse preparedness.

This project will use cutting-edge virtual reality (VR) technology to deliver a cognitive-behaviour based intervention that aims to reduce social anxiety, increase social confidence and improve educational engagement in socially anxious FGS.

Working with student collaborators and co-developers, we will produce the UniVRse programme where FGS will experience virtual simulations of anxiety-invoking university-based situations that will be adapted using graded exposure techniques.

This ground-breaking project will deliver and evaluate the UniVRse programme as a ready to use intervention within all universities.

Find out more about the UniVRse project.

  • University of Sussex
  • MindTech, University of Nottingham
  • Empathetic Media

Jo Birkett

PACE: A co-explored and co-created solution to address the mental health difficulties of students who undertake placement learning

The project will use a collaborative approach to supporting student mental health focusing on students engaged in placement based learning.

It brings together a partnership of the University of Wolverhampton, University of Wolverhampton Students' Union and the Black Country Partnership Mental Health NHS Trust – Recovery College to develop, test and deliver an innovative online suite of tools to support students to manage their own mental health.

Co-creation will be at the heart of the project, and students will be engaged throughout the life of the project  from concept, development, testing and evaluation.

It will take in to account intersectional considerations based on the profile of the students in the target group in order to tailor provision.

Beyond the project, the tool will be adapted and rolled out to other courses and made available to other providers, to be a sustainable resource at the University of Wolverhampton and the wider sector.

  • University of Wolverhampton Students' Union
  • Black Country Partnership Mental Health NHS Trust – Recovery College

Clare Dickens

Case studies

Student co-creator videos

In the videos below, student co-creators involved in the projects talk about about their experiences.

Video credit: Laura Jane Watson, third year film student at London South Bank University

Assessment panel

As part of the assessment process, bids were reviewed by an external panel.

Chair - Amy Norton Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Office for Students
Katie Tyrell PhD student, University of Suffolk
Ben Lewis Director of Student Support and Wellbeing, Cardiff University
Nicola Byrom Lecturer in Psychology, Kings College London and SMaRteN lead
Nancy Hey Executive Director, What Works Centre for Wellbeing
Dr Dominique Thompson GP, Buzz Consulting
Dr James Woollard National Specialty Advisor for Digital Mental Health, NHS England
Professor Kamaldeep Bhui Professor of Psychiatry, University Dept of Psychiatry & Nuffield Dept Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford
Hon Consultant Psychiatrist, East London NHS Foundation Trust & Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust
Virginie Assal Liberation and Equalities Campaigns Manager, National Union of Students
Rotimi Akinsete Associate Dean of Students (Wellbeing & Inclusion), University of the Arts, London and Executive Member, AMOSSHE
Published 17 August 2021
Last updated 19 October 2023
19 October 2023
Added links to two case studies: University of Bristol; Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM).
26 May 2023
Added link to resource from Coventry University
13 April 2023
University of Central Lancashire case study published
09 March 2023
New case studies, videos and blog post published
01 December 2022
Added link to the latest evaluation report: Co-creating intersectional student mental health initiatives
31 October 2022
Minor updates to contact details
22 March 2022
Contact added for The Open University
09 March 2022
Added contact details for project leads
01 November 2021
University of West London's project name updated

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