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How can universities best promote mental health?

9 September 2016
New research published in the International Journal of Public Health

What are the most effective ways to support the mental health of staff and students in university settings?

Researchers from the University of Sydney have published a review of the most effective ways for universities to promote and support mental health, in the current International Journal of Public Health.

The study, led by the Healthy Sydney University Mental Wellbeing working group, found there are four main areas that universities can invest in for better mental health and wellbeing of their students and staff including promoting eHealth technologies and building healthy physical environments.

“There is an existing body of literature indicating that poor mental health, particularly high levels of stress, is common at many universities particularly amongst students,” said Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn, Chair of Healthy Sydney University and Director, Centre for Disability Research and Policy in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

“Poor mental health is a significant challenge for universities. It has been associated with reduced productivity at work for staff, and for students it can mean poor academic progression and engagement.

“This review aimed to summarise the most effective, population-based ways to support student and staff mental health in university settings.”

Based on the results of the review, the four main areas that universities can invest in for better mental health of students and staff include:

1. Developing and promoting eHealth technologies, such as apps and e-tools

These can reach a large number of staff and students and can be as effective as face-to-face interventions. The University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre are developing and trialling these new technologies through projects such as FitUniLife.

2. Including mental health knowledge and skills as part of the curriculum

All students should have the opportunity to learn and develop important skills such as resilience and stress-reduction strategies which are applicable to university, personal and professional life. University of Sydney students will have the opportunity to develop these skills through the creation of a health and wellbeing unit of study by Healthy Sydney University in 2017-18.

3. Building healthy physical environments

An enjoyable, relaxing campus to study and work in can positively impact the mental wellbeing of staff and students. Building a healthy campus is part of the University’s aim to transform and improve our campuses for our students, staff and members of the community.

4. Trialling alternate academic strategies for students

This could include revising grading systems and assessment methods. Some of these opportunities are being explored by the University of Sydney as part of the transformation of the undergraduate curricula in the 2016-2020 strategy.

This systematic review builds on previous work of Healthy Sydney University to promote mental wellbeing, including a mindfulness-based stress-reduction trial for University staff in 2015 (soon to be published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine), and the development of student videos to promote a safe, healthy campus for all.

Healthy Sydney University will present the implications of this research at a Sydney Ideas event – ‘Can mindfulness save the world?- on World Mental Health Day, 10 October 2016.

The review is available as a policy brief and a factsheet focusing on student mental health

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