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Author: Kate Lister

Embedding mental wellbeing in higher education through inclusive curricula and pedagogy

Updated Thursday, 30th July 2020
Student mental health is a critical issue in higher education today, with academics, universities, politicians and popular media terming it a ‘crisis’. Research shows that mental health difficulties have a serious effect on students’ likelihood of attaining their study goals. EdD student Kate Lister explains why she chose this area of research and how she has set up her study.

A woman relaxing with a book and her dog in the sun Pet therapy as a de-stressing solution

There are many interventions in place to support students experiencing mental health issues, and there is an increasing number of interventions designed to promote wellbeing or prevent mental health crises. However, the majority of these interventions are therapeutic in nature, encouraging students to take part in practices such as mindfulness or meditation, aiming to increase their understanding of mental health or offering de-stressing solutions such as pet therapy.

These interventions only aim to support the student, without identifying or removing the cause of the problem, and they operate on a deficit model, requiring the student to change instead of the system. Furthermore, they are not sufficiently tackling the problem, as evidenced by the persistent attainment and progression gaps, and increasing demand for student counselling and mental health services.

Focusing on distance learning, my study investigates the barriers to mental wellbeing when studying and achieving their goals that students experience.  I am using a mixed-methods approach and have split my project into three stages:

1) Identifying barriers

Semi-structured interviews with students who have experienced mental health difficulties and tutors who have supported students with mental health difficulties

2) Co-creating solutions

Collaborative focus groups with students and staff. Barriers identified in stage 1 are presented using personas and vignettes, and students and staff co-create potential solutions.

3) Substantiating data and evaluation criteria

A survey sent to a larger cohort of students and staff to invite input into the barriers and solutions identified, as well as ideas for evaluation criteria and measures.

My study aims to facilitate students and practitioners to critically examine their institution, to identify barriers to wellbeing and solutions that the institution can adopt. It will result in practical, evidence-based guidance that will help practitioners design positive learning experiences that foster and support wellbeing.


A photo of a group of students studying at a wooden bench. Aerial view
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