The DCSMH (Digital Communication and Student Mental Health) project at the University of Sheffield has created a website, Well Connected, which provides a library of self-help resources, a self-check facility, and social media functions for supporting students with mental health difficulties.
Many HE (Higher Education) institutions are facing increased demand from students for mental health services. There are increasing numbers of students with complex difficulties, so the institution needs to be able to promote mental health support effectively. The challenges include:
- students with mild difficulties may not be prioritised for face-to-face support whilst those with more severe difficulties do not always access the services provided
- the area of mental health can be a sensitive topic for the institution, staff and students, which needs careful handling
- increased demand for mental health services means that traditional face-to-face support is becoming severely stretched.
The Well Connected website, which was co-created with students, has provided benefits for both staff and students:
- non-clinical student support and academic staff feel more confident in their response to students with mental health difficulties
- the site includes a validated online self-check or referral tool which may help students wary of contacting mental health support services to make the first step to getting help
- using digital communications to keep students informed can relieve pressure on physical support services and provide a channel for communication messages of wellbeing, especially at particular times of the academic year.
During the project, feedback from students has shown that they favour digital media for finding out about mental health issues. However,
- don’t underestimate the strength of institutional branding and authority; for example because the Well Connected website has the University’s stamp of approval, students feel that they can rely on it and that it can be trusted
- ensure that training is put in place for support staff in the use of any online resources
- although online support resources can relieve some of the pressure on face-to-face support staff, remember that there will be additional work required in the support and maintenance of an online resource and in managing communication campaigns.
If you would like to find out more about this project, the following resources may help:
- Blog: DCSMH Blog
- Project Website: Digital Communication and Student Mental Health website
- Case Study: Well Connected – Digital Communication and Student Mental Health (PDF format, 988Kb)
- Video: Well Connected.