UWE Bristol (the University of the West of England) launched an ambitious approach to mental health and wellbeing last week.

Its far-reaching Mental Wealth First strategy follows months of work by university professionals, who have looked at existing support and activities and how this can be developed for UWE Bristol’s 30,000 students and 4,000 staff.

It sees the university commit to new approaches, investment in facilities and technological innovations, building on strategies already in place.

UWE Bristol vice-chancellor and chair of Universities UK’s mental health in higher education working group Professor Steve West, said: “Our Mental Wealth First strategy sets out our commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of all our students and staff.

“This is a big step change in our approach, to ensure that we are creating the best environment, culture, systems and support to enable everyone to thrive and succeed at UWE Bristol.

“This approach is grounded in innovation and evidence.

"We know that demand for mental health support services has increased considerably amongst students and the wider population in recent years, and our experience reflects this.

"But this is not just about providing support services for those in mental ill health.

"It is about looking at the full spectrum of activities to ensure we are putting mental wealth at the heart of everything we do. What we will deliver in the coming months and years will add significantly to the services and activities we already have.

"In doing so, we will explore and highlight new approaches that other universities can follow.

“This is a significant step in our response to a major national challenge for the higher education sector and wider society. It’s vital that we play a part in supporting our students and staff when they need it, in ways that are right for them.”

Commitments included in UWE Bristol’s Mental Wealth First strategy include:

• Investing in improvements on campus, which will include a new student centre and space to meet and relax from September this year. This facility will also host out-of-hours support staff and the student-led telephone support service Nightline.

• New analytics tools that enable support teams to better understand how students are getting on at university. The university is in the early stages of developing market-leading software which will be used to provide insights on how students engage with lectures, online learning tools and coursework. This can be used to shape communication with students who may be struggling with aspects of university life because of mental ill health.

• Creating new ‘programme communities’ as part of an enhanced student curriculum. This is intended to provide more opportunities for students to get to know their peers and build stronger, mutually supportive environments.

• Targeted information and support for students and their families, including an enhanced induction programme that provides students with clear, accessible information about the support on offer.

This support builds on UWE Bristol’s work with staff and students over recent years. UWE Bristol was the first university in the country to introduce Kooth Student, which has been used by hundreds of students since its launch in September 2017. Kooth is a free, anonymous online platform for students to access advice and forums at any time of day.

This work is spearheading a nationwide drive to improve student mental health and wellbeing services, led by Universities UK and supported by the charity Student Minds. UWE Bristol is one of three universities piloting Universities UK’s Step Change Framework, which sets out a new whole university approach for the higher education sector to support their students.